Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak and the Runnin' Utes open the exhibition portion of their 2014-15 season at 8:30 p.m. MT tonight at the newly renovated Jon M. Huntsman Center. Utah enters the season ranked 25th in the AP Poll and will look to fine tune their skills playing host to the Boxers of Pacific University Oregon.
The Utes are lead by senior All-Pac 12 point guard Delon Wright. Many experts believe that Wright may be the best player in the conference this season, and he begins the season as an All America candidate, as well. Wright, along with teammates junior forward Jordan Loveridge, junior guard Brandon Taylor, junior guard/forward Dakarai Tucker, junior forward/center Jeremy Olson, and senior center Dallin Bachynski, returns from last season's 21-12 Runnin' Utes team that has been picked to finish second in the Pac-12 this season. The Utes also expect big things from redshirt freshman forward Kyle Kuzma (6-9, 210), freshman forward Brekkott Chapman (6-8, 200, ranked No. 12 for the 2014 class by ESPN), freshman guard Isaiah Wright (6-2, 177), and freshman center Jakob Poeltl (7-0, 235). Another newcomer, JC transfer Chris Reyes (6-7, 230) was named Western State Conference MVP. All were highly regarded recruits expected to boost an already talented and experienced Utah roster.
While some players were relaxing in the off season, several players got additional experience. D. Wright was one of 30 players invited to take part in the LeBron James Skills Academy. Loveridge, Taylor, and Olsen joined Krystkowiak on the Pac-12 All Star team that toured China. Taylor enters the season needing only 11 3-pointers to enter the Top 10 all time at Utah. Loveridge needs just 128 points to become the 37th Utes player to eclipse the 1,000-point barrier. Sophomore guard Kenneth Ogbe suited up for the U-20 German National Team. (Last season, the 6-6 Ogbe shot 47 percent on 3-pointers, the best mark for a Utah freshman in program history.)
Poeltl might be the most intriguing of the newcomers. Most fans who really follow recruiting know about Kuzma and Chapman, perhaps even Idaho Gatorade Player of the Year, I. Wright, but the big Austrian is a bit of a mystery, as are most foreign players. However, in a recently held closed scrimmage against Wyoming, the Salt Lake Tribune reported the young 7-footer led the Utes with 15 points and 8 rebounds.
There is a chance there will be some Boxer fans occupying some of the Huntsman Center seats. The Boxers come to town with Utah high school players Skyler Burgess and Riley Grandinetti on their roster. Burguess, a 6-5, 215-pound junior forward is a transfer from Treasure Valley Community College and played his high school ball at Riverton High School. Grandinetti is a 5-10, 150-pound senior guard who played at Murray High School before playing two season at Southwestern Oregon Community College. Grandinetti played all 25 games last year for the Boxers with 17 starts and led the team with a 66.7 shooting percentage.
Expectations are high as the Utes were picked to finished 2nd behind Arizona at Pac-12 Media Days. The pressure cooker of high expectations is something new to the Runnin' Utes under Krystkowiak, as his teams have thus far overachieved. This season, the Utes also face a daunting schedule, with NCAA Tournament teams like Wichita State, Kansas, UNLV, and San Diego State all on this year's slate in addition to an always tough Pac-12 schedule.