‘Their system fits me better’: Why Colorado transfer Lawson Lovering picked the Runnin’ Utes

Colorado center Lawson Lovering looks to pass as Utah center Branden Carlson defends Saturday, March 4, 2023, in Boulder, Colo. Lovering recently announced he is transferring to Utah.
Colorado center Lawson Lovering looks to pass as Utah center Branden Carlson defends Saturday, March 4, 2023, in Boulder, Colo. Lovering recently announced he is transferring to Utah. | David Zalubowski, Associated Press

When he was a consensus four-star high school basketball prospect in Cheyenne, Wyoming, 7-foot-1 center Lawson Lovering flew to Salt Lake City almost every weekend between mid-March and the end of July to practice with and play for a summer all-star team called the Utah Prospects.

“I just knew fairly early I wanted to go there. I have known about the coaches there for awhile. I know their system. I have been playing against it. I thought I would fit well there. I feel like I can develop very nicely at Utah, given the resources there.” — Colorado transfer Lawson Lovering

Now he’s about to become a permanent SLC resident. The Colorado sophomore announced a few weeks ago that he is transferring to the University of Utah after two seasons in Boulder, and on Thursday he told the Deseret News via telephone some of the reasons why.

“I just thought that it wasn’t a good fit for me at Colorado anymore,” Lovering said. “Just, personally, and also on the basketball court, it was no longer the right fit and I wanted to move on and have a fresh start and play in a system like Utah that would fit me. Their system fits me better.”

When it came time to pick a college program in November 2020, Lovering bypassed offers from hometown Wyoming, Saint Mary’s, Baylor, San Diego State, Boise State and dozens of other programs and settled on Colorado, which is about 100 miles down Interstate-25 from Cheyenne Central High.

He turned down heavy interest from BYU, he said on Thursday, because he is not a member of the faith that sponsors the private school, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Lovering wanted to get some love from the University of Utah, but then-coach Larry Krystkowiak apparently had no interest in the prospect ranked No. 59 in the nation by Rivals.com, No. 63 by 247sports.com, and No. 72 on the ESPN100 for the class of 2021.

So Lovering, who turns 20 next month, was elated when he entered the transfer portal a few weeks ago and was immediately contacted by University of Utah coach Craig Smith and, a bit later, assistant coach Chris Burgess, who had tried to recruit him to BYU in 2020. Four days after entering the portal, Lovering committed to Smith on March 25. He said he officially signed with the Runnin’ Utes on Wednesday.

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

“I got calls from a lot of schools, and there was some craziness for a couple of days there, but it finally chilled out,” he said. “Actually, Utah was the first school to reach out to me. It was like back when I was in high school. Going through the process again was kind of crazy, but I had a different perspective this time and was a little bit wiser.”

In all, more than 15 programs reached out to gauge Lovering’s interest, either to him or to some of his former coaches, such as Utah Prospects coach Tim Davis. But it didn’t take him long to choose Utah, having become familiar with Smith’s program while competing against the Utes the past two seasons with the Buffaloes.

“I just knew fairly early I wanted to go there,” he said. “I have known about the coaches there for awhile. I know their system. I have been playing against it. I thought I would fit well there. I feel like I can develop very nicely at Utah, given the resources there.”

Lovering said there were other “small details” that made Utah attractive, including his familiarity with the city and state and friends in the area he competed with as a member of Utah Prospects.

Lovering started in 34 games for the Buffs this season and averaged 4.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists and one blocked shot a game. He has three years to play two.

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As a freshman in 2021-22, Lovering averaged just under two points and two rebounds a game while appearing in 18 games off the bench. He missed the final 15 games that season with a knee injury (MCL injury) that did not require surgery.

He scored 21 points and had seven rebounds in CU’s 81-69 season-ending loss to Utah Valley in the NIT.

“It was a challenging time in my life, but it was also fun in certain aspects,” Lovering said when asked why he decided to enter the portal. “I learned a lot playing at Colorado. I went through an injury. I had never been through a major injury my whole life, so it taught me a lot. It was a great learning experience at Colorado, but it was time (to leave).”

Lovering had four points and five rebounds in 16 minutes against Utah on Feb. 11, and followed that with a six-point, one-rebound performance in 33 minutes when Utah visited the CU Events Center on March 4.

“I thought they were very deliberate and executed well,” he said of the Utes in 2022-23. “They knew their identity and they knew where to get their shots. Very smart team, very tough defensive team.

“I was impressed, just with the amount of defensive toughness,” he continued. “You could see their intelligence on the court and what they were trying to get to at all times. It was impressive.”

Lovering said he was recently admitted into the College of Media, Communication and Information at Colorado and will pursue a similar degree at Utah.

He’s also looking forward to working with Burgess, who is known for his prowess working with big men.

“I know his background, I know what he has done with guys,” Lovering said. “That was very enticing about coming to Utah.”

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One of those Utah big men is fellow 7-footer Branden Carlson, who declared for the NBA draft on March 23 but left open the possibility of returning for his final season of eligibility.

“Honestly, no matter what Branden does, it doesn’t really affect my decision,” Lovering said. “Even if he comes back, I would still be committed to Utah. It is a fun idea to play around with that he and I could potentially be playing together, which is kind of exciting if he does come back.”

Lovering compared that possible “twin towers” scenario with what Arizona has with Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo. As of Thursday afternoon, Lovering was Utah’s first known acquisition from the transfer portal. Salt Lake Community College guard Hunter Erickson signed with the Utes last November.

The Utes are losing Lazar Stefanovic, Jaxon Brenchley, Bostyn Holt and Mike Saunders Jr. to the transfer portal. Saunders has announced he will sign with McNeese State.

David Zalubowski, Associated Press
David Zalubowski, Associated Press