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Coach Larry Krystowiak says Kyle Kuzma’s Rookie Year was the “Perfect Storm”

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s 2:36 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. I just got home from church and running errands. I’m watching some movie called ‘How to be Single,’ starring Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson and Leslie Mann. Don’t ask me why I was watching a movie about four women navigating the single life of New York City. I turned on my TV and that’s what was on.

I think the movie had just begun, and it was on the part where Rebel Wilson’s character, Robin, woke up to some random guy in the kitchen cooking breakfast. She picked up the knife and almost stabbed him because she didn’t know who he was. They must have both gotten drunk the night before or something and she didn’t realize she was at his apartment.

I was never able to see how the rest of the scene played out because my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number so I almost blocked the call — good thing I didn’t because it was University of Utah head men’s basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak.

“Hello, is this Brittany?” asked Krystkowiak.

“Uuummm yes…” I replied, with a confused voice.

“It’s Larry Krystkowiak. Is now a good time?” Krystkowiak asked me.

“Of course it is,” I said, wondering why both of us were just sitting on the couch watching TV on a Memorial Day weekend.

After some small talk, I jumped up and grabbed my laptop to take notes. I was about to ask him a series of questions about former Runnin’ Ute, and current Lakers star Kyle Kuzma.

Kyle Kuzma has been one of the most talked about NBA rookies this season. Most people are ashamed to admit it, but many Utah fans didn’t even think Kuzma was going to be this good of player in the pros. Heck, a lot of people didn’t even view him as a first round pick. The only person I remember going on record from the very beginning and saying that Kuzma was going to be a first round pick was Tony Jones from the Salt Lake Tribune.

It was May 3, 2017 when Kuzma announced that he had hired an agent and would not be returning to the Runnin’ Utes.

“I remember the night that Kyle called me and told me that he was going to stick with the NBA,” said Coach K, reflecting back to 2017. “He’s always been one where his heart has to be completely into something. He was on the fence for a couple months.”

The Michigan native turned out to have one of the best performances in the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago and went on to workout for five NBA teams.

“He worked his tail off,” said Coach K. “All of his hard work paid off and he got recognized,” he added.

Kuzma’s name was called as the number 27 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Generally, when players are taken late in the first round, they serve as role players, but not Kuzma. The rookie quickly became a star for the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I don’t think he could’ve landed in a better spot than the Lakers,” Coach K said. “Kyle blew those guys away in his workout and in his interview…” “It was the perfect storm for him.”

The hybrid forward played in 77 games his debut season and averaged 16.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists. He shot 45 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from the three. The numbers Kuzma put up his rookie year from beyond the arc have consistently improved over the years.

Kuzma’s sophomore year at the U, he shot 26 percent from three-point range. That number improved to 32 percent his junior year. His jump shot has pretty much always been solid. He averaged 16.4 points per game and shot over 50 percent from the field.

“If he stayed in college I think he could have competed for ‘Player of the Year,’ ” said Krystkowiak.

Kuzma did not get ‘Player of the Year’ at the U but he can add ‘All-Rookie Team’ to his list of accomplishments. It’s something the Lakers power forward set as one of his goals when he first entered the league.

Krystkowiak said that Kuzma making the ‘All-Rookie Team’ is a great accomplishment and it’s not by chance.

“I can remember hundreds of times over the course of four years and I could hear a ball bouncing in the gym. I’d peak my head in and it’d be Kyle,” Coach K said. “I think about the maturity Kyle had because he knew what was good for him even though it wasn’t fun at the time. He completely brought into that and lived that entire process for us.”

“I don’t know if I’ve coached anyone harder than Kyle,” Krystkowiak admitted.

The former Ute has always spoken fondly of the university. Throughout the season he has been spotted wearing his Utah shirts during warm ups and has been heard praising the academic and athletic program in his interviews.

“I’m watching golf on TV and I got goosebumps from head to toe,” replied Coach K when I asked him how it makes him feel when he sees Kuzma shinning a positive light on the UofU. “He’s a special one,” coach K added.

Since the Lakers missed the playoffs, Kuzma has had more time to develop his overall game. He’s been quoted in multiple reports saying that he wants to “refine everything” about his game.

So what kind of Kuz will we see in the 2018-2019 season? Let us know in the comments below.

Extra Takes

Who is Larry Krystkowiak picking for NBA Rookie of the Year?

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell because he lead his team to the playoffs. (Kyle Kuzma is also pulling for Donovan Mitchell.)

Why has Kyle Kuzma been more of a standout player for the Lakers than Lonzo Ball, who was projected to be one of the top rookies?

“Some of the expectations people have are unfair,” said Krystkowiak. “At the end of the day, Lonzo Ball was in college for one year. I can’t imagine Kyle Kuzma being in the NBA after one year of college. I think Kyle was more ready from a mental, maturity point of view to have some success. I think that will happen with Lonzo too, but I think these kids are thrust into unfair expectations. When he [Lonzo] got thrust into that situation I think it’s super healthy.”