For new University of Utah basketball player Gabe Madsen, it was all about the coaches.

Craig Smith and the coaching staff he began assembling after replacing Larry Krystkowiak on March 27 is the main reason the former Cincinnati Bearcat signed with the U. despite having never visited the campus in Salt Lake City or toured any of the school’s state-of-the-art basketball facilities, Madsen told the Deseret News last week.

After entering the transfer portal on March 15, a day before Krystkowiak was fired, coincidentally, Madsen knew his recruitment the second time around after signing with Cincy out of high school would be much different, due to the NCAA banning campus visits in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And he was fine with that.

“I had never even seen the campus, let alone the (basketball) facilities,” said the 6-foot-5 Madsen, who played in just two games at Cincinnati before opting out of the remainder of the season, citing concerns over playing during the pandemic. “I knew it was going to be more about the people, and not as much about the place.”

Madsen committed to Smith and the Utes on April 2, and was officially announced as Smith’s first signee on April 6. He’s proud to say that he will forever be known as the first recruit of the 16th head coach in Runnin’ Utes men’s basketball history.

“I kinda wanted to commit a little earlier and just kinda get that out of the way and find my place, so I knew this time around I probably wasn’t going to see a lot of places so it was more about the relationships with the coaches and stuff like that, and just trusting them,” Madsen said. “I didn’t have to take a visit or anything like that. It was mostly based off the trust I had with the coaches and the relationship I had with them.”

New Utah basketball signee Gabe Madsen dribbles during workout in the Utes’ practice facility in Salt Lake City. | University of Utah Athletics

Two days after Madsen’s signing was announced, Smith said in a school news release that his former assistant at Utah State, Eric Peterson, was joining his staff — although that was pretty much a given since Peterson had followed Smith to Logan from South Dakota State three years prior.

Madsen said he knew Peterson “a little bit” from his recruitment out of Mayo Senior High School in Rochester, Minnesota, when Peterson tried to get him to Utah State.

“I kinda narrowed down my list, and then I got to know them a little bit better,” Madsen said. “They jumped in a little late, but I had a little bit of a relationship with them, which helped. They were one of the teams that first reached out when I put my name in the portal, and they are all basically right where I am from (in Minnesota).”

Madsen can’t remember how many teams contacted him when he hit the portal, but he had already narrowed his list and wasn’t concerned with that as much. He basically ignored offers from schools and coaches he hadn’t researched.

“I wasn’t in the portal for very long,” he said. “The right (offer) popped up and there was no point in waiting any more.”

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Madsen’s twin brother and teammate at Cincy, Mason Madsen, also entered the portal after playing in 15 games and averaging 6.5 points and 3.0 rebounds for the Bearcats, but has since decided to return to the program.

Not so with Gabe Madsen, who arrived in Salt Lake City around June 1 and has loved what he has seen and experienced so far — except for the time his car broke down.

“I mean, Utah is top five in facilities in the country — at least top five,” he said. “It is ridiculous. Like, having the gym right next to the locker room and a super nice lounge and all that. The facilities being great was just extra icing on the cake.”

Since Gabe Madsen signed, the Utes have signed six others from the portal and/or junior college ranks: Utah State teammates Rollie Worster and Marco Anthony, UNLV grad-transfer David Jenkins Jr., Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College star Bostyn Holt, Minnesota transfer Both Gach (the former Ute) and Serbian Dusan Mahoric of Illinois State.

Utah has one more scholarship available, Smith told the Deseret News last month.

Madsen seconded a notion put out by Anthony last month that Utah’s talent level is “off the charts.”

“Guys just really want to put in work and that was good to see,” Madsen said. “And obviously the facility allows you to do that, like having our own practice gym. That’s one of the things that is super nice here.”

Madsen said at Cincinnati the men’s basketball team shared a practice gym with dance, volleyball and women’s basketball. 

“It was a communal practice gym,” he said.

Not so at Utah, where the facilities “just blew me away,” Madsen said.

Even if he didn’t see them before committing. And his teammates?

“Yeah, the talent here is really good,” he said. “I think we have a solid team here. Everybody gets along, which is really good, too.”

Smith said in a school news release that Madsen is a “dynamic offensive player” and fits the system they are installing at the U.

“At 6-5 he has great size and playmaking ability,” Smith said. “He comes from a great basketball family.”

Madsen played high school basketball for his father, Luke, in Minnesota.

He was a three-start prospect out of high school and averaged 26.1 points per game his senior season. He had offers from Marquette, Minnesota, Northwestern, Iowa and others out of high school. 

The twin brothers always dreamed of playing college basketball together, and committed to Cincy on the same day — Sept. 1, 2019.

But Gabe Madsen says upon arriving at the American Athletic Conference school together they realized “there are a lot of negatives” that go with playing on the same team.

“As a twin you are always compared, no matter what you do,” he said. “And when you combine that with high level college sports, one is always going to be doing better, no matter how well you try to avoid that.”

Madsen said he was torn in practice, because when he guarded his twin brother, he wanted his brother to do well, but he also wanted to play well, too.

“So there were just some tradeoffs that we had to decide what was best for us, and I think at the end of the day this kind of is the best case scenario right now, that we separate,” he said.

Alas, Madsen said at least one element of his persona won’t change. He doesn’t plan on cutting his long, curly hair anytime soon.

“The hair is staying for now, definitely,” he said. “I mean, if I could grow a beard like Riley (Worster), I definitely would. Or my brother — he’s got a good beard, too.”