SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – After Larry Krystkowiak got fired in March, no less than six rotation players left the program, including its two leading scorers, Timmy Allen and Alphonso Plummer.
But Craig Smith has brought his patented energy and enthusiasm from Utah State to the Runnin’ Utes to inject some optimism into the program.
“Obviously we had an exodus of players, which has become common for some programs in general,” Smith said before the Utes first official practice Tuesday afternoon. “Certainly when you’re a new coach, that’s going to be a theme. But I’m fired up, I love coming to the gym with this group.”
The Utes have eight new players, including two former Aggies, Rollie Worster and Marco Anthony, to help ease the transition.
“They know exactly what to expect from myself and the coaches,” Smith said. “They know the terminology. Certainly we’re doing some things differently. You’ve got to adapt to your team and your roster and what you have in place. We’re a lot different team than we were at Utah State.”
Smith expects Both Gach’s transfer back to Utah to come through soon. But he’s relying on returners like Riley Battin, Branden Carlsen and Jaxon Brenchley to provide leadership.
“Those guys have been through the Pac-12 battles,” Smith said. “They’ve been through the league. They understand the travel. They understand the level of competition.”
The Utes will also count on UNLV transfer David Jenkins Jr. to help pick up the scoring slack.
Smith led Utah State to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in all three of his years in Logan, winning two Mountain West Tournament championships. Now his goal is to get the Utes back to the Big Dance for the first time since 2016.
“Is that going to be tough to do? Of course it is,” Smith said. “It’s going to be very, very difficult to do. I’ve learned a long time ago comparison is the thief of joy. We’re a different team, but when we got hired there three and a half years ago, we were picked ninth in the league and we finished 25th in the country. The truth is you just never know how thing are going to come together.”
Utah tips off the season November 4th against Abilene Christian.