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Utah is risking its reputation by running off signed recruit

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Larry Krystkowiak (AP)

At a time when most college programs are tirelessly searching for prospects to add to their recruiting classes, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak is apparently looking to trim his by one.

Josh Hearlihy, a senior at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, Calif., told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that Krystkowiak has asked him not to come to Utah despite signing with the Utes in November. The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 12.6 points and 4.4 rebounds as a senior but sat out half the season as a result of a non-surgical treatment for a condition related to growing too quickly.

"I was very excited about going to Utah when I signed my Letter of Intent in November," Hearlihy said in a statement released to the Times. "However, the coaching staff has reconsidered their commitment to me and has asked to be released from their obligation. I turned down scholarship offers and stopped exploring other options when I signed.

"Given the situation at Utah, I'm concerned about putting myself in an environment where I'm not wanted. It is still my dream to play college basketball and I will continue to work hard every day to make that dream a reality."

Harvard-Westlake coach Greg Hilliard did not return a phone message left for him on Tuesday, so it's unclear why Utah soured on Hearlihy or when Krystkowiak made this request. Regardless, the Utes are putting Hearlihy in a difficult spot because he stopped looking into interest from other schools and now it's awfully late for him to find another option with the Spring Signing Period beginning today.

Although prospects back out of verbal commitments all the time in recruiting when a more attractive offer comes along, it's far more unusual for a school renege on an ironclad letter of intent months after it was signed. Technically Hearlihy could still attend Utah and the school would have no choice but to honor his scholarship offer, however, Krystkowiak has made it clear that would be an uncomfortable situation.

Utah clearly decided that the PR damage of dumping Hearlihy was worth it if it freed up a scholarship for a player the staff believes is more capable of helping rebuild the program.

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On the one hand, Krystkowiak desperately needs a talent infusion after the Utes went 6-25 in his debut season and lost several transfers this offseason including second-leading scorer Chris Hines. On the other hand, Krystkowiak has to be careful the reputation he is developing in recruiting circles, especially after he nudged a handful players out of the program the past two years to make room for his recruits.

When Krystkowiak signed Hearlihy in November, the Utah coach praised him as "a real diamond in the rough."

"What stands out is his skill level and ability to make the right play," Krystkowiak said. "He is a good passer and has a great feel for the game. We think he will do far better in a system as opposed to AAU ball, where he has the possibility of being overlooked. He should fit really well in what we want to do at the `two' or the `three'. He is a great student and a great kid."

Clearly something changed in Krystkowiak's evaluation between November and April. Maybe the coach's honesty will turn out to be a positive for both parties, but rest assured future recruits will be aware of the precedent that has been set.

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