Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak has a pretty good vantage point. From his office window in the Huntsman Center, he's been able to watch scores of graduates pose for photographs next to a big red block "U" adjacent to the arena.
Each snapshot, Krystkowiak notes, has a story chronicling a student's journey to graduation day.
Pictures, it's been said, can paint a thousand words. However, not every story can be told with the same brush. And besides, there are different strokes for different folks.
Case in point, the path taken by former Utah basketball player Josh "Jiggy" Watkins. Despite being dismissed from the team in January for violating unspecified rules, the 22-year-old from New York City participated in commencement exercises on Friday — earning recognition for a bachelor's degree in sociology.
Before taking his spot in the graduation procession, Watkins and his mother, Lisa Watkins, visited with Krystkowiak and had pictures taken.
"I think it speaks real highly of Jiggy, his mom and Larry," said Utah athletics director Chris Hill. "They never lost sight of what was very, very important and that's to get his degree. So it does help a very difficult situation."
Watkins, who was leading the Utes with 15.6 points and 4.8 assists per game at the time of his dismissal, harbors no bitterness. In fact, he says the situation helped him grow as a man.
"I've been playing basketball since I was 4. So when I got that taken away from me it was hard," Watkins said. "You appreciate things when you don't have it anymore and I really appreciate things."
Although Watkins declined to discuss specifics that led to his dismissal from the team, he insists he was never "a bad kid or anything." Nor, Watkins added, did it involve anything disrespectful.
"It was just something that happened. Coach didn't want to make that decision but he was forced to," Watkins said. "He had a set of rules that he had, and it was just a miscommunication between both sides. So it's really no hard feelings because I still think he's a great coach."
Krystkowiak readily acknowledges that kicking Watkins off the team was one of the toughest things he's ever had to do. As a coach, Krystkowiak noted, he has an impact on other people's lives and that decisions he makes can have far-reaching implications.
As such, Krystkowiak spent a couple of days sorting things out. He suspended Watkins for one game earlier in the season, but had zero tolerance for any additional violation of team rules — eventually announcing an unwillingness to sacrifice the integrity of the program for one individual.
"I think what spoke to me the loudest was as a coach is you try to be a teacher, you try to do the right thing," Krystkowiak said.
It wasn't easy, especially after Watkins pleaded with him to not take away the most important thing in his life.
That, however, resonated with Krystkowiak. He hoped Watkins would learn his lesson, change his behavior and be better equipped when the next "most important thing in his life" developed — whether it be two, eight or 20 years down the road.
"Hopefully he would be able to look back on this situation and say 'You know what, I can't screw that up,' " Krystkowiak said, while expressing hope that in the future Watkins will be on time, take care of all of his business and not put himself in position to jeopardize situations.
Graduating from the University of Utah, he added, is an obvious step in the right direction. Krystkowiak said Watkins seems to be ready for the next challenge.
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