When Jeff Judkins has his team mentally locked in at practice, it's like a dance with chess pieces on a checkered board. Players move to squares on cue, Judkins surveys the floor like Bobby Fischer or a rabbit-seeking hawk.
You wonder if your cellphone rang, would anybody even turn a head?
This is the life Judkins has chosen, wearing sweats, a whistle dangling around his neck, his eyes soaking in every movement on the basketball court, all the angles, the spacing and point of attack. That he does this with BYU's women team is a story in itself, but for the moment, numbers checkmate the appointment. Judkins' record at BYU is 221 wins and counting. It is the most in school history; he just surpassed Courtney Leishman (219) last week.
Juddy. He's a single-name entity in Utah.
You say "Juddy" and anyone with a sports brain knows the reference. It brings visions of a passionate boy and man who knows one speed, needle buried. As a Ute shooter, he was amazing, as a Boston Celtic, they called him Little Hondo. For Rick Majerus, he mined the Mormon talent market as well as anyone who ever tried.
But you get him aside to talk about 221 wins and he immediately goes the assist route and becomes Jeff Jonas.
"I really have a talented group of young ladies who work hard and are very coachable," he says. "I have one player, Haley Steed, who has been here for six years and has fought through three ACL surgeries. She's a dream. She is what a coach dreams to have. She loves her team, she is a leader, can set tempo and can do all those little things."
Yeah, but what about your 221 wins, Juddy?
"The first thing that comes to me is I've won a lot of games with a lot of good players," he says.
"You can't win games without good players, and I've been blessed with good coaches who believe in me and what I'm doing, work hard and go the extra mile. And last, I've had great support here at BYU. What a wonderful university to coach at and sell players to come to. I've been really lucky."
Judkins, to those who know him, is the same yesterday, today and will be forever.
"He never changed from his college days," said Deseret News columnist Brad Rock, who's covered Judkins most of his life. "Same guy he was when he was 22. Five minutes after you meet him, you feel like he's a longtime friend — the kind of guy you want to send your kids to play for."
Steed buys that.
"I think the biggest thing about Juddy is his knowledge of the game," said Steed. "He is just so smart. If we're talking about game prep, I don't know if there is a coach better at preparing his team for a game as far as studying personnel of the other team and preparing to find ways to shut them down defensively."
Notice she calls him Juddy. Not coach, not Mr. Judkins.
"Juddy is awesome. He balances really well being a coach, being a mentor and he really, really cares about the players. That is one thing you can really trust about him and it's not just about basketball. He cares about us, and our lives. We have that kind of relationship with him, it is bigger than basketball."
Judkins' most successful season produced a 26-6 record during the 2005-06 season when the team advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In his first season he went 24-9 and the team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen during the 2001-02 campaign. That Sweet 16 finish is the highest finish for a BYU women's basketball team in the postseason.
"He's had a really good run," said BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe. "Any time you can get 200 wins, that's a lot of road trips, a lot of bad meals, a lot of recruiting stops. You can't go 200-0, but to be here 11 years and get 221 wins is about 20 wins a year."
Holmoe said Judkins first and foremost has recruited well. "Since he's been here, he's recruited. The competition in the conference (MWC) has been tough. Utah has been good and so has TCU. It doesn't seem like we've had a clear shot every year to win the championship but he's won his fair share of championships to go to (the) postseason."
Like Steed, Holmoe has seen Judkins as a "relationship" artist with players and it takes a special talent for a competitive man to coach young women.
"He's a big tough NBA dude but he has a soft side to him," said Holmoe. "It's hard for many men to coach women because the men's intensity is sometimes a little overwhelming. He has a real passionate side, but he also has a very sensitive side. He really loves those girls; they feel it and know it. He can go hard on them and sometimes he's too hard on them, but when he is, he can come back to them, and they trust him and believe it's going to be OK."
Juddy is the oldest of a stable of athletes in his family. His father got all of them involved in baseball, basketball and football. His brother Jon is in his seventh year as Dixie State's men's head coach after coaching at Snow College. "Jeff was the only one who had Division I scholarships to play in all three sports. He kind of set the way for all of us," says Jon.
If you ask Jon what Juddy's strength as a coach is, he immediately says recruiting.
"I see what he did at Utah with Rick Majerus and seeing what he's doing at BYU, it is recruiting. It's going out, seeing kids, evaluating them and getting them there. Once they're there, he knows the game very well and can teach it."
Judkins says his recruiting formula has always been the same and it's simple. "Get the best player I can that fits my system, try and recruit the state so I don't ever miss out on a player in-state, and then get a player that is willing to play hard and compete," he says. "When I was a player, I wasn't the most talented, but I was very competitive and loved to compete and that's the kind of player I like to coach. I'd be crazy not to want to coach that kind of kids."
BYU ranks No. 4 in the NCAA in assists per game, 10th in assist/turnover ratio, 11th in blocked shots and 15th in field goal percentage. Steed is No. 7 in the nation in assists per game.
The Cougars are 16-3 and tied with Gonzaga atop the league standings after being picked to finish behind the Zags back in the preseason. Judkins' team ranks first in the WCC in four categories, including scoring margin, 3-point field goal defense, blocked shots and assists.
Still, Judkins sees Gonzaga as the team to beat. The WCC plays a different style than the MWC in that in the WCC it is all about picks on the ball, dribbling one-on-one and using quickness against you. The MWC was a league where you ran a lot of set plays.
Juddy's persona will always be tied to his stardom as a Ute. Generations of Ute fans have always adored him. That he's a loyal employee of BYU and recruits against Utah hasn't changed that. He hasn't moved to Utah County, even though the commute is tiresome. If you combine that with all the travel during the year, it is the worst part of his job.
"We joke about it," said his brother Jon. "When I was at Snow College, I'd give his kids blue gear and the kids would freak out about wearing blue. It was always red, red, red. Then when he got the BYU job, you'd see them in blue.
"But he is a Utah guy, that is where he played, that's where he always wanted to coach. He loves the boosters and community at Utah but BYU has been very good to him. When he was hired, he didn't know how long he'd be there or move somewhere else. BYU has made the transition easy for him — more than a lot of people think."
Juddy almost moved to Utah County this past year but his son just returned from an LDS mission and his daughter had twins. His wife wanted to be close to her grandchildren in Salt Lake City. Judkins tries to make the two-hour round trip useful by listening to church or motivational tapes, or he just relaxes, contemplates things or turns on his favorite music.
Holmoe knows the Ute inside Judkins is part of the BYU coach, but he's seen him fiercely compete against Utah on the sidelines and in recruiting. "It is kind of funny, but there are a lot a places where crossover happens where you'd never think it would. When he was playing at Utah, you'd never guess this would happen but their Utah football staff has a lot of guys from here. You go where the jobs are."17 comments on this story
Judkins simply loves the game. "My parents taught me whenever you do something, give it your all, no matter how difficult it is. I love my job. I love this game of basketball. How many people can say they really love their job? I love going to work and I love spending time with my players and coaches. Basketball has given me my education and a living. How great is that?
"The worst part is travel. After 27 years, five in the NBA, that's 32 years and it's taken a toll on me."
Judkins has always been a kid at heart. He lives in a world of playground games. When he speaks at schools, he asks kids how they would like to be paid for recess time.
"That's what I get paid to do, recess time."