Pelle Larsson, Swedish Native and Runnin’ Utes Freshman Phenom

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University of Utah Men’s Basketball player, Pelle Larsson (#3), brings the ball down the court in the season-opening game against the University of Washington in the Jon M. Huntsman Center on Dec. 3, 2020. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Cole Bagley, Sports Editor

 

The University of Utah Runnin’ Utes men’s basketball team has endured a difficult 2020-21 season — and it is not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the new set of protocols and regulations, the season has been one of ups and downs. The Utes have lost a lot of close battles and find themselves towards the bottom of the Pac-12 standings. But despite the struggles, one bright spot has been freshman guard and Swedish native Pelle Larsson.

Pelle’s Path to Basketball

Basketball has always been a family affair. Larsson’s father, Christian, played professional basketball in Sweden and his older brother, Vilgot, is a senior on the University of Maine basketball team. With so much talent in his immediate family, Pelle attributes much of his inspiration and success to his father and brother.

“My dad is who got me started playing basketball,” Larsson said. “I also competed with my brother my whole childhood. He’s three years older so that was great competition for me. I don’t know how much he competed with me but I was always trying to beat him, so that was a big part of my life when I was younger.”

Additionally, Larsson took inspiration from NBA superstars such as Kobe Bryant, Kawhi Leonard, Luka Dončić and especially Rajon Rondo. Growing up a Celtics fan, Larsson would watch a lot of their games and would be mesmerized by the way Rondo controlled the floor and the flashy passes he’d make on a nightly basis. He loved the way he’d get his teammates involved and wanted to mirror those attributes, in addition to those of his other favorite players.

As Larsson studied these players, he developed the dream to one day play in the NBA. While that dream remains, his journey is just beginning.

Prior to Utah

Before suiting up in the crimson colors, Larsson was busy scorching the nets in the top basketball leagues Europe has to offer. In the summer of 2019, Larsson was selected to compete for Sweden’s U18 team in the B Division at the FIBA U18 European Championships. During the tournament, he averaged 15.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists. This performance quickly caught the eyes of Utah’s recruiting staff as Larsson showed just how versatile he was.

Assistant coach Andy Hill was quickly impressed with the talent he was seeing and made sure to bring the young guard to head coach Larry Krystkowiak’s attention as soon as possible.

“Pelle and his family came here, and I went to Sweden and spent some time,” Krsystkowiak said. “You can see that he’s a physical athletic guard that’s really skilled and has some ability with his size to defend and get into the paint and make some plays. So I’ve been extremely high on him since we first started watching him.”

After gaining the attention of several schools due to his impressive performance in the European championships, Larsson’s phone started ringing off the hook with offers. However, determined to stay focused, he directed all the attention towards his dad in order to devote his attention to the remainder of the tournament.

“I told pretty much everybody I can’t deal with this right now but you can talk to my dad and my dad will let you know what the deal is,” Larsson said.

But shortly thereafter, Larsson would weigh his options and on Nov. 8, 2019, he committed to be a Utah Man and join the Runnin’ Utes for the 2020 season.

At the U

While the Utes have struggled to win on a consistent basis, the freshmen guard is averaging 7.4 points per game, 2.6 assists per game and is shooting at a blistering rate of 47% from the floor and 52% from three-point range. While his shooting has clearly been a strong point for Larsson, he takes a lot of pride in his ability to share the ball.

“Sharing the ball, I think, and making sure there’s a good flow and rhythm in the team,” Larsson said. “And making plays to try to get other people open, I think that’s the strongest part of my game.”

Thanks to that mindset and a strong production off of the bench, after the first seven games of the season coach Krystkowiak decided to insert the freshman into the starting lineup. In his first career start for the Utes, Larsson posted a career-high 15 points on 5-8 from the field and a perfect 3-3 from the three-point line. He also dished out a career-high five assists and, despite the loss, put on a remarkable individual performance.

“Coach has a lot of trust in me to go and out and make plays and that gives you a confidence boost,” Larsson said. “It’s really nice to have that confirmation that they have a lot of confidence in me because earlier they were starting Alfonso Plummer and he’s a great player. So just to see they have that same trust in me is a good sign.”

Since starting against Oregon, Larsson has continued to build that trust with the coaching staff as he’s performed at a high level and started in every game since. While the wins haven’t necessarily been there, it’s all valuable experience for the young guard as he looks to continue to improve on his game each and every night.

With a little less than half of their season remaining, the Runnin’ Utes have a lot of ground to make up as they’ve struggled to win on a consistent basis and find themselves towards the bottom of the Pac-12. As Utah looks to close out their season strong, Larsson stays positive and motivated to contribute as much as he can and help the team turn things around.

 

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