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Runnin’ Utes will honor 2 seniors on Senior Night, but both have option of returning next year

Due to the NCAA granting student-athletes an additional year of eligibility after the pandemic, Battin, Jenkins Jr., Marco Anthony and Both Gach could return if they want to

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Utah Utes forward Riley Battin (11) drives on UCLA Bruins guard Jake Kyman (13) in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. Battin is one of four seniors on the team who will be honored on senior night Saturday at the Huntsman Center.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Senior Night will be a little bit different for the University of Utah’s men’s basketball team on Saturday when it hosts Pac-12 rival Colorado at the Huntsman Center.

Not as different as last year when fans weren’t allowed into the building because of COVID-19 restrictions and only one player was for sure moving on — seldom-used senior Brooks King — but different.

Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m. MST and the rematch of CU’s 81-76 win in Boulder three weeks ago will be televised by ESPNU.

“I think some of those will be (decided) very quickly, and I think some of those will be maybe a little more drawn out depending on the circumstances, or the individual.” — Utah basketball coach Craig Smith on which seniors will move on, which will return for another year with the Utes

Utah’s roster includes four seniors — David Jenkins Jr., Both Gach, Marco Anthony and Riley Battin — but that doesn’t mean any, or all, of those players will be saying their final goodbyes. The reason, of course, is that due to the NCAA granting all student-athletes an extra year of eligibility to make up for the pandemic-altered year (2020-21), all four can continue playing college basketball, if that is their desire.

The school announced Friday that Battin and Jenkins Jr., along with student manager Derek Broderick, will participate in Senior Night ceremonies Saturday.

“We are going to do it how we have always done it, in terms of honoring guys before the game,” coach Craig Smith said Tuesday.

Smith told the Deseret News that, as of Tuesday, no players have definitively said they are not coming back. Certainly, it is not a given that every player on the roster will be invited back. Players are urged to move on at every program in the country. That’s the nature of the game these days.

“Still going to talk to a couple guys (about their plans),” Smith said. “We are prepared for everything. I mean, obviously we have a pretty good idea of what is going on, but (I am) not going to get into the depth of that at this moment.”

Smith said he has a “timeline” to decide who will stay and who will go, but isn’t sharing it.

“I think some of those will be (decided) very quickly, and I think some of those will be maybe a little more drawn out depending on the circumstances, or the individual.”

A few weeks ago, Anthony said he had “no idea” whether he will return to the team next year. The Utah State transfer, 22, has played four full seasons of college basketball, and redshirted a fifth. He sat out in 2019-20 due to then-applicable NCAA transfer rules when he went from Virginia to USU.

Battin is the rare student-athlete who has played four consecutive seasons at the same school. The 6-foot-9 forward from Westlake Village, California, graduated last fall with a business degree and has started work on his master’s, in finance.

But that doesn’t mean he is ready to move on.

“I have the option to come back,” Battin said. “I am taking the season how it goes, and then I will reevaluate it. … But I am definitely open to coming back if that is what is best for me.”

Battin doesn’t play as much as he did earlier in his career, under Larry Krystkowiak, but he’s still regarded as a valuable contributor who brings a positive attitude to practice every day. Also, 6-9 guys with his outside shooting ability are hard to find.

“As far as the culture and everything that coach Smith brings in, it is awesome,” said Battin, who entered the transfer portal when Krystkowiak was fired last spring, then returned to the U. after meeting with Smith. “You know, it is a great place to be. All the coaches are great people, and I couldn’t be any more happy with my season and to be a part of it.”

Like Battin, Gach has played four consecutive seasons of college basketball — the first two at Utah, the third at Minnesota, and the fourth at Utah. His return has produced a roller-coaster season — dynamite one minute and inconsistent the next.

Gach hasn’t publicly addressed his future plans the past few months, but last summer he told the Deseret News that he wasn’t opposed to playing a fifth season if things worked out well for him back in Salt Lake City.

Jenkins started the season off as if he was going to be Utah’s leading scorer, netting 15, 7, 25, 13, 13, 9 and 21 points in his first seven games. He reached double figures only twice in his next eight games, and fell out of favor with the coaching staff. His minutes plummeted.

Last week, he played 21 minutes and scored 14 points against Arizona, and followed that with a 14-minute, three-point outing against Arizona State.

Jenkins played his first two seasons at South Dakota State, redshirted in 2019-20 due to NCAA transfer rules, then played at UNLV in 2020-21 and was the Rebels’ seconds-leading scorer with a 14.8 average.

Given how his season in Salt Lake City has gone, and how Smith has gone with a youth movement in the backcourt — starting freshmen Gabe Madsen and Lazar Stefanovic and sophomore Rollie Worster — it would be a surprise if Jenkins returns, or is asked to return.

Utah (11-18, 4-15) is currently in 11th place in the Pac-12 standings, but can move into a tie for 10th, and get the No. 10 seed in the conference tournament, if it wins Saturday and Cal (5-14) loses at first-place Arizona.

Colorado (11-8, 19-10) is coming off a 79-63 win over the No. 2-ranked Wildcats.

“They played at a very high level on Saturday against Arizona,” Smith said. “Obviously we will prepare for them like we do any other opponent. They are a tough matchup in a lot of ways. They have great size up and down their lineup and then their two point guards are very athletic. They put a lot of pressure on you.”

Will it be Battin’s last time facing the Buffaloes? He doesn’t know, of course. The Californian said that he considers BYU the Utes’ biggest basketball rival “just being so close to each other and having that history.”

But Colorado gets the juices going, too.

“I would say that is our in-league rivalry, for sure,” he said. “Being travel partners, and kinda playing on that same schedule and both having elevation in our favor, I think that definitely brings a little more to our game.”

Utes on the air

Utah (11-18, 4-15)

vs. Colorado (19-10, 11-8)

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. MST

At Jon M. Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City


Radio: ESPN AM 700

Correction: The original version of this story noted four seniors would be recognized on Senior Night. But only two players — Riley Battin and David Jenkins, Jr. — will be participating.