Texas’ Timmy Allen, Arizona’s Pelle Larsson and Illinois’ Alfonso Plummer among the transfers who are playing for better teams, likely bound for NCAA Tournament
Last Saturday proved to be an eventful day for University of Utah men’s basketball fans, and not just because the Runnin’ Utes edged Cal 60-58 to complete their first Pac-12 road sweep since 2019, the year Parker Van Dyke hit that buzzer-beating 3-pointer to down UCLA.
In the morning and early afternoon, former Utes Alfonso Plummer and Timmy Allen were shining on national television for now No. 15 Illinois (ESPN) and No. 20 Texas (ABC), respectively, while that night ex-Ute Pelle Larsson played a role in No. 2 Arizona’s 84-81 win over Oregon in one of the most entertaining college basketball games of the season to date.
All three games were played in front of packed houses, a far cry from what the Utes experienced in games at Stanford and Cal last week, or what they’ve seen at home this season, with the exception of the BYU game.
Saturday afternoon, ex-Ute Rylan Jones scored six points and had three assists before fouling out in Utah State’s 68-57 loss at Boise State in front of 10,252 fans at ExtraMile Arena. The night before, former Ute Ian Martinez scored 10 points in 17 minutes during Maryland’s 90-74 win at Nebraska in a clash between two of the three worst teams in the Big Ten.
In Europe, former Ute Mikael Jantunen, who turned pro despite having a couple more years of college eligibility left, is flourishing with B.C. Oostende, a Belgian professional team that competes in the BNXT League and internationally in the Basketball Champions League.
As has been well documented by the Deseret News and other publications, six key contributors from last year’s Runnin’ Utes team either transferred or turned pro following the 2020-21 season. Some left before coach Larry Krystkowiak was fired, others departed after, seeking a fresh start, more playing time, or in the cases of Allen, Plummer, Martinez and Larsson, the opportunity to play for more high-profile programs in more frenzied environments.
Two other ex-Utes who were on the Utah roster when the 2020-21 season began, 6-foot-6 guard Jordan Kellier and redshirt guard Brendan Wenzel, are also still playing collegiately. Kellier is averaging 4.2 points per game at Siena College in New York, while Wenzel, who left the program shortly after Christmas in 2020, is averaging 5.5 points per game at 22-4 Wyoming, currently in second place in the Mountain West.
In a lot of cases, transfers usually don’t result in better situations for the departing players, but one would be hard-pressed to get one of the eight former Utes to say he regrets making the move.
Nor is it easy to get any of the Utes who stayed when Craig Smith replaced Krystkowiak in late March to grumble about their current situations. Centers Branden Carlson and Lahat Thioune, forward Riley Battin and guard Jaxon Brenchley appear to be doing just fine, although the latter three aren’t playing as much as they have in the past.
Carlson, who was widely viewed as the most important player for Smith to keep in the fold last spring, said he communicated with the guys who left “every once in a while” over the summer, but not so much now that their seasons are well underway.
“I am just worried about my season right now, and our team,” Carlson said. “We’re not talking to those guys too much at the moment.”
With Allen leading the team in minutes (35.2), scoring (17.2) and rebounding (6.4), the Utes went 12-13 overall, 8-11 in the Pac-12, and made it to the conference tournament quarterfinals before falling 91-85 to USC in double overtime. The talent was there, but that particular group probably underachieved — having Jantunen and Jones miss extended games due to international team play (Jantunen) or injury (Jones) certainly didn’t help the situation. Also, the Pac-12 turned out to be really good last year, evidenced by how well it did in the Big Dance.
For instance, the USC team that edged the Utes in Las Vegas made it all the way to the Elite Eight before falling to national runner-up Gonzaga. The UCLA team that advanced to the Final Four edged the Utes 72-70 at home on Dec. 31, 2020.
Before the Utes (11-16, 4-13) won three of their last five games and snapped their program-record 10-game losing streak, the Deseret News asked Smith if he ever allows himself to wonder what might have been if Allen or Plummer or Larsson or Martinez or Jones or Jantunen, or any or all of the above, had stayed in the program.
“That’s more than a fair question. At the end of the day we lost a guy to Arizona, a guy to Maryland, a guy to Illinois, a guy to Texas, a guy to Utah State, and a guy turned pro,” Smith said. “Obviously it has worked out for those guys, or most of them.”
Smith said he got to know Jones and Larsson a little bit after he was hired, but the other four were already in the transfer portal. Jones and Larsson did some individual workouts with Smith and some of the assistants he hired shortly after getting the job, but obviously chose to move on.