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November 13, 2012

The cornerstone

True freshman Jordan Loveridge represents many things for Larry Krystkowiak. Not only does the highly-touted recruit represent a huge shift in recruiting head to head against BYU in the state of Utah, he also represents the type of player that programs perennially seek to build entire programs around.

As Krystkowiak's predecessor Jim Boylen found out, without winning the in-state recruiting battle against foe BYU, its difficult to find success, and even harder to keep your job.

With the Ute Basketball program in a constant state of chaos and unrest over the course of the past four seasons, both Krystkowiak and Loveridge represent stability, and future.

Tasked with restoring Utah Basketball to what it once was, the 12th winning-est program in NCAA basketball history, Krystkowiak has had to determine exactly what he wanted his program to look like, and how the program was to be rebuilt.

Two choices emerged: build on top of a shaky, wobbly foundation left by two decades of poor coaching hires and poor coaching decisions, or raze it before building it back from the ground up.

Krystkowiak chose the latter.

He started by surrounding himself with a staff of basketball minds - and personalities that would help him to cultivate a culture of winning through building relationships, respecting others without exception and doing it all cleanly.

With the staff in place and fully bought in, they set out to recruit not only great basketball players, but even better people.

"We want to bring in kids who we feel can succeed in our culture and who meet our core values and principles," said assistant coach Tommy Connor. "We were looking for the basketball aspect of things, but also things maybe more important than that. We feel that we've done that with the guys that we kept in the program, and the guys we brought in."

Quiet, humble Jordan Loveridge was the block Krystkowiak's first real recruiting class was built upon. Once in place, the Ute coaching staff looked to build complimentary pieces in around him. Early in the season and in Loveridge's career, it looks as though those pieces have fallen perfectly into place.

As the Utes saw those pieces come together in an early season trip to Brazil, it became apparent that the personalities of the new Utes were a cohesive blend.

"It's the perfect scenario, when it could have been a negative," said newcomer Dallin Bachynksi. "By coming together the way we did, we didn't have to get over the cliques and groups and that kind of thing. This way, especially in Brazil, everyone was stuck with everyone. It worked out, because I've never been around a bunch of guys who really like each other and get along, and who want to win."

A nice dynamic, which spilled over on to the court in Brazil as four different players led Utah's scoring during the South American road trip, signifying the team's willingness to share the ball, and the credit.

As it becomes more and more clear that Loveridge is unquestionably the star of Krystkowiak's Utes, only a selfless, team-first player would allow his teammates to take center stage in his stead.

According to anyone and everyone surrounding the Utah program, Loveridge is exactly that kind of player, and Krystkowiak intends to keep it that way.

"He's tremendous, but he's just a freshman and there's a lot left for him to learn. He's got a lot of growth he's got to get through," Krystkowiak stated. "So we're going to let him do that, and not try to put too much on him and have him do it all. The good thing is, we don't need to do that, and he has no problem leaning on the other guys and sharing the ball."

With extremely balanced scoring and a slew of legitimate scoring threats, the Utes don't need to rely entirely on Loveridge. But it's good to know that the Utes can rely on him if need be.

Early signs show that he's more than capable, which is promising, given that he does have much yet to learn.

Which means he's doing what he's doing on sheer athletic ability and instinct.

Loveridge notched his first double-double of his career in his very first collegiate game of the year, which is apparently a continuation of his stellar high school career as a West Jordan High School star (Utah).

At West Jordan, Loveridge achieved 18 double-doubles during a dream senior season that saw him garner the 5A Player of the Year award en route to a 21 wins and the distinction of leading the State of Utah in both rebounding and scoring.

After a stellar high school and AAU career, Loveridge found himself ranked inside the Top 30 small forwards by every major recruiting service, which afforded him many options heading into college.

Every program in the State of Utah and many in the region offered Loveridge, and he began to capture the attention of high profile programs like Gonzaga, Arizona and Florida State started showing interest, among others.

With so many options, Utah in its state of chaos seemed far-fetched, yet he chose Utah, to everyone's delight.

"It just felt right to me. I liked the coaching staff and felt comfortable with all of that. The team was close and felt like a family, and I just felt like I fit in," he said. "The main thing it came down to was which team I could help the most. I felt, looking at all of my options, Utah was the one I could help the most, and the soonest."

Early on, he is indeed helping his team, having posted 18 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and one block in his first collegiate victory. Though his behavior doesn't betray that he knows he's the cornerstone for a program and fanbase desperate for a return to glory - he in fact, is exactly that.

For now, he's just focused on playing his part with no indication that he feels the kind of pressure that undoubtedly accompanies lofty expectations.

"I just know that I still have a lot to work on, and I'm just trying to work hard and learn everything that I can," said the budding star. "I don't see myself as anything other than just another member of the team. My role is to do my part and whatever the team needs me to do, just like everyone. As long as we all do that, we can have success, combined with hard work and being coach-able, we believe we can have success."


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