Jokob Poeltl's declaration for the NBA draft officially leaves a hole in the middle of Utah's frontcourt heading into next season. This was not an unexpected development however, in fact some might say it was surprising he came back for his sophomore year. College athletics are always a revolving door with graduations, transfers and declaring for the draft (particularly in men's basketball). As a result, the coaching staff has been stockpiling big men over the past couple seasons to improve front court depth. With Poeltl's departure, the Utes will need it next season. Here's a look at some of the players that are positioned to step up with Poeltl's departure.
Kyle Kuzma 6-9 221 lbs.
Kuzma often served as a complimentary player to Poeltl this past season, providing an alternative threat to the big Austrian in the post. His game took a big jump from his freshman season, as he averaged 10.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg and 1.5 assists in 23.9 minutes a game as a sophomore. This upcoming year, Kuzma will need to take the next step into becoming a leader for the team, being one of the only returning starters.
Jayce Johnson 7-0, 235 lbs.
Johnson arrived last season as a true freshman and a much heralded four star recruit from California. Physically speaking he is comparable to Poeltl, standing at seven feet and being a true center. An aspect Johnson will bring to the team that lacked at times last season is physicality and toughness. A natural left hander, Johson has the ability to finish with either hand in the post. Originally considered a member of the 2016 class, Johnson decided to graduate early and joined the Utah program in mid December to get acclimatized to the college experience. Johnson's physical traits matched with his reputation as a hard worker seem to make him the most likely candidate to step into the 5 role.
David Collette 6-8, 220 lbs.
Collette was at the center of one of the state of Utah's most controversial transfers last season, when he informed Utah State he would be leaving the school two days before the start of the season. This led to a complicated transfer process, including Collette paying his own way for a year. Collette arrived on campus in January and joined the program receiving a warm welcome from coach Krystkowiak. Collette will not be eligible to play until after the fall, but will bring some valuable experience to the front court when he is able to get on the floor. As a redshirt freshman at Utah State he averaged 12.8 ppg and 5 rpg. Collette is another player who will bring the toughness Krystkowiak is looking for in his players which should earn him important minutes in the rotation.
Makol Mawien 6-9, 210 lbs.
Mawien was a true freshman last season after arring at Utah from nearby Granger High school in West Valley City. Mawien moved to Utah from Egypt at a young age, taking up basketball in the 3rd grade and playing on the same AAU team as Brekkot Chapman. Mawien's frame and athleticism are certainly intriguing, though he is raw offensively without a "go to" move. A three star recruit out of high school, Krystkowiak's ability to work with big men was a pull for him in the recruiting process. Defensively is where Mawien shines and he should be able to make some contributions on that end of the floor for the Utes next season.
Tyler Rawson 6-10, 215 lbs.
Rawson is another local kid who just signed his letter of intent to join the Utes as a transfer out of Salt Lake Community College. Originally a Southern Utah commit, who played a season in Cedar City, Rawson transferred to SLCC last year where he helped lead the Bruins to a NJCAA championship. He averaged 15.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg and 2.6 apg on is way to being named third team All-American. Rawson has decent handles for a big man and has the ability to stretch defenses a little with a 36.5 three point percentage.
Utah will definitely benefit from the influx of big men into the program. While none of them may be as good as the departing Poeltl, depth inside was an issue for Utah last year. The number of big guys on the roster this upcoming season should take care of any depth issues in the front court. Johnson is the biggest, and might be the most talented of the bunch and will probably step into Poeltl's role as the starting 5. Look for Kuzma to continue his role as the starting 4 with Rawson and Collette rotating in depending on the situation and opponent. Mawien should provide some relief for Johnson as well and could be a factor defensively. Toughness is a trait all of these guys posses, which will be an emphasis for Krystkowiak and his staff moving forward into next season. It's tough to lose a player like Poeltl, but there is lots to be excited about with the future of the Runnin' Utes.