As if Utah wasn't struggling enough already in its inaugural Pac-12 season, now the Utes will have to play the remainder of the year without their best player.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak announced Wednesday that he has kicked guard Josh "Jiggy" Watkins off the team as a result of an undisclosed violation of team rules. Watkins was the Pac-12's fourth-leading scorer at 15.6 points per game and also led the Utes (4-13, 1-4) with 4.8 assists per game.
"The integrity of our program as a whole cannot be sacrificed for any individual," Krystkowiak said in a statement. "The well-being of our program will always come first. This was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. I really wish Josh well and I hope he remains at Utah to finish his degree."
The dismissal of Watkins comes about a month after Krystkowiak reinstated him to the team after suspending him for Utah's home loss to Cal State Fullerton. The Salt Lake City Tribune reported that Watkins' initial suspension was over a string of issues that included showing up late to practice and falling asleep in class.
Krystkowiak told the Tribune after Utah's humbling 73-33 loss to Colorado last month that he will have a "zero tolerance" policy with his team going forward. It appears the first-year Utah coach is living up to his word even if it further reduces the Utes' chances of winning another few games this season.
Aside from replenishing Utah's depleted roster through recruiting, the most important task Krystkowiak must achieve this season is to establish a foundation for the future by selling his players on hard work, discipline and defense. The Utes showed surprising resilience and effort the past two weeks, upsetting Washington State in overtime and pushing conference contenders Stanford and Washington their next two games.
It will be interesting to see whether Utah continues to play hard now that Watkins has been dismissed.
The message from Krystkowiak is clearly that nobody on the roster — not even the team's best player — is above the rules. That will serve Utah well in future years, but it's probably going to make the present even more miserable.