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Craig Smith finalizing his coaching staff, likely won’t keep any of Larry Krystkowiak’s former assistants

Latest clue that new U. coach is totally cleaning house came Friday when longtime assistant Tommy Connor issued a statement indicating that he hasn’t been retained

SHARE Craig Smith finalizing his coaching staff, likely won’t keep any of Larry Krystkowiak’s former assistants

Utah basketball coach Craig Smith looks on while touring the University of Utah basketball facilities Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

University of Utah Athletics

As Craig Smith’s tenure as the University of Utah’s men’s basketball coach reached the conclusion of its second week, indications are strong that the former Utah State coach is close to finalizing his staff on the Hill.

More clues came Friday morning as Tommy Connor, a longtime assistant to fired coach Larry Kyrstkowiak, issued a public statement that pretty much said he has not been retained by Smith.

“I am thankful to Larry K for providing me with the opportunity to join his staff and return to my alma mater,” said Connor. “Ten years of incredible experiences, lifelong relationships, traveled around the world, many highs and lows and a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”

Connor noted that for 22 years Utah basketball “has been an integral part of the lives of all the members of my family. I am forever grateful and forever a Ute!”


Utah associate head coach Tommy Connor gives drill instructions during media day for the Runnin’ Utes at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Connor indicated on social media Friday, April 9, 2021, that he won’t remain on new coach Craig Smith’s staff.

Adam Fondren, Deseret News

Some interesting names have surfaced as Smith looks to add to his staff, names like BYU assistants Chris Burgess and Cody Fueger. It is not clear whether either assistant to BYU coach Mark Pope, whose name has surfaced as a potential replacement at Arizona for Sean Miller, has interviewed for the job.

Burgess played at Utah and Fueger was a video coordinator and student assistant under Rick Majerus from 2002 to 2007.

Earlier last week, Smith made official the additions of former USU assistant Eric Peterson and former UNLV assistant DeMarlo Slocum to his staff. It is also apparent that Utah’s new director of basketball operations will be Curran Walsh, some online sleuthing revealed. Walsh was Smith’s DBO in Logan.

That’s significant, considering Krystkowiak’s ops guy was Chris Jones, father of two-year starting point guard Rylan Jones. 

The younger Jones will likely remain in the program.

The same probably can’t be said of freshman sensation Ian Martinez, who entered the NCAA transfer portal on Tuesday. Of course, Martinez’s father, Henry, was Krystkowiak’s third assistant and if his son’s entrance into the portal means anything, it is probably that Henry Martinez is not sticking around in Salt Lake City, either.

The two leading scorers on the 2020-21 team, Timmy Allen (17.2) and Alfonso Plummer (13.6), are also in the portal, and Allen has obviously returned home to Mesa, Arizona, judging by his social media posts. Neither star is expected to return to Utah; Allen is in most top-10 available transfers lists, but there’s also the chance that he turns pro.

Third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder Branden Carlson (9.4 points and 4.6 rebounds) is expected to stay put.

In various interviews with radio stations the past two weeks, Smith has said over and over that he won’t plead with players to stay, noting that he “wants players who want to be here” and be a part of what is looking more and more like a rebuilding process.

Norbert Thelissen (a 2021 signee) and Jordan Kellier are also in the portal; Center Lahat Thioune withdrew from the portal and plans to return to Utah, several outlets reported last Monday. Forward Riley Battin is also coming back, after briefly entering the portal two weeks ago.

With Utah announcing Tuesday the signing of Cincinnati transfer Gabe Madsen, Smith seemingly has four scholarship openings, five if Finnish star Mikael Jantunen departs, as some internet rumors have suggested. 

“Gabe is a dynamic offensive player and at 6-5 has great size and play-making ability,” Smith said in a school news release. “He comes from a great basketball family with his dad, Luke, being a very (successful) high school basketball coach.”

Madsen played for his father at Mayo Senior High School in Minnesota.

Some Utah fans were hoping Smith could land grad transfer Stanley Umude of South Dakota (Smith coached at USD before getting the USU job), but the high-scoring Coyote signed Friday with Arkansas and coach Eric Musselman.

There are literally hundreds of players still in the portal, however, including some with ties to Utah’s new staff who should draw Smith’s interest, if nothing else.

For instance, Utah State freshman point guard Rollie Worster entered the portal on Thursday, having played his first season in Logan under Smith, who recruited the Montana great to Logan last year.

Worster’s 2020-21 teammate Alphonso Anderson is also in the portal, but Worster would be a significant get for Smith.

The rugged 6-3 guard started in 25 games, appeared in 26, and averaged 9.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest. Utah doesn’t really need a point guard, with Jones and Pelle Larsson of Sweden handling those chores well last year, but Worster would still be a nice addition to the guard line.

UNLV junior Bryce Hamilton, who led the Rebels in scoring the past two seasons and averaged 17.9 points per game, entered the portal Thursday after having entered the NBA draft (he can still withdraw) last week.

Hamilton had the Utes among his top five when he came out of high school in Pasadena, California, three years ago and is obviously familiar with new Utah assistant coach Slocum since they were together at UNLV the past few years.

In announcing Slocum’s hiring, Smith said the Las Vegas native excels at recruiting and motivating players.

“DeMarlo understands the culture of excellence at the University of Utah having served as an assistant here for eight years. He understands the Pac-12 and understands winning in this great league. He can do it all,” Smith said.

As for hiring Peterson, who worked with Wooster and Anderson at USU, Smith said the youthful-looking coach was instrumental in recruiting and developing Neemias Queta.

“Eric has been instrumental in our success over the last seven years at the University of South Dakota and Utah State. We have won many games and championships during that stretch and Eric has been a big part of that. He is the total package,” Smith said.