SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – It was not a good first season for Craig Smith at the University of Utah. In fact, it was the Runnin’ Utes’ worst season in ten years.
“The year didn’t go the way we wanted it to last year,” Smith said about Utah’s 11-20 record, which included a 4-16 mark in the Pac-12. “We all know that. We lacked physicality up and down the lineup. We obviously are going to have a much different team. I love the guys coming back.”
Brandon Carlsen should be the star of next year’s team, while Marco Anthony, Rollie Worster and Gabe Madson will be relied on heavily as well. But some seven players left the program including Both Gach, who declared for the NBA Draft, David Jenkins and Riley Battin. So Smith brought in some key transfers to help fill the void.
Gavin Baxter is transferring from BYU where he hopes to overcome three season-ending injuries. Wisconsin’s Ben Carlson is coming to Utah, as is Serbian forward Luka Tarlac. But the biggest transfer may be former Wasatch Academy star guard Mike Saunders from Cincinnati.
“He’s a really strong, athletic, explosive bulldog, more like a pitbull,” Smith said. “We need him to come in here right away and make a big-time impact for us as a play-making guard.”
Another Wasatch Academy product Keiba Keta, who is built like a tank, could be an impact player as a 6-foot-9, 225-pound freshman.
“This dude is stuck together,” Smith said about Keita. “He is a brick house. So physically, he’s going to be ready to play. but obviously there’s always an adjustment for freshmen. There’s going to be some growing pains. We’re going to be a very young team, but I’m very excited with these guys coming in and the guys that are coming back.”
Smith made a big move on the coaching staff, hiring Chris Burgess away from BYU to replace Eric Peterson, who left for the head coaching job at South Dakota. Burgess played and coached at Utah. He spent the last seven years under Mark Pope at BYU and Utah Valley.
“He’s a very good coach,” Smith said. “He’s a very good recruiter, and he’s a phenomenal person. We’ve always tried to hire guys that are not just recruiters and not just coaches, but are the total package. Certainly Chris fits that bill in every way, shape and form.”