Three Takeaways From Craig Smith’s Press Conference As New Utah Head Coach

Mar 27, 2021, 1:01 PM | Updated: Mar 28, 2021, 4:15 pm
Craig Smith - Utah Utes...
New Utah Utes head basketball coach Craig Smith. (Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – University of Utah AD Mark Harlan officially introduced Craig Smith as the next head basketball coach on Saturday morning.

Craig Smith will take over the Utah men’s basketball program after three seasons with the Utah State Aggies.

Harlan and Smith held a press conference on Saturday morning. It was a press conference that Smith won as he brought passion and energy but knows that a lot of work needs to be done in the months ahead before the season starts.

Here are three takeaways from the press conference.

Goal Is To Reach NCAA Tournament And Win There

Craig Smith took the Utah State Aggies to three straight NCAA Tournaments. Something that has been rare in recent history of the program. Over the last decade under Larry Krystkowiak, the Runnin’ Utes have only made it to the big dance twice.

The goal that Smith has for Utah moving forward beginning this next season is simple.

“Our goal is to get to the NCAA tournament and win when we get there and that’ll be our goal next year,” Smith said. “We’re not gonna settle for anything less than that so it takes courage, it takes a strong backbone, it takes incredible amount of work, belief in your coaches and yourself and your teammates to do that. We had an unbelievable group of young men at Utah State for the last three years. It was incredible the growth that they made. We’re going to do the same thing at the University of Utah.”

Craig Smith Wants Utah To Schedule Aggressively In Non-Conference Play

One of the complaints from fans about the last coaching staff was the non-conference schedule. Too many lower division opponents and programs would come to Utah and the Runnin’ Utes scheduled just a handful of quality teams in non-conference play. That will change under Craig Smith.

“I have always believed to be the best you got to play the best. Our motto is bring on the competition,” Smith stated. “The last three years, our NET ranking was 42 or lower at Utah State. My mentality is let’s be a part of this program to make it the best possible program you can and to do that you got to play and schedule up. We want to play in marquee events, we want to play marquee teams. Of course, the Pac-12 is one of the marquee conferences in the country. So we’re going to get that on a nightly basis in conference play. But I think it’s incredibly important to play a very strong non-conference schedule, whether it’s a home-and-home, neutral court games, obviously MTE’s. We’ll look at everything and anything that way.

“I love home and homes,” Smith continued. “I know a lot of programs are kind of going away from that and a lot of programs want to play in that neutral court game, but I’m a big believer in the college experience. I want our fans to be able to watch the Utes playing excellent competition. They’re gonna see that annually with the Pac-12 teams. But let’s bring in great teams to Salt Lake City and onto our campus and we’ll return the favor. I think that’s great for all the students, all the student athletes, all the donors and our entire fan base. That was one of the first things I asked for when this thing got finalized, I want to see our non-conference schedule and get rolling on that thing, because that’s one of the most important aspects of our job. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time, and it’s a daily deal that you’re just constantly maintaining to see who’s looking, who can we bring in, and we want to play as many quad one games that we possibly can because it’s proven specifically over the last three years that’s what helps you get to the NCAA tournament. You gotta to win but you got to be able to win quad one games and that’s been a huge deal for us at Utah State.”

Getting To Know New Players On Current Roster

It’s uncommon for a head coach to join a program and inherit a solid roster, especially in this day and age of college basketball. When coaching changes occur, players typically enter the transfer portal. Coach Smith will have some solid players to build the program around with Rylan Jones, Alfonso Plummer, Ian Martinez, Pelle Larsson and Mikael Jantunen. Smith is in the process of watching film and meeting with his new players.

“First of all, I’m excited about the roster,” Smith stated. “Obviously, any roster and I’ve been down this road before, a few different times, whether it’s been an assistant coach, or certainly as a head coach. I was up late last night watching film, up earlier this morning, watching more film. Just trying to get a true feel for who we are and trying to identify, understanding our personnel, what strengths do we have? How do we need to get better? Those types of things. I’m still in that process. I had a great meeting with the team earlier today. Just talking and showing empathy for this year. It’s been a long year for everybody with COVID, and all that entails. But also building relationships, that was the first step. I’ll have individual meetings with every student athlete here shortly in the next few days.”

Two rotation players entered the transfer portal during the time that Larry Krystkowiak was hired to when Craig Smith was hired. Timmy Allen and Riley Battin are both in the portal. Smith knows that is part of college basketball now.

“Certainly the transfer portal  is twice as high as it was at this time a year ago,” said Smith. “The transfer portal and the transfer game has been a part of the game, specifically the last few years. Certainly it’s at a whole nother level this year and that’s part of it. I’ve always wanted guys in our program that want to be here, that are fully invested, that are all in to making University of Utah basketball the best that it can be. I’m very confident in what we’ve done in our past, whether it’s at Utah State or University of South Dakota or Mayville State as a head coach. We’ve always taken over programs that maybe were kind of average or below average, and been able to flip it and flip it quicker than people realize.

“So I think we have a great nucleus,” Smith added. “We’ll negotiate through that and build relationships and talk expectations. I’ll be able to convey to them what I see in them and how we think their role can expand or develop or how they can improve. I think that’s a constant everywhere we’ve been is our guys get better, and they improve, and we have a great time doing it. Our guys are gonna have a great style of play, they’re gonna have a great time. While we’re at it, we have a lot of fun, but we also know when to go to work and I think that’s a great balance to have.”

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASportsYou can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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