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Runnin’ Utes return to hardwoods ready to enter ‘uncharted territory’

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak confirms Utah will still play BYU as program looks to finalize 2020-21 schedule

Utah point guard Rylan Jones and the rest of the Runnin’ Utes open practice Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, at the Utah basketball practice facility in Salt Lake City.
John Vu/Utah Athletics

Although the schedule hasn’t been finalized yet, Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak confirmed Wednesday that the Utes would still play BYU in a preseason contest this season, most likely in December.

Krystkowiak talked about his schedule and a variety of subjects in a media Zoom call Wednesday after his team’s first official practice of the 2020-21 season.

Earlier in the day, the Utes announced they would open the season over Thanksgiving Nov. 25-27 in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The tournament replaces the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas the Utes were scheduled to play in the same week.

The Utes will play 20 Pac-12 games, leaving seven nonconference games. With three games being played in South Dakota, that leaves just four slots to fill.

When Krystkowiak was asked if the Utes would still play at BYU this year, he said, “As far as I know, we’re moving forward with that game and we’ll have three other games to come up with.”

The original schedule had the Utes playing in Provo on Saturday, Dec. 12, but Krystkowiak didn’t say if that date would stay the same.

The Pac-12 had announced last winter that it would play a 20-game schedule, with the first two games being played the first week of December. Krystkowiak said that was still the plan, but the Pac-12 hasn’t announced a basketball schedule yet.

Usually teams get a chance to warm up a bit with exhibition games or games against easy opponents early in the season, but that won’t be the case this year with the abbreviated schedule, especially for Utah playing in such a competitive tournament right out of the gates.

“It’s uncharted territory for all of us, no exhibitions or closed scrimmages. It’s going to be on in dramatic fashion with three games in three nights,” Krystkowiak said. “With the quality of teams there, probably three or four top-20 teams, it will certainly be an opportunity for us to find out early how we stand in the thick of things.”

The Utes return four starters from last year’s 16-15 team that featured 11 freshmen and four sophomores, led by Timmy Allen and Rylan Jones. They also have added newcomers Ian Martinez, Pelle Larsson and Jordan Kellier, who have all been adapting well to the program, according to Krystkowiak.

The Ute coach talked about “the crazy year” beginning with Kobe Bryant’s death, the earthquake, the events surrounding the racial justice movement and of course the COVID-19 pandemic.

His family was directly affected by the latter, with his wife’s parents becoming infected. Jim Wickman died and his wife, Barb, got sick with the virus.

“There weren’t two safer people on the planet when it came to COVID than Jim and Barb Wickman,” Krystkowiak said. “We saw them at very limited times in our backyard with our masks, so it came as a complete shock. It was a setback for our family.”

Krystkowiak said the university and his program are following all the protocols for the virus and he feels confident that his program will keep safe going forward,

“Our players are in a safe place. My fingers are always crossed, but I remain confident that we’re in a good place at the university,” he said. “I’m pretty optimistic we can stay healthy and continue to do a good job with the protocol and keep everybody safe. Everybody’s taking this thing a little more serious and hopefully we can get it under control with our season and other sports as well.”