Craig Smith: I’m Not Hiding From The Transfer Portal, It’s Part Of Our Game Now

Apr 9, 2021, 1:56 PM | Updated: 2:00 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 men’s basketball head coach Craig Smith realizes that the transfer portal will be a big part of college basketball.

With numbers reaching an all-time high, Craig Smith is looking heavily into the transfer portal for the next batch of talent for Utah basketball. The Runnin’ Utes currently have four players in the transfer portal and an additional two guys that were in the portal at some point and decided to return to Utah all while Craig Smith was getting acclimated to the job. The four portal players include Alfonso Plummer, Timmy Allen, Ian Martinez and Jordan Kellier.

Riley Battin and Lahat Thioune are back with the program now that Craig Smith is the head coach of the program. On top of that, Smith picked up a transfer from Cincinnati in Gabe Madsen.

Smith joined the Crimson Corner for a live stream on Thursday morning to discuss many things including the transfer portal.

“Listen, I’m not hiding from the portal thing. That’s part of our game now,” Smith told KSL Sports. “Obviously, the transfer portal is at an all time high right now. They’re anticipating 1,400 to 1,500 men’s basketball players to be in the portal. We’ll divide that out by 357. I mean, over the last three years, over three men’s basketball players per year per program has transferred out. That’s part of the deal and that’s okay. I’m believing what we do. We’ve had great success with guys not transferring out and I think that’s because of the relationships that we build with our players and how we treat our guys.

“I think our guys see how they get better, right skill development is a monster priority and what we do, of putting guys in a position to succeed, really shows on the floor,” Smith added. “At the end of the day, those guys know that we truly care about them. So that’s just part of it. If guys don’t want to be a part of our program, that’s okay. We wish them the best of luck. I know what we are. I know what our coaching staff is. I know the culture that we have, the enthusiasm that we have every day, our guys have a blast, but they know we genuinely care about them. That shines and then you add in all the other things that the University of Utah has. It’s incredible. This is a great place to be and I just can’t wait to get going.”

Craig Smith Brings Riley Battin Out Of Transfer Portal

Battin entered the portal on March 24, just over a week after Larry Krystkowiak was fired after 10 seasons as head coach. The junior pulled his name from the portal on March 30, days after Craig Smith was hired. Smith is excited to coach Battin.

“Riley is a very good player, I think he fits our style of play in a major way,” Smith said. “Obviously, he went into the portal before there was an announcement and then met with them. I think he watched us play a lot at Utah State and understands our style really fits him. I really didn’t have to convince him of anything and we have some mutual friends in the business and that speaks for itself, I think. But we’ve had tremendous success at every stop with guys like Riley, he really understands the game. He knows how to play. He’s very skilled.”

Smith has been impressed with what he has seen from Battin in team workouts.

“We’ve had individual workouts and Riley is high IQ, he’s more athletic than you realize, he can really shoot it, that’s one thing that stood out to me in these workouts is how well he shoots the ball,” Smith mentioned. “But he just knows how to play. We’re doing some three-on-three stuff and he’s setting flare screens and down screens and has a great feel of when to slip screens. He just knows who he is as a player. I think that’s part of being a great player and I’m really excited to coach Riley and he’s all in, he wants to be here.”

Battin started his career at Utah in 2018-19 where he started in 21 of the 31 games he played as a true freshman. He averaged 6.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. During the 2019-20 season as a sophomore, Battin started in 28 of the 31 games played, posting averages of 7.8 points and 4.6 rebounds.

This past season, Battin’s role was primarily off the bench, starting in 9 of the 25 games. He averaged 6.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per contest.

Coming out of high school in Oak Park, California, Battin was a three-star prospect in the 2018 class. He was the No. 22 ranked recruit in the state of California. He received offers from Davidson, Ohio State, Vanderbilt, American, Bucknell, Cal Poly, Clemson, Colorado, Georgia Tech, Loyola Marymount, Northwestern, Portland, San Francisco, San Jose State, UC Santa Barbara, Utah State, Washington State and Yale.

Former Cincinnati G Gabe Madsen Joining The Runnin’ Utes

Former Cincinnati guard Gabe Madsen is the first player to transfer to Utah basketball under head coach Craig Smith. Gabe Madsen finished his first season with Cincinnati during the 2020-21 campaign. Smith was asked what Madsen brings to the Utah program.

“Gabe opted out for various reasons last year,” Smith mentioned. “We saw him play a lot going into his senior year of high school when we were at Utah State because we were recruiting him and his brother. He has a twin brother and then there was one other guy on his AAU team that we were really looking at. Gabe was offered by a bunch of high majors, University of Minnesota, University of Iowa, University of Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, I don’t remember them all. We knew we weren’t going to be able to get him at Utah State and that was partially why. Gabe and his brother decided to go to Cincinnati, they wanted to go together. But obviously that didn’t work out for him.”

Despite being young and new to the college game, Smith thinks that Madsen has a bright future at Utah.

“He’s a 6’6, dynamic guard. He’s a younger kid but he’s got great length,” said Smith. “Very good athlete. I think he knows how to play. He’s got all the tools in the book. But he’s still a young guy. He’s a freshman, but we have high expectations for Gabe. I think he’ll do really well. The things that we talked about and the things that were a priority to him really aligned. We have such a rich tradition of excellence here. It was just a great fit that way. So obviously, as a freshman, we’ll play the best players. A few years ago, we started two freshmen at Utah State. Last year, we started a true freshman point guard. I’m not afraid to play whoever it is, but the best players and the guys that give us the best chance to win are the guys that are gonna get to see the floor but I think Gabe has a very bright future. He’s just scratching the surface of how good he’s going to be.”

On December 31, 2020, Madsen announced he was going to opt out of the rest of the college basketball season. During his freshman season, Madsen played in two games. He had three points and one rebound against Georgia, while recording one rebound and a steal against Lipscomb. Madsen has a twin brother, Mason, who also played for the Bearcats and is also in the portal.

Coming out of Mayo Senior High School in Rochester, Minnesota, Madsen was a three-star prospect that was the No. 6 rated recruit in the state of Minnesota. He received scholarship offers at the time from Cincinnati, Iowa, Marquette, Minnesota, Northern Iowa, Northwestern, South Dakota, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Xavier.

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

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