- Associated Press - Friday, September 29, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - David Collette doesn’t often look back at the strange, twisting road of college basketball that he’s navigated the last four years. The Utah senior power forward is more focused on finishing out his final year, and first full season since 2014-15, on a high note.

“It’s crazy, it goes fast,” Collette said. “Everyone likes the opportunity (to lead). It’s not something I’ve (specifically) looked forward to. I do what I do. I’m here to help the team.”

Utah began its first day of practice on Friday with a roster featuring plenty of new faces. Gone to the NBA is leading scorer Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers’ first-round draft pick who shined during the NBA Summer League. Starting point guard Lorenzo Bonam graduated and guards Devon Daniels and JoJo Zamora transferred. The Utes will have four new starters and five newcomers, including a redshirt freshman.

There are four seniors on the roster, but Collette has been the biggest contributor on the team. Coach Larry Krystkowiak wants leadership from all of his players, but the 6-foot-10, 220-pounder is the early focal point of the group after averaging 13.6 points (second on the team) and 5.1 rebounds last season.

Krystkowiak expects more from Collette now that he’s finally settled in. He missed the first half of last season due to transfer rules and sat out all of 2015-16, paying his own way at Utah after leaving Utah State shortly before the season. The Aggies had a coaching change and Collette wanted to move on, but Utah State wouldn’t release him. The last full season he played was as a freshman in 2014-15, where he was named third-team all-Mountain West. To add another twist, Collette missed the two previous years to his freshman season as he served a Mormon mission in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I just want him to get after it and … know that he’s going to have to bring it,” Krystkowiak said. “A go-to guy with a lot of reps underneath his belt. Just a sense of urgency.

“This is like his first full year in a long time. So, maybe, any kind of judgments or assessment of what he’s done recently is not fair because I don’t know how engaged he would have been a year ago when he knew he wasn’t going to play until after Christmas. There’s a lot of expectations.”

Collette said he spent the summer working on his jump shot and expanding his range, though he may not be called on to do that much in this system. He tested the NBA draft waters before pulling out and that was the feedback he received. The big man will likely start every game that he’s healthy and Collette acknowledged the need to be a better defender and rebounder.

“It’s just a mindset of having that motor to do those things,” Collette said. “Unfortunately for me, sometimes I don’t focus on those as much as some other things in my game.”

No one really knows what the Runnin’ Utes will look like this year with so much turnover. Krystkowiak has his tenants of defense and playing with high energy, but the offense has been tailored around his best players in the past. Utah has had three different first-round picks the last three years. Collette has the most experience, but doesn’t come into the season with the repertoire of Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl or Kuzma.

Junior guard Sedrick Barefield proved himself capable of putting up points in bunches last season, but averaged just 9.0 points as he struggled with consistency in his first year with the program after transferring from SMU. Long Beach State transfer Justin Bibbins (5-8, 150 pounds) was a two-time All-Big West selection. Seven-foot sophomore Jayce Johnson was ranked a four-star recruit by 247Sports. There’s also optimism surrounding freshmen Donnie Tillman (6-7, 225) and Devante Doutrive (6-5, 190) and redshirt freshman Chris Seeley (6-8, 215).

That’s a lot of unknowns, which makes Collette’s skill and experience even more important.

“Dave, he’s an old man,” Seeley said with a laugh. “He knows the game really well. He’s a goofball off the court, but serious on the court.

“He brings a lot of energy and intensity and that’s what we need.”

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