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Runnin’ Utes open 2019-20 basketball practice with roster full of freshmen

Utah opens practice Tuesday with perhaps the youngest roster in the history of the program.

Utah Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak talks to forward Both Gach (11) during a Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal game against the Oregon Ducks at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Thursday, March 14, 2019.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah basketball team opens practice for the 2019-20 season Tuesday with perhaps the youngest roster in the history of the program. Certainly the youngest since World War II when freshmen were eligible and played significant minutes.

Freshmen will dominate this year’s Ute roster, which features one senior, one junior, four sophomores and 11 freshmen.

Three players who started at least 14 games last year return, including forward Timmy Allen (12 starts, 12.2 ppg), forward Riley Battin (21 starts, 6.4 ppg) and guard Both Gach (14 starts, 7.7 ppg).

The Utes lost Sedrick Barefield, Parker Van Dyke, Novak Topalovic to graduation, but five other players with remaining eligibility transferred, including center Jayce Johnson, Donnie Tillman, Charles Jones, Brandon Morley and Naseem Gaskin.

Utah Utes forward Timmy Allen (20) dribbles the ball against the UCLA Bruins at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 9, 2019.
Silas Walker, Deseret News

The 6-foot-6 Allen is the top returning player. Besides ranking second on the team in scoring average, he was third in rebounds (5.1 rpg) and second in field-goal percentage at 57.5%. Battin, a 6-9, 220-pounder from California, earned a starting role just before the start of conference play and averaged 3.4 rebounds, while shooting 48.3% from the field. Gach, a 6-7, 200-pound point guard, was the Utes’ top free-throw shooter at 85.7%, while shooting 47.2% from the field.

Only one of the freshmen redshirted last year, 6-10 Lahat Thioune. Three of the freshmen are returned missionaries, 6-11 Branden Carlson from Bingham High School, 6-5 Jaxon Brenchley from Ridgeline High and 6-6 Elias Ballstaedt from Wasatch High.

Other freshmen include 6-1 Rylan Jones, a two-time Mr. Basketball honoree in Utah; Mikael Jantunen, a 6-8 forward from Finland; Matt Van Komen, a 7-4 center from Pleasant Grove; Brandon Haddock, a 6-2 guard from Texas; Brendan Wenzel, a 6-6 guard from Texas; Hunter Mecum, a 6-9 forward from California; and Luc Krystkowiak, a 6-4 guard, who is the son of Ute head coach Larry Krystkowiak.

Olympus Titans Rylan Jones (15) dribbles the ball against the Timpanogos Timberwolves during the 5A boys basketball championship tournament at the Dee Events Center in Ogden on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019.
Silas Walker, Deseret News

Marc Reininger, a 6-9 walk-on forward from Colorado, is the only senior on the team, while 6-1 guard Alfonso Plummer, a transfer from Arizona Western CC, is the only junior. Also back from last year is sophomore guard Brooks King, who saw limited action.

Despite the young team, the Utes will have an upgraded schedule from last year with fewer home games and some strong teams on the slate.

The Utes open the season at Reno against Nevada, a 29-5 team last year, and play Minnesota and BYU at home as well as Weber State in the Beehive Classic at Vivint Arena. In December, they’ll have back-to-back games at neutral sites against Kentucky, a preseason top-5 team, in Las Vegas and San Diego State in Los Angeles. They’ll also play in the Myrtle Beach Invitational in late November in a field that includes Villanova, Mississippi State, Baylor and Tulane.

Other games on the nonconference schedule include UC Davis, Mississippi Valley State and Central Arkansas. The Pac-12 season begins Jan. 2 at home against Oregon State.

The Utes will open the season on Oct. 30 with an exhibition game against Texas-Tyler, an NCAA Division II school.