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Analysis: Why departure of Both Gach won’t be huge loss for the Utes

Utah Utes guard Both Gach (11) celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer. Gach is transferring back to Utah after a year at Minnesota.
Utah Utes guard Both Gach (11) celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer in the second half against the Colorado Buffaloes at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 7, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Another year, another couple of transfers from the University of Utah basketball program.

It’s getting to be a broken record at the U., where multiple players have left the program every year for the past five years.

Thursday night, the Utes got word that Both Gach, who had put his name in for the NBA draft, was planning to transfer even if he didn’t keep his name in the draft pool, per a report from college basketball writer Jeff Goodman. Within two hours, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak confirmed the news in a press release, saying, “Although the decision by Both to leave was not something we had planned or hoped for, our program continues to move forward with players who are driven and excited to be a part of our basketball family.”

Gach had announced late last month that he was going to put his name into the NBA early departure pool with the option to pull out a couple of weeks prior to the draft as do the majority of players who submit their names. Soon after, teammate Timmy Allen also submitted his name for the draft.

Krystkowiak recently told the Deseret News he was going to help both Allen and Gach check out their options, but that he also anticipated both players returning next season.

“I’m trying to help both of those guys get as much feedback as I can from the NBA and they haven’t hired agents yet,” he said. “I anticipate they’ll be back unless they get some real favorable news from a team that wants them. That’s part of the process, but I anticipate those guys coming back stronger than ever as juniors.”

Rumors of Gach not staying at Utah had surfaced as early as a year ago, so it wasn’t a huge surprise he chose to transfer, even though his coach was expecting him to return.

The 6-foot-6, 183-pound Gach preferred to play point guard, where his future in the pros may be, but Rylan Jones established himself as the point guard of the future with his solid play this past season. Gach mostly played the off-guard position, where he had his moments, but really struggled with his outside shooting.

For the season, Gach shot just 25% from 3-point range, 19% during Pac-12 play, and during one five-week stretch late in the season, missed 21 straight 3-pointers.

On one hand, transfers have become more common with every college program losing one or two players every season, some seeking greener pastures and others being nudged out the door.

That’s been the case at Utah too, where some players have been urged to look elsewhere either because they were a detriment to the team or they had little chance of playing. Other players have left on their own because of unhappiness with playing time or their place within the program or perhaps they just weren’t happy.

Since the 2015-16 season, the Utes have had 20 scholarship players leave the program before their senior seasons, not counting players who left to play in the NBA. That’s an average of four per year.

Last year, the Utes lost six underclassmen, starters Jayce Johnson in May and Donnie TIllman in July and Naseem Gaskin, who had sat out as a redshirt, in August.

Vante Hendrix and Christian Popoola left the program during the 2018-19 season and Charles Jones Jr., who played one year after coming in as a JC transfer and walk-on center Brandon Morley both left the program during the summer.

One of the reasons the Utes had the second-youngest team in the nation this past year was because some of the departures were so late that Krystkowiak didn’t have time to find suitable replacements.

Utah forward Donnie Tillman handles the ball while being guarded by Washington guard Jaylen Nowell during the Utes’ 70-62 win against the Washington Huskies at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018.
Utah forward Donnie Tillman handles the ball during game against Washington at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Tillman was one of six underclassmen who left the program following the 2019 campaign.
Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News

This year’s departure of Gach and 7-foot-4 center Matt Van Komen, shouldn’t hurt as much as transfers in the past.

Van Komen was looking at the prospect of being Branden Carlson’s backup for three more years and was also playing behind Lahat Thioune, a redshirt freshman last year.

The reason Gach’s departure won’t be as troublesome as some recent transfers is how stacked the Utes are at the wing position next year.

First, there’s Jaxon Brenchley, a 6-foot-5 guard from northern Utah, who started six games and was one of the first players of the bench when he didn’t start. Also back is Alfonso Plummer, the JC transfer who ended his first season with a dazzling 35-point performance against Oregon State in the Pac-12 Tournament. Then there’s Brendan Wenzel, a sharpshooter from Texas, who redshirted this season.

Four freshmen from what might be Utah’s best recruiting class ever, ranked third in the Pac-12 and 37th in the nation, are all wing players — Ian Martinez, a 6-3, 4-star recruit from Southern California, 6-5 Pelle Larsson from Sweden, 6-6 Caleb Lohner from Texas, who played for Wasatch Academy last year, and 6-3 Mason Falslev from Sky View, who is expected to go on a church mission this year.

Sure the Utes would rather that Gach stayed, but if he had, one of the aforementioned young players wouldn’t have played as much and would have likely left, keeping the transfer cycle going.

It’s still the middle of May, so a lot could happen between now and the start of next basketball season. If the Utes continue to lose more key players, then you’ll really have to start to wonder what’s going on up on the Hill.