Mike Sorensen: Krystkowiak a nice guy, but can he win?

Published: Saturday, Oct. 10 2015 2:30 p.m. MDT

Larry Krystkowiak (Associated Press) Larry Krystkowiak (Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — My only personal experience with Larry Krystkowiak came back in 1993 when he was a member of the Utah Jazz. I was walking through the ZCMI Mall with my colleague, Brad Rock, when we ran into Larry and his teammate John Crotty. I remember spending a few minutes talking to both players, who were extremely nice and treated us like long-lost friends.

So I know Krystkowiak is a nice guy, and everything I've heard about him since confirms that.

But Ray Giacoletti and Jim Boylen were nice guys too. The question is, can Krystkowiak, who will be introduced as the Utes' new basketball coach Monday afternoon, coach better than those two?

That's the challenge "Krysko" faces as he takes over a beleaguered Ute program that has suffered as many losing seasons (four) in the past seven years as it had in the previous 32 years.

The hiring of Krystkowiak is a risky one for Utah athletics director Chris Hill, who many expected was going to get a coach with substantial Division I experience, not two years at a Big Sky school. Heck, Giacoletti had four years of experience at a Big Sky school before coming to Utah.

Krystkowiak did have success in his two years at Montana, taking his team to the NCAA Tournament both years, capped off by a first-round win over Nevada as a No. 12 seed in 2006. That gives him as many NCAA wins in two years as Utah State's Stew Morrill has in 25 seasons of coaching.

An obvious concern for the Utes has to be Krystkowiak's stick-to-it-tive-ness. Since he started coaching in 1998, he has never spent more than two years at the same place.

Let's see, he was a Montana assistant for two years, an assistant at Old Dominion for one year, head coach with the CBA's Idaho Stampede for one year, head coach at Montana for two years, assistant coach at Milwaukee for one year, head coach at Milwaukee for one year, and after spending two years out of coaching, an assistant at New Jersey for one year.

Ute fans can't be blamed for wondering if he'll pack up and leave after two years because of instant success, because the program isn't going anywhere, or just because he gets bored with the place.

I don't necessarily think he's unqualified for the job. Krystkowiak was apparently qualified back in 2007, when he was Hill's first choice, until the Milwaukee Bucks beat him to the punch by firing Terry Stotts and promoting Krystkowiak to head coach. Now, he's a few years older and wiser and has a couple of more years of coaching experience under his belt.

However, he has been away from the college game for five years and his biggest challenge is going to be recruiting players to come to Utah. Can he get some of the top players out of Utah, something Giacoletti and Boylen had a difficult time doing? What about recruiting in southern California, which has been the lifeblood of the program with players such as Keith Van Horn and Andre Miller? That will be especially important now that Utah is in the Pac-12.

Krystkowiak is not going to be able to rely on those wide-bodied boys from Montana as he did in Missoula, although it wouldn't hurt to have a couple of those guys in the program after some of the skinny centers the U. has had lately.

But he's going to need an upgrade of talent in the program and perhaps will need to bring in an assistant with Utah and LDS ties, such as Alex Jensen or Jeff Judkins, or someone with southern California ties such as former Ute assistant Donny Daniels (who is currently at Gonzaga).

The fact that Krystkowiak was fired after one season at Milwaukee shouldn't be a big worry to Ute fans, considering all of the successful college coaches who couldn't make it in the pros. That list is a long one and includes the likes of Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Mike Montgomery and Lon Kruger.

Krystkowiak has some talent in the U. program, but it's not going to last long with three senior starters returning in David Foster, Will Clyburn and Josh Watkins. He'll need to talk sophomore-to-be J.J. O'Brien, the brightest talent in the program, into returning, and hope that top recruit George Matthews keeps his commitment to play next year. Then he'll have to recruit like crazy to bring in some Pac-12-worthy players.

However, while talent is a big factor, I also think it's important how a coach gets his players to play and improve from year to year. If Krystkowiak can bring the same tough, hard-nosed, fundamental style he used to play with as a three-time Big Sky Player of the Year and nine-year NBA veteran, he can succeed at Utah.

If he can't, we'll be waving goodbye to Krystkowiak sometime in 2014 or 2015, just like we did with Giacoletti after three years and Boylen after four.

Email: sor@desnews.com

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