Utah was a much-improved basketball team in 2013-14, finishing the season with a 21-12 record (9-9 Pac-12) and earning a trip to the Postseason NIT in what was the program’s first postseason appearance since 2009. However things could have been even better for Larry Krystkowiak’s team, and while their non-conference slate (non-conference strength of schedule ranking: 341, per RPI Forecast) certainly didn’t help matter there was another issue for the young Utes.
Of Utah’s 12 losses eight were by four points or less, and in those tight games mental and physical toughness are critical for a team. With the goal of changing his team’s fortune in those contests and turning a group led by Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor into a Pac-12 contender, Krystkowiak added some activities to the team’s offseason training regimen.
During the spring the team took up boxing, and last week the Utes went through a Navy SEAL training course with that particular activity becoming more popular in college basketball in recent years. Kyle Goon of the Salt Lake Tribune wrote a story about Utah’s experience last week, with the exercise designed to not only get them tougher individually but also help them improve the way in which they work together.
The drills focused on cooperation, which Taylor thinks will help translate to the court this season. One of his big takeaways from the training was a traditional military axiom: “Two is one and one is none.”
“Basically everything we did made you depend on your teammates, because you couldn’t do anything without them,” Taylor said. “Them getting us out of our comfort zone and us being able to push through it was amazing. It’s just like the season.
The season is tough, at the end of the day, you gotta push through it with your coaches and your teammates.”
Thanks to the work of Krystkowiak and his staff, Utah enters the 2014-15 season in a better position than they’ve been in at any point during their short time in the Pac-12. More will be expected of this group, and in order to reach the NCAA tournament they’ll need to be better in close games. And if their offseason training methods have the desired effect, Utah should hear its name called on Selection Sunday.