Why this former Runnin’ Utes basketball assistant is thrilled to be back
Having left Larry Krystkowiak’s staff in 2019 to be closer to his ailing mother in Las Vegas, assistant coach DeMarlo Slocum is back with the Utes and new coach Craig Smith
There was a time not too long ago when the University of Utah’s men’s basketball program was one of the best in the West. The Runnin’ Utes were ranked in the top 25 for most of the 2014-15 season and reached the Sweet 16 before falling to eventual national champion Duke.
The next year, Utah kept that momentum rolling, advanced to the Pac-12 Tournament’s championship game for the first time and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before getting crushed by Gonzaga 82-59 at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
“It was never a thing where I wanted to leave here. It was just a decision regarding my family and I felt like it was a good time to get back and spend some time with my mom because she was under the weather. So the timing for that worked out perfectly. It was just a family decision that I felt was best at that time.” — New Utah assistant coach DeMarlo Slocum
DeMarlo Slocum helped build that success as one of Larry Krystkowiak’s assistants (2011-19) for eight seasons and was a recruiting guru, of sorts. He was largely responsible for getting now-NBA regulars Kyle Kuzma and Delon Wright into the program.
Well, here’s some good news, Utah fans: “Slocs,” as the players call him, is back on The Hill, and he couldn’t be happier about it.
“I am so super excited to be back. I’ve always considered Salt Lake City my second home,” Slocum told the Deseret News last week. “This is a great place to live and coach. I love it here. I love this place, this university.”
Even before Craig Smith had been hired to replace Krystkowiak on March 27, the former Utah State coach had reached out to Slocum to gauge his interest in returning to the U. Slocum, whose status at UNLV was uncertain because Rebels head coach T.J. Otzelberger was rumored to be heading to Iowa State to replace Steve Prohm, was all ears.
On March 31, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Slocum and Smith were reuniting at Utah — they were assistants under Tim Miles at Colorado State for four seasons and became close friends — and the transition was made official by the U. on April 7.
“DeMarlo understands the culture of excellence at the University of Utah, having served as an assistant here for eight years,” Smith said in a school news release. “He understands the Pac-12. … He can do it all. DeMarlo is a great leader, motivator, coach and recruiter.”
Of course, Slocum’s return begs the question: Why did he leave in the first place?
“It was never a thing where I wanted to leave here,” he said. “It was just a decision regarding my family and I felt like it was a good time to get back (to Las Vegas, where he is from) and spend some time with my mom because she was under the weather. So the timing for that worked out perfectly. It was just a family decision that I felt was best at that time.”
Slocum, who played for two years at Dixie State College in St. George before finishing up at Georgia Southern in 2001 with degrees in public recreation and kinesiology, had told Krystkowiak that there was only one school he would leave Utah for — aside from getting a head coaching job — and that was UNLV, “because of some family dynamics I knew I would have to take care of.”
Growing up in Las Vegas, Slocum said he began admiring the Runnin’ Utes when Rick Majerus-coached teams visited the Thomas & Mack Center for games against the Rebels or conference tournaments. When he was at Dixie State, he’d make a few trips a year north to the Wasatch Front, and that’s when he “became sold” on the state of Utah and its people.
“It just became such a light in my eye,” he said. “They never seemed to get the attention that I always saw from afar that they could get. And I loved the environment of Salt Lake City.”
Slocum said when you live in Las Vegas, “it is just crazy, crazy, crazy. Salt Lake is a pretty, cool, laidback place that fits my personality.”
“So yeah, it was pretty easy to come back,” he said. “It is most certainly a place where I have always seen that you have an opportunity to win a national championship, if you do it the right way.”
Having been at UNLV for two seasons under Otzelberger, Slocum built a house in Las Vegas. He’s not ready to sell it just yet, so he has rented a place in Salt Lake City.
“It is really hard to juggle owning two homes,” he said.
Recalling his first stint at the U., Slocum hasn’t forgotten how “passionate and knowledgeable” the fans are when the team has it rolling, like it did in 2015 and 2016. The city, and state as a whole, sometimes gets a bad rap as a place with nothing going on, he said, but he’s found that has never been the case.
“Typically, when you speak about Utah, there is a tone from families that there is no life, or from a kid’s perspective, there is no exciting life, or what have you,” he said. “As you can see with the apartment buildings going up everywhere, the place is booming right now. From a recruiting standpoint, that is awesome. It is a city on the rise. I think it has a lot to offer.”
Slocum has already delivered on his reputation as a strong recruiter, getting 6-2 guard David Jenkins Jr., a graduate transfer from UNLV, to join him in SLC.
He said the notion that it is difficult to recruit African Americans to Utah because of some highly publicized incidents involving fans and racial slurs at Utah Jazz games “is a little overblown,” but acknowledges that parents “do ask about it, for sure.”
He said that he can easily explain what it all means to wary parents, having lived in Utah for 14 years.
“For me, it is an easy conversation to have, because I don’t think there is a (big issue). You know, I have been involved in athletics in this state for 14 years and it has never been a problem. Treat people how you want to be treated, and hope they do the same.”