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Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak is optimistic about future of Ute program with ‘100% of production’ back along with touted newcomers

Utah Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak talks to forward Mikael Jantunen (20) and guard Both Gach (11) during the game against the Washington State Cougars at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020.
Utah Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak talks to forward Mikael Jantunen (20) and guard Both Gach (11) during the game against the Washington State Cougars at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — For Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak, it’s a time to clean out the garage, do some yard work, work on jigsaw puzzles with the family, and teach his kids some card games.

Like everyone else affected by the coronavirus crisis, Krystkowiak is spending more time at home these days with his family, which includes his wife, Jan, and their five children, Cam, who just returned from Dartmouth College, Luc, who was a walk-on for the Runnin’ Utes this year, Ben, who played for Olympus High, and twin daughters, Samantha and Finley.

Krystkowiak took time Friday to reflect on the 2019-20 season, which ended nine days earlier with a heartbreaking loss to Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, and to look ahead to next season.

The 71-69 loss in Las Vegas left the Utes with a winning record of 16-15, the seventh straight under Krystkowiak, but the fewest number of wins since 2012-13 when the Utes were 15-18.

He and his assistant coaches completed their exit interviews with each player before each went back to their homes, where they’ll complete the semester with online classes.

Krystkowiak was happy with the season for the most part, saying there were “highs and lows,” which was “not unexpected when you have younger players.” However, he expects more from next year’s team, which will have “100% of our production back” — something not many teams in America can claim.

The Utes are only losing one senior in Marc Reininger, who was only able to play three games due to an ankle injury the first two months and the effects of a concussion that sidelined him the last two months.

Forwards Timmy Allen and Riley Battin and Both Gach, who have each been starters for most of their first two seasons, will be juniors, while Alfonso Plummer, who finished the year in spectacular fashion with a 35-point game against Oregon State, will be the only senior.

Guard Rylan Jones and center Branden Carlson both started as freshmen, Mikael Jantunen and Jaxon Brenchley saw a lot of minutes off the bench, while big men Lahat Thioune and Matt Van Komen played sparingly as freshmen.

A lot of folks are wondering if every player will return next year, given the recent history of players not returning to the Utes’ program and the fact that the Utes have three highly-touted freshmen coming in next year.

Krystkowiak, however, believes that all of his players will be returning next season and that there will be enough scholarships for everyone, meaning no one will be forced to leave.

“At this point I don’t anticipate that happening,” he said about players potentially leaving the program. “Players are with families right now, but based on discussions with our guys I feel real optimistic about it.”

Men’s basketball programs are allowed 13 scholarship players and Krystkowiak said the Utes are “at the magic spot” right now. Reininger had a scholarship, as did walk-on Brooks King, but the Utes will have those two freed up as well as one they had “in our pocket” to accommodate the three incoming freshmen.

The Utes don’t have any more scholarships to offer, with Ian Martinez, Caleb Lohner and Pelle Larsson joining the program. Mason Falslev, a guard out of Sky View, is going on a church mission as is guard Brandon Haddock, a guard out of Texas, who played sparingly this year. Brendan Wenzel, a 6-6 guard from Texas who redshirted, is expected to be back.

“We weren’t an overly deep team and we had some holes in our roster, so I’m super excited to add the three freshmen we have coming in,” Krystkowiak said. “They all bring something to the table that we need and we’ll sort out some minutes. We had some guys this year that could have used more rest and to have a little more depth on the roster — I’m extremely optimistic about it.”

Ute players are obviously on their own for the next few weeks and it’s up to them to keep up on their studies and workouts, Krystkowiak said.

“A lot of this is going to be a matter of want-to and how they want to get after and address the things they need to work on,” he said. “In a player meeting, I was joking that if you really want to get in shape you can do it in prison — you don’t need a fancy facility to do it.”

As for any pressure about his job security after the Utes have failed to get to the NCAA Tournament for four years, Krystkowiak said it’s not any more intense than usual.

“I’ve said it many times, nobody puts any pressure on me that I don’t put on myself,” he said. “I expect that same thing. Nobody’s going to get me cranked up to where I feel any more pressure on me than I do internally. I expect a lot out of our team and myself and the standard is high. We’re going to deal a heck of a lot more with what lies ahead than with what’s taken place.”

Krystkowiak also said he didn’t have any more news about the schedule, which includes games at BYU and Missouri as well as Utah Valley at home and a spot in the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.

As for the 20-game Pac-12 schedule, which will begin next year, he said, “I don’t have any problems with it. You gain a little flexibility, you have to find two less preseason games and when you’re talking about our conference, the two that you’re going to be adding are two good games. It creates a more equitable situation for everybody.”