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Utah basketball newcomers are ready to contribute right away

Head coach Larry Krystkowiak, Utah, answers a question as coaches Dave Rose, BYU, Craig Smith, Utah State, and Randy Rahe, Weber State, promote the Beehive Classic at a press conference at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018.
Head coach Larry Krystkowiak, Utah, answers a question as coaches Dave Rose, BYU, Craig Smith, Utah State, and Randy Rahe, Weber State, promote the Beehive Classic at a press conference at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

With all those newcomers from last year now turned into “cagey veterans” as coach Larry Krystkowiak calls them, it doesn’t mean the Utah basketball team won’t have new players contributing this year.

The Utes have just three newcomers on scholarship this season, replacing two players who transferred, two who went on church missions and a senior walk-on who was injured most of the season.

With nine of the top 10 scorers returning from last year, there isn’t a lot of room for new guys to fit in, but Krystkowiak feels they’ll find a way.

“They’ve been doing great — it’s not easy to be a freshman, no doubt about that,” Krystkowiak said. “Everybody’s helping them and they are up here a lot watching film, being brought up to speed. The sooner they can have a little better grasp for what we’re doing, they can let some of their natural ability kick in and relax a little bit more.”

Freshman Pelle Larsson, a 6-foot-5 guard from Sweden has been getting most of the raves and Ian Martinez, a 6-foot-3 guard from Southern California, has also been turning heads. The third newcomer — 6-foot-6 JUCO transfer Jordan Kellier, who is a junior college transfer and a sophomore in eligibility, has also been impressive.

Krystkowiak has praised all of his new players, but says Larsson might be the most ready to play right away.

“Pelle’s is going to be a guy who can contribute a little more physically than a lot of freshmen,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s not a freshman-type body, more of an upper-classman body. He’s got a defensive mindset as well and oftentimes those are boxes you don’t check that make it harder to play early on.”

The coach went on to say that Larsson’s experience playing with older professional players in Sweden has helped his development.

“He’s a talented kid, he understands the game and has a nice competitive spirit about him,” he said. “He’s going to be an integral part of what we’re going to do.”

Ute sophomore guard Rylan Jones can’t say enough good things about the three newcomers who’ve joined the Utes.

“Ian is probably the best athlete I’ve ever played with or seen,” he said. “Same with Pelle, he’s a freak show, really strong and super explosive. They’re both really smart players.”

As for Kellier, Jones said, “He came in from junior college and he might be one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen. He’s in here at 6 every morning, working, running. He might sweat the most of any player I’ve seen, he works so hard.”

Another sophomore, Jaxon Brenchley, like Larsson is 6-foot-5, has been impressed with the Swede so far.

“Pelle’s a stud, super athletic,” he said. “He can shoot it and handle it, is great in pick-and-roll situations. It’s great to have him on team, he’s great in the locker room — he brings it all.”

Krystkowiak said his team is much deeper than last year and gave an example of a recent practice that included several game-like scrimmages. He said the Utes’ “so-called” second unit defeated the “potential starting team” in four straight games. He didn’t say who was on which side, but you can assume at least a couple of the second-teamers were newcomers.

“I feel really good about all those new guys,” Krystkowiak said. “We have some versatility on how we’re going to play with guys who have different athletic abilities and skill sets. I think the future is bright for those guys.”