Adams: Senior Trio Has Undoubtedly Left Their Mark On Utah Program


When I first started going to the U, the Runnin’ Utes didn’t have much of a presence on campus. Head coach Larry Krystkowiak — who was just named Coach of the Week by ESPN this past weekend — was fresh off of his debut season at Utah, where the Utes went 6-25.

When you have quadruple the amount of losses as you do wins, students tend to lose interest. See, a few years back, whenever I would ask a fellow student whether or not they were going to the basketball game that night, the typical response was, “Oh, there’s a game tonight?”

To say it was nonexistent wouldn’t be fair, but the program was at a low point. Krystkowiak was brought in to turn things around, and five years in, it appears he has. Rising from the ashes, the head coach has turned the Runnin’ Utes into a Pac-12 contender.

While Krystkowiak deserves much of the credit for what’s happened in Salt Lake City, let’s not forget about the players who have been with the team every step of the way since that 6-25 season — the seniors: Brandon Taylor, Dakarai Tucker and Jordan Loveridge.

Turn back the clock four years, take a look at this 2012-13 freshman class and tell me that you HONESTLY thought these three would be leading the Utes to a potential Pac-12 crown. The class didn’t look amazing on paper at the time, obviously, but it was at the moment of Loveridge’s commitment to Krystkowiak that this senior group started exceeding expectations.

These guys weren’t expected to immediately turn things around when they first signed on, and they didn’t. Another losing season for Utah in their freshman campaign wasn’t the ideal start for Taylor, Tucker and Loveridge, but with 86 games of playing experience under their collective belts, the improvement was underway.

That was evident in their sophomore seasons when the Utes climbed back into the winning column, finishing the year with a 21-12 record and an appearance in the NIT tournament. They followed that up the next year by improving to 26-9, which included a top-10 ranking and a Sweet 16 appearance in Houston.

And now, in a year that was supposed to be somewhat of a down year following the departure of Delon Wright, the seniors — with some help, of course — have led the Runnin’ Utes to a current No. 13 ranking with a 23-7 record. After six straight victories, many are declaring Utah possibly the hottest team in the country right now.

Sophomore sensation Jakob Poeltl is a big part of Utah’s gameplan and success, and he will likely go down as one of the greatest bigs ever to don a Ute jersey. But where would this team be without their seniors? Where would the Utes be without Loveridge’s 17 points and five three-pointers in their two-point win over UCLA? What if they didn’t have Tucker to drop 17 points off of the bench in their revenge match against Stanford? And, of course, you can’t forget the most recent notable senior performance of all in Taylor’s 19-point effort in Utah’s first win over Arizona since 1998. In one way or another at multiple times throughout their careers, these three seniors have stepped up for Utah.

They’ve changed their shots and changed their games during their four years on campus for the betterment of the team. This mindset has trickled down into the younger players, and all you hear about at a Utah media availability anymore is how they are all trying to “share the ball” and “look for the extra pass.”

Krystkowiak has done an amazing job developing a winning culture that works for the program, but only certain young men can handle being on a Krystkowiak-led team. You need tough, hard-working players who don’t rely on talent alone — something that is hard to find with incoming freshmen these days.

Krystkowiak hit the jackpot with Tucker, Taylor and Loveridge.

The seniors still have their final chapter to write before they walk away from the college game, but whether the Utes make it back to the Sweet 16 and maybe farther, it doesn’t really matter. This trio has already brought so much to this program, to this fan base and to this campus — they’ve truly done enough.

But make no mistake, they still care about where they finish, and just like they won at UCLA and beat Arizona for the first time in their careers this year, these seniors will be looking to claim another first in the season of firsts — a Pac-12 championship.

So just like Krystkowiak was lucky, consider yourselves lucky Utah fans. Enjoy the final games these seniors have as Utes, because it’s not every day you find players as hard-working and influential as these guys.

[email protected]