With the sound of sneakers squeaking and basketballs bouncing, Utah, coming off a 21-win season, wrapped up its first practice session for the upcoming season this afternoon.
"I thought it was a good start," head coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "We've been working on a lot of things in the skill sessions allowed to us by NCAA rules so we didn't do anything new. I thought our guys were juiced up for the first day . It's been a long time since the guys had gone for two, two-and-a-half hours in a controlled setting. It was a productive session and our guys really got after it. The key now for everyone is to keep brining that energy every day, to find that extra gear."
"For the first practice, I thought things went pretty well," junior Brandon Taylor added. "It was really competitive from the jump and everyone was focused. We attacked things like we should have, with enthusiasm and energy."
Head coach Larry Krystkowiak and his staff, along with current Utes Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor and Jeremy Olsen traveled to China as part of the Pac-12 Globalization Initiative. The team defeated Guangdong, the Chinese Basketball Association regular-season champion, as well as the Shanghai Sharks, a squad owned by eight-time NBA All-Star Yao Ming. In addition to the competition, the team also participated in various youth clinics while taking in the culture and history of China with visits to various landmarks and historical sites in the cities of Shanghai, Nantong and Shenzhen.
Senior point guard Delon Wright was invited to the LeBron James Skills Academy in July, which showcased the top 30 players in the NCAA. Off the court, Wright was named the 2014 Male Collegiate Athlete of the Year for the state of Utah.
The Utes bring back a lot of talent from last season's 21-win squad, losing only one starter and returning their top six scorers.
Utah finished as one of the most offensively-efficient teams in college basketball last year, shooting 48.8 percent from the floor. The Utes won 15 of their games by double figures and ranked 15th nationally in scoring margin (+10.8).
Defensively, the Utes excelled at guarding the three-point line, holding opponents to 30.8 percent from beyond the arc, tops in the league.
Wright returns from a season where he was named Utah's first All-Pac-12 performer in program history. The senior was also named to the All-Defensive team after finishing 10th in the nation in steals per game. His 82 steals were second only to Andre Miller's school record of 84 set during the 1998-99 season. Wright needs only 31 steals to crack the top-10 all-time at Utah.
Offensively, the senior also had one of the best single-season assist marks with 174 (5.3 per game). Another number within reach is the 1,000-point plateau as Wright sits 487 away from the milestone.
Wright also led the league in minutes played with 36.4 per contest. He ranked among the top 15 in a handful of other categories including field goal percentage (3rd), assist/turnover ratio (5th), blocks (6th), scoring (10th), rebounding (12th) and free throw percentage (13th)
Junior forward Jordan Loveridge became the first Ute in program history to receive a weekly honor from the Pac-12. Loveridge is currently 22nd all-time in career average for a Ute, with 13.4 points per game. He needs 128 points to become the 37th player in Utah history to eclipse 1,000 points. The Utah native ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in rebounding (7.0) and 12th in scoring (14.7), while racking up six double-doubles.
Brandon Taylor needs 11 3-pointers to crack the top-10 all-time at Utah. The junior also sits 10th all-time in career three-point field goal percentage at 40.5. Taylor also ranked sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio, while placing 11th in assists per game
Also returning is senior center Dallin Bachynski. The big Canadian quietly had one of the most effective seasons scoring the basketball in Utah history. Bachynski shot 61.9 percent from the floor, the fourth-highest total for a Ute with at least 100 attempts from the field.
The Runnin' Utes added a number of transfers and high school freshmen to the mx in the offseason, with one of the highest rated Kyle Kuzma is originally from Flint, Mich. Scout.com listeds Kuzma as the 25th best power forward in the nation for his class, and ESPN rated him as a four-star commit. Kuzma is an interesting story, as he signed with Utah as a 6-foot-6 shooting guard and enrolled in school last season as a 6-9 small forward! The Michigan native has three-point range, good post moves, and good handles.
Brekkott Chapman is a local product, having attended Roy High School. The 6-8 forward ranked No. 12 in the class of 2014 by ESPN. He's a talented big with shooting range, good rebounding instincts, touch around the basket, and real ball-handling skills. As much as Chapman is a scorer and rebounder, he's also a highly underrated passer.
Isaiah Wright, a 6-2 point guard, went to Borah High School in Boise, Idaho, the same school as Utah assistant Tommy Connor. The Idaho Gatorade Player of the Year was also named the 5A All-Idaho Player of the Year and MVP of the 5A Idaho State Tournament, while leading his squad to a state title.
Jakob Poeltl is a seven-footer hailing from Austria. He captained the U-18 Austrian national team at the European Championships and was named to the all-league second team by Eurobasket.
Chris Reyes is a 6-7 transfer forward from Citrus College where he was named the Western State Conference South MVP and a First Team All-State selection. In high school, Reyes was a two-time Sierra League MVP, while being named Division 3AA CIF Co-Player of the Year.
The final two additions for the Utes were Jake Connor, son of current assistant coach Tommy Connor, and Eris Winder, cousin to BYU's Anson Winder.
What the Experts Are Saying:
Athlon Sports College Basketball magazine doesn't have Utah in the Top 25, but does have the Utes making the tournament (two and out, losing to Kansas in their early projected field of 68). They also project Wright as a second team All America, one of only two Pac-12 players on the three teams (Arizona freshman forward Stanley Johnson was the other, a third team selection).