SALT LAKE CITY — New coach Larry Krystkowiak has brought a lot of changes this year to the University of Utah basketball program, one of which is early-morning practices.
Rather than the traditional mid- or late-afternoon practices, the Utes are up at the crack of dawn and on the practice floor by 7 a.m. Most practices run 21/2 hours and then it's off to class.
Krystkowiak acknowledges that it's partly selfish because he's a morning person who gets up at 5 or 5:30 a.m. But he also believes it helps his team in a variety of ways.
"We come in without any distractions and feel great," he says. "When this is over, these guys have time to go to class or study and after dinner have time on their hands. I think it's real productive. One of our sayings for this year, is 'getting our work done early,' so we're practicing what we preach with that too. Get your work done and enjoy the rest of the day."
Krystkowiak employed early-morning practices when he coached at Montana and in the CBA, but said "it didn't work real well in the NBA because we had a lot of 3 a.m. flights when we were getting in."
Another positive for the early starts is the lack of conflicts with the Utah women's team or other students on campus.
"It's not like we're fighting for the gym with anybody else at 6 or 7 in the morning," says the Utes' first-year coach.
The players seem to be buying in to the early starts.
For senior David Foster, the only player to have played under both Ray Giacoletti and Jim Boylen, it's a big change. In the past, the only time the Utes had early practices was when the coach was upset with the team's play and got them up early.
"They're tough, but I believe it helps us become more disciplined. It's our choice whether to bring energy or leave it at home," says Foster. "I think a big reason we have these early-morning practices is to build our character."
"It's good because it helps us go harder," says Kareem Storey, a freshman guard out of Baltimore. "When our minds are tired, that's when the mental toughness comes in. Just jumping out of bed and coming straight to practice, it helps you lock in and stay focused."
Because of the practice schedule, players don't start classes until after 10 a.m. and most are done by 2 p.m., although some take night classes as well.
SCRIMMAGE WEDNESDAY: The public can get its first look at this year's Ute team tonight at the Huntsman Center for the Red-White Scrimmage, which will begin at 6 p.m.
Krystkowiak said the coaches will divide up the team after a "draft" and that the two teams will scrimmage like a regular game with officials.
The first 2,000 fans in attendance will receive a free autographed poster of the team and, following the scrimmage, the team will hold a private event for season-ticket holders.
"It's a chance to go through some of our pre-game ideas that we haven't been able to do and put the guys in a game environment with referees," Krystkowiak said. "Then we'll break down the film that evening and watch film the next morning. There's probably as much value in that as anything."
WHITTLING IT DOWN: Krystkowiak still declines to name names as to who might be in his playing rotation this year.
Obviously, the four returning players — Foster, Jason Washburn, Chris Hines and Josh Watkins — will have the inside track to playing time. Krystkowiak said different players shine each day, but he did say certain players are earning more time.
"We've whittled it down to eight or 10," he said. "We've found some guys who can play, it's safe to say. But there's some competitive guys and I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see a couple walk-ons play some minutes. It's been real competitive."