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Utah coach Krystkowiak not surprised by Kuzma's early success

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SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah has been known for the talent it constantly produces in football, but over the last three years, the U. has become a sneaky good basketball program at developing NBA talent.

Since 2015, the Utes have had three players drafted in the first round of the NBA draft. Most recently, Kyle Kuzma was drafted 27th overall by the Brooklyn Nets and traded to the Los Angeles Lakers on a draft-night deal.

Kuzma was recently named the NBA’s Rookie of the Month for games in October and November after posting an average 16.7 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game. He also shot over 50 percent from the floor. Kuzma has arguably been the best rookie the Lakers have this year, even more so than No. 2 overall pick Lonzo Ball.

Kuzma could become the steal of the 2017 NBA draft, considering how low he went in the first round. He is currently third in rookie scoring per game, behind the Utah Jazz's Donovan Mitchell and Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons.

During Kuzma's final year at Utah, he had eight games where he scored 20 points or more. In his first 22 NBA games, he has already matched that total. Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak recognized that Kuzma was going to be a different player in the NBA.

“In the spring after Kyle’s junior year here, there was a little bit of swagger that we hadn’t witnessed,” Krystkowiak said. “Just confidence. I think one of the things that’s really helped is actually having a longer 3-point line.”

Krystkowiak said he had a flashback of Kuzma shooting behind the smaller 3-point line at Utah and compared Kuzma to himself playing pop a shot.

“Watching him with having the green light shooting from deep, it fits his body. The stroke is better, his mechanics are awesome,” Krystkowiak said. “The rim is big right now for him. Confidence is a big part of it.”

Kuzma’s early season stats are very similar to those from his final year at Utah. He was Utah's leading scorer and rebounder and played the most minutes per game. For the time being, Kuzma is again the leading scorer and rebounder and is fourth on the team in minutes. He has started 11 of the 23 games this season for Los Angeles.

Krystkowiak pointed out the adaptability of Kuzma and how that his skill set for his size and position will help him become a stronger player in today’s NBA.

“He’s just versatile. He’s kind of the definition of the way the NBA is going with the kid who can play multiple positions. He certainly can guard multiple positions,” he added. “I know when I talked to a bunch of the NBA teams, they thought he was kind of the prototypical 3-4 tough matchup.”

Kuzma is having early success and Krystkowiak said he's “super fired up” for how the season is shaping up for his former player. But developing players for the NBA isn’t exactly Krystkowiak’s goal; he wants the players to think long-term and to see overall improvement of their game over the course of their time at Utah.

“(Kuzma) improved every year he was here,” Krystkowiak said. “He’s got a ceiling that’s quite high.”

“As a whole, we do a good job figuring out what people’s strengths, weaknesses are; we coach them hard,” he added. “What we make as a promise, and I really feel strongly about it, is that each young man that wants to come and be a part of this will meet their potential.”

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