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Utah Runnin’ Utes Prepare to Take Young Team to Europe

Brittany Johnson

How will Utah’s Runnin’ Utes look after the team lost four of its top six scorers from last season? Utah is preparing to head out on a 10-day European tour so you won’t have to wait long to find out.

This time last season the Utes were still enjoying time off with their families. This time around the guys are hard at work as they get ready to head out of the country on Saturday. The trip abroad will take them through Barcelona, Spain and Paris, France and will include three games.

This trip couldn’t have come at a better time. The Utes will have four new starters, and five newcomers, which includes a redshirt freshman. During practice on Thursday, reporters asked Coach Larry Krystowiak if this trip was good timing with so many new additions to the team.

“If we didn’t have a new guy this would still be valuable,” responded Krystowiak. “We’ve got a lot of work to do in a lot of different areas but it’s going to be helpful.”

Whether Krystowiak wants to admit it or not, the team has big shoes to fill. Kyle Kuzma, the team’s leading scorer from last season, declared for the NBA draft and is now playing with the Los Angeles Lakers, and Lorenzo Bonam, the starting point guard graduated. In addition to that, two of the team’s guards, Jojo Zamora and Devon Daniels transferred.

“Obviously there’s something missing with him gone,” said David Collette, who is referring to the loss of Kuzma. “He was a big part of our team last year but I think we have the talent and the personnel that we need to make up for that.”

“We don’t have a system that we recruit players to and do the same thing each year. But we try to bring in the best players, put them all together and put them in a position where they can be successful. So that’s a different challenge with this group,” Krystowiak said.

The good thing is that there are players ready to step up and into the leadership role.

“I’ve been trying to step up in that position. Sometimes I’m not always the best at being vocal about it (but) I try and lead by example and things like that. I’ve been working on my vocal aspect of it and trying to step up in that way,” said Collette.

“Since I’ve been in the system for a while and this is my last year, I’m more experienced -- I can talk to the younger guys,” added Justin Bibbins, a senior transfer from Long Beach State.

In addition to Bibbins, the new faces on the team include freshmen Donnie Tillman, Brooks King, Christian Popoola, and redshirt freshman Chris Seeley.

With the starting positions still open, players will be using this trip to vie for their spot on the court.

“The more data you can get (the better). Whether it’s numbers we keep track of in practice (or) if it’s visual data that you see what guys can do and can’t do,” Krystowiak said.

According to a press release sent out last week from the university, the Runnin Utes will face off against the Sant Julià All-Stars and the Dax Gamarde Basket while in Barcelona, and the opponent in Paris has yet-to-be announced.

This will be the first out-of-the-country trip for some of the team so they’re looking forward to seeing the sites.

“I’ve never been over there before so seeing all the sites and everything will be really fun. I think playing those teams over there will be a lot of fun as well,” Collette said.

“Just the cities and the monuments out there. I’ve never been but I’ve heard great things. I know our hotel is on the beach in Barcelona so it’s going to be a great experience,” Sedrick Barefield said.

For Bibbins, this trip isn’t just about seeing the sites – he said he’s eager to get back on the court and play.

“I haven’t played since March, since Long Beach (State). Getting out there playing someone different other than my teammates will be a fun experience,” explained Bibbins.