Five newcomers look to shake things up, bring Utah up to NCAA level


— Chris Ayers

With the start of the 2014-15 season just days away, the Runnin’ Utes are fine-tuning some things for opening night.
“It’s kind of the dog days of the season,” said head coach Larry Krystkowiak.
The annual Night with the Runnin’ Utes is over, and Krystkowiak and company have had ample time to review and get ready for live competition. From analyzing the film to practices and scrimmages, the coaches are attempting to improve this squad daily in preparation for a rigorous Pac-12 season.
“It’s getting better, but there’s so much teaching because one thing we have to remember, even though we have a lot of our production back, we still have five new guys, for sure, that are going to be playing,” Krystkowiak said.
Those “five new guys” are freshmen Kyle Kuzma, Brekkott Chapman, Isaiah Wright, Chris Reyes and Jakob Poeltl. All five of these players had a chance to showcase their talents in preseason scrimmages and are looking to make an early impact on a team that returns nearly every player from last season.
The new group of players was headlined by two in particular, Kuzma and Chapman. Kuzma is a 6-foot-9 forward who has been with the team since last season. After a season of watching the team from off the court as a partial qualifier, Kuzma is looking to finally make an impact on a veteran-laden team.
Chapman, unlike Kuzma, is a true freshman spending his first season with the team. Hailing from Roy, Utah, Chapman is familiar with the program and has taken notice of its recent rise.
Although Kuzma and Chapman were the big fish Krystkowiak was able to reel in, the biggest catch for this Ute squad might be freshman Isaiah Wright. The point guard from Idaho proved to be a big-time player in his high school career, earning the Idaho Gatorade Player of the Year award his final two seasons at Borah High School. Additionally, Wright showed he could win by taking home the state title his senior year, all while being named the MVP of the Idaho 5A State Tournament.
Some may scoff because Idaho is not known as a traditional basketball state, but according to Wright, the basketball play in the Gem State has improved.
“It’s actually getting better over the last couple of years,” Wright said. “There’s competition there, good individual players.”
Another name that has made some offseason buzz is Poeltl, the seven-foot big man from Austria. Ute fans weren’t sure what they were getting with the seven-footer thanks to him playing strictly overseas up until this point, but, rest assured, he is skilled.
Thanks to his polished offensive game and quick footwork, Poeltl could be the perfect complement to the bruising style of play that returning big-man Dallin Bachynski brings to the table. In the Night with the Runnin’ Utes scrimmage, Poeltl finished with 12 points, five rebounds and two blocks, but it was the way the big-man was able to get up and down the floor that impressed most in the Huntsman Center that night.
“It reminds me of playing against my brother,” said center Bachynski of playing against Poeltl every day in practice. “[Going up against Poeltl] helps me defensively.”
Heading into the season, Utah hasn’t received this much hype since the Andre Miller or Andrew Bogut days. With the talented freshmen coming in to help and the already talented squad, the only question that remains is if the games of the incoming players can translate to the NCAA level.
“It’s been a lot of learning, but it’s been really encouraging,” Krystkowiak said of the incoming players. “We understand the mistake factor. The game’s not perfect, and there’s going to be mistakes in teaching. The key for us is to not make the same mistake over and over and for the most part. We’re getting that part down, and it’s getting a bit more advanced … We’ve got a really good group of guys.”
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