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April 5, 2011

Coach K era begins

The University of Utah president Michael Young, along with athletic director Chris Hill introduced the program's 15th head coach, Larry Krystkowiak Monday afternoon at a packed press conference.

After brief remarks by Dr. Hill, Krystkowiak took the podium and expressed gratitude and enthusiasm for the opportunity, and discussed at length the pros of coaching in the collegiate ranks versus the NBA, where he last coached as an assistant with the New Jersey Nets.

In terms of hiring his assistants, Krystkowiak mentioned names such as Andy Hill, currently an assistant at Montana and a former colleague of Krystkowiak there. With the repeated, stated emphasis of recruiting the state of Utah there was some indication that the Montana native could be considering retaining one of Boylen's former assistants.

The LDS missionary factor, something Krystkowiak acknowledged he is ill-educated about as yet, could bode well for an assistant like Utah native Stan Johnson, who was on Boylen's staff. Johnson is familiar with recruiting and coaching around the two year gap involved with a mission.

"I'm open and it's one of the areas that I want to come to a better understanding about and make sure that it's an understood part of the program for me," the new head coach explained. "So yeah, I'm going to talk to the guys that are remaining on the staff. It's a big state, and I think it's important to have somebody that has relationships with coaches here and has relationships and has the lay of the land. Somebody on our staff has to know Utah upside down."

Krystkowiak indicated at one point in the conference that he could have one or even two assistants familiar with recruiting the state of Utah.

While not particularly well-versed on the practice, Krystkowiak was extremely open in discussing what he viewed as extreme positives associated with a mission.

"I love the idea of a player being interested in going on a mission and coming back after two years. I see a lot of positives in serving a mission in terms of growing up, learning a little bit about yourself and spending some time in an environment that's out of your comfort zone," Krystkowiak explained. "If we can get basketball players that want to be a part of Utah basketball that want to go on a mission, by all means, go and do it because when you come back you're going to be more mature and maybe more physically able to help the program."

While athletic director Chris Hill played a very small role in the conference itself, with most questions directed at the new man in the hot seat for the once proud program. However Hill did briefly discuss some factors that went into the decision to hire Krystkowiak, as well as steps he may have taken to reach that point.

"I really don't want to share who talked with in this process, but yes, I did talk with Andrew Bogut," admitted Hill. Bogut, a former Ute also had played under Krystkowiak in his time with the Milwaukee Bucks where Krystkowiak coached in an assistant coach or head coach capacity from 2006-2008.

Hill went on to describe in general terms what criteria he used in making his coaching selection.

"What I think I wanted first of all was someone with great leadership skills, somebody that has competed at the highest level," explained Hill. "Also, someone who has had some success as a Division I head coach."

Krystkowiak simplified his vision for the program under his guidance with a three-tiered plan which includes work ethic, playing smart/execution and playing together. After discussing those elements, Krystkowiak reduced it down to a simple phrase.

"Obviously we have a lot of work to do in restoring the pride," said the Montana native and graduate. "If I put down my notes, that would be my one message. I want to get the pride back at the University of Utah basketball program."

As their new coach spoke, body language of current players was somewhat telling as Will Clyburn, J.J. O'Brien, Josh Watkins, David Foster, Jason Washburn, Chris Hines, Dominique Lee, Chris Kupets and Anthony DiMaria all stood to one side, getting their very first glimpse of Krystkowiak.

Preaching familiar principals such defense, toughness and team play, his new team didn't seem particularly moved or swayed, but in post-conference comments, most players appeared open and receptive to hearing Krystkowiak out and getting to know him. While all players said the right things, some were not entirely convincing in their comments.

Two players that have already bought in to the new hire are centers Jason Washburn and David Foster. Both indicated that they could relate to Krystkowiak as a big man as their new coach stands 6'9". Washburn, a positive, energetic team guy was upbeat about the new situation and indicated that unless he was not wanted, he planned to remain with the Utes.

"Unless coach decides for some reason not to keep me here, I plan on being here next year," said Washburn. "I've grown fond of this place, I love this place and I owe it to this place to stay here."

For Foster, the change is difficult but it isn't his first coaching change, having been through the transition from Ray Giacolett and Jim Boylen four years ago. Also upbeat, Foster has taken a strong stance on keeping the team together for both personal reasons and for the team as a whole and is using a practical, pragmatic argument for staying.

"I really want to make sure these guys thoughtfully ponder this decision. Especially these juniors, there's a lot of juniors out there," explained Foster. "They still have to finish school out, it's a hassle to transfer credits and it will be great to just continue to build this program."

Other players were less sure about their futures with Utah, but all seemed fairly committed to each other and staying together, an indication that if a central figure or two left, others could follow.
Chris Hines, who will be a junior has been through something similar in deciding whether or not to leave the program when others such as Carlon Brown and Marshall Henderson left, though the circumstances are different.
Hines indicated a willingness to stay and listen to what Krystkowiak would offer and indicated that he was impressed with the experience his new head coach brings with him.

"I love the University of Utah. I love the school, the staff. Utah's been nothing but good to me," said Hines. "So I really, really hope to be here."

Having gone through similar experiences, Hines indicated that this is a difficult time for some of his teammates as they decide whether or not to stay. For all, Hines says, there is great pressure on the players, from all sides as they're being pulled in different directions by family and friends alike.

"I have no idea what anyone's going to do. All I know is I'm going to be a friend to them. I'm not going to pressure them on decisions, because I know they all have a ton of people that are already doing that to them," Hines said. "Obviously I hope everyone stays and everybody comes back so we can do this together."

The comment was a fitting thought as Krystkowiak threw out terms such as we and togetherness and a total team buy-in, in essence which will be a hard sell with many players committed to Boylen and disappointed in his departure.

Krystkowiak thoughts on the future were deeply rooted in Utah basketball's proud history with repeated references to former Ute legendary coach Rick Majerus and former players such as Danny Vranes, Keith Van Horn, Andre Miller and obviously Bogut.
Similar in theme were Dr. Hill's comments with regard to the hire, and that period seemed to be the primary topic of conversation throughout the interviewing process. In sharp contrast to Jim Boylen's press conference wherein Dr. Hill discussed at length an emphasis on academics, graduation rates, etc.

Monday's conference was about days gone by and past successes, with little or no mention of academics or anything of the sort; a clear indication that Boylen accomplished his goal and what he was asked to do, which was clean up a program in terms of academics and compliance.

An uphill climb, made somehow less steep in some ways by Boylen, the Krystkowiak era begins with more questions than answers; including what the Runnin' Ute basketball roster will look like a month from now, or even next week when star Will Clyburn expects to make a decision about his future.


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