Craig Smith Discusses Chris Burgess Hire, State Of Utah Basketball

May 5, 2022, 3:36 PM | Updated: 3:37 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-ย In his second year as head coach, Craig Smith has wasted no time making moves to improve the state of Utah Basketball. After finishing the season 11-20 in his first year, Smith made a headline hire with assistant coach Chris Burgess, while also hitting the recruiting trail to try and bring in better talent.

Today Utah basketball appears to be in better shape than when Smith took over, but only time will tell exactly how much better.

Hiring Chris Burgess

Outside of the obvious connection to the program, Smith relayed that he met his future assistant shortly after taking the job at Utah State. From there, Smith says they built a bit of a relationship that made it make sense to bring Burgess on after former assistant Eric Peterson took the head coaching job at South Dakota.

“[Chris] and his wife, Lisa, are alums here,” Smith said. “She played soccer here and of course he finished his career here after playing at Duke two years. There is definitely a connection that way. They have a lot of pride in the University of Utah- Chris certainly with our program and he’s already shared some pretty cool stories about his time here.”

“At the end of the day, he’s a very good coach,” Smith continued of his recent hire. “He’s a very good recruiter and a phenomenal person. Everywhere you go- and I’ve been in this state for four years now, his name gets brought up. He’s not transactional, he’s a relationship person, and that matters. We’ve always tried to hire guys that aren’t just recruiters, and not just coaches, but the whole package and certainly Chris fits the bill in every way, shape and form.”

Breaking Down The Roster

The Runnin’ Utes have had some departures in Lahat Thioune, Both Gach, David Jenkins Jr., Riley Battin, Jack Jamele, Harrison Creer, and in-season Dusan Mahorcic. However, Smith was very complimentary of the guys who have chosen to stay and their work ethic during the off-season. Smith says some noticeable physical changes have taken place and guys have really invested in getting better.

“I think we are going to have a much different team and I love the guys coming back,” Smith said. “They’ve done a great job in the weight room. They are very determined and of course have done a great job on the floor. Of course I am not saying that lightly- I am not using ‘great’ lightly. Guys have really been working and putting the time in.”

So far, Smith can only speak about three of the six new faces that will join the Utes in 2022, but is happy with the talent and effort he and his staff have brought in.

“Mike Saunders is a really strong, athletic, explosive bulldog,” Smith said. “Sometimes we call him a bulldog, sometimes we call him a pitbull, but he can really impact the game with how hard he plays, the speed he plays the game and the tenacity he does it. He’s an elite defensive player.”

“Keba Keita will be coming in as a freshman from Wasatch,” Smith continued. “Keba is listed at 6’9″ and this dude is stuck together.ย  I mean, he’s a brick house. He plays with veracity. If you had to describe him in one word, I think that’s the word. He’s just ferocious in everything he does and so explosive.”

“[Wil Exacte] is a physical specimen, Smith finished. “He’s a playmaking guard and has played in a lot of different spots. He’s a very talented guy who can get to the rim and make plays off the bounce. He’s got to continue to refine his jump shot which he will. He is an elite defensive player. He can guard anyone on the floor.”

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Craig Smith Discusses Chris Burgess Hire, State Of Utah Basketball