Mike Sorensen: Homegrown talent aiding BYU women's basketball program

Published: Sunday, March 11 2012 9:33 p.m. MDT

BYU women's hoops coach Jeff Judkins is known for his ability to attract the best talent in Utah and helping develop that talent into winning teams.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When he coached at the University of Utah during the 1990s, Jeff Judkins was known for his ability to attract the best talent in Utah and helping develop that talent into winning teams.

Local players such as Alex Jensen, Drew Hansen, Jeff Johnsen and Britton Johnsen were Judkins' recruits, who turned out to be key cogs in Utah's successful teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Now in his 11th year as the head coach for the BYU women's team, which has often relied on out-of-state talent, Judkins has perfected the art of attracting local players.

Four starters and five of the Cougars' top seven players on this year's NCAA-bound team are born-and-bred Utahns. Of the 15 scholarship players, 11 are from Utah high schools.

"It's something I've always tried to do," Judkins said last week as he made his daily commute from Provo to Salt Lake. "I always want to recruit talent in the state. That was something when I was at Utah with the men that I always took a lot of pride in. I try to recruit the best kids in the state."

BYU's top player this year is out-of-stater Kristen Riley, a 6-foot-3 center from San Clemente, Calif., who averages 11.4 points and 8.0 rebounds and was named West Coast Conference Player of the Year.

However, the other four starters are all Utah players — freshman Lexi Eaton from Springville High, Kim Parker, a sophomore from Wasatch High, Haley Steed, a senior from Syracuse, and Dani Peterson, a senior from Skyline. The top reserve is 6-foot-7 sophomore center Jennifer Hamson from Pleasant Grove.

"I'm lucky I've been able to start four players from the state who have fit into my system and hopefully we can keep it up," says Judkins. "And there's a lot of good young kids coming up."

Those "young kids" include freshmen such as Morgan Bailey (Timpanogos), Ashley Garfield (Morgan) and Xojian Harry (Viewmont), who have played in the majority of BYU's games this year, along with another freshman, Stephanie Rovetti from Reno, Nev.

In his 11 years as BYU's coach, Judkins has 10 winning seasons to his credit and this year the Cougars have matched the best record in program history at 26-6. They are looking forward to continuing their season this weekend in the NCAA Tournament, their first appearance in five years. They earned a berth by winning the West Coast Conference tournament last week and won't have to sweat it out when the NCAA women's bracket is unveiled Monday afternoon.

Because Spokane is the only subregional in the West this year and Gonzaga is likely to end up there, the Cougars will be heading east, and could play anywhere from Iowa to Texas to Maryland to Connecticut.

Judkins doesn't care where his team goes, but he wouldn't mind if it was the regional in Ames, Iowa. That's where his best success as BYU coach came when the Cougars went to the Sweet 16 by winning a pair of games in Ames in the 2002-03 season, his first year as the Cougars' coach.

Judkins puts this year's team on par with his best teams in Provo, saying they're "not real flashy, but real solid."

"We have good outside shooting and good inside presence and a team that plays very good team defense and we're pretty deep," he said. "They're very unselfish and don't care who gets the credit."

At 55, "Juddy" is a long ways from retirement and could see himself coaching the Cougar women for several more years.

Back when he was at Utah, Judkins was rumored to be the favorite of the former SUU president to coach there when that job came open. However when Bill Evans was replaced in 2006, Judkins was entrenched as the Cougars' women's coach and the T-Birds hired former BYU coach Roger Reid.

However, the SUU job opened up again last week and Judkins' name has already come up on the list with a half a dozen or so candidates, along with his younger brother, Jon, the head coach at Dixie State.

"I'll always listen," Judkins says, echoing what his former boss, Rick Majerus, used to say when he was at Utah and his name would come up for another job.

One of Judkins' selling points is his knack for recruiting, especially local players. But Judkins has a good thing going in Provo that would make it hard to leave.

"I'm really happy here and I've got a really good team," he said. "If someone is interested they'll get a hold of me. But it would have to be a really good situation for me to leave."

Women's NCAA Tournament

Selection Special, ESPN, 5 p.m.

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