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For Utah basketball, it’s about taking baby steps

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Rick Egan | Tribune file photo Larry Krystkowiak is entering his second season as the coach of the Utah men's basketball team.

By Bill Oram

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jul 17 2012 08:41PM
Updated Oct 30, 2012 11:32PM

Even Larry Krystkowiak admits that this whole rebuilding thing may take a while.

That’s why the most important part of the Utah men’s basketball team’s August trip to Brazil is 20 bonus practice days. It’s why he scheduled a preseason schedule as soft as a, well, you know.

But …

"I truly believe this is the start of something," Krystkowiak said.

After a first year in the Pac-12 in which they finished 6-25, the Utes have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is here, with the coach truly believing, expectations — or even awareness — at what would be record lows if such things were actually recorded.

The preseason schedule was instantly knocked for being so easy a Ute could win it. Although games against Evergreen State, Willamette and Texas State — which is actually Division I — may not prepare Utah for a Pac-12 that is sure to be tougher than last year, Krystkowiak and athletic director Chris Hill said it will help the Utes’ transition.

"We’re trying to grow our team this year," Hill said, "so it’s not going to be as intense a schedule this year as it will be two or three years from now when we feel like we’re in a position to really take a run at a championship."

It was a surprising level of candor from Hill and an acknowledgement of how far the program has fallen and the difficulties Krystkowiak faces. Hill said Krystkowiak didn’t need to sell him on scheduling more winnable games than last year, when Utah was 3-9.

"I would have, in a sense, been disappointed if he didn’t think that was the way to go," Hill said.

Jeff Eisenberg, A Yahoo college basketball writer, said the schedule had "all the name-brand appeal of a shopping trip at Kmart."

The schedule, however, was by no means lacking strategy. The home-and-home with Southern Methodist, coached by Hall of Famer Larry Brown, on Nov. 28 and Dec. 18 was designed to replicate the rhythm of a Pac-12 series.

"I think it kind of gets you into a conference mode a little bit," Krystkowiak said, "where you’re preparing and making adjustments."

Krystkowiak hopes to be ahead of the curve by the time domestic games roll around.

Thanks to new NCAA rules, the Ute coaches have been allowed two hours of practice with the team each week. The Brazil trip, from Aug. 4-14, opens up 10 additional practice days, plus each day of the trip.

Already, coaches have gotten a good look at freshmen such as Jordan Loveridge and Justin Seymour, who are expected to contribute immediately. Others being closely watched include senior Jarred DuBois, who transferred from Loyola Marymount and will be eligible immediately, and junior college transfer Renan Lenz, who is from the Brazilian state Rio Grande do Sul.

Krystkowiak said Lenz would be able to visit his family, but that those ties had nothing to do with planning the trip.

"When we recruited him," Krystkowiak said, "I made it clear that we didn’t want him to come to Utah because he got to go back to Brazil for 10 days, because that’s really a drop in the bucket to spending two years with us."

Krystkowiak, who in little more than a year as Utah’s coach has never shied from decisions that make sense for the program but may result in bad PR, canceled the Utes’ first game in Brazil in favor of a full day of practice.

"That’s basically only five guys playing at a time," Krystkowiak said, "and we felt like we needed our entire team to be able to run around and practice."

For the Utes, this summer has extra significance. With only two returning contributors from last year’s team, Utah can get a jump start on some of the fall-camp formalities. By the time the team comes together for practices, Krystkowiak said he expects to have a strong sense of who has earned playing time and starting roles.

"I think with a trip like this you can really speed up that process and advance yourself down that line to where you’re performing," he said. "And I think that’s going to give us a big boost."

boram@sltrib.com

Twitter: @oramb

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