There's no sugarcoating this: The University of Utah men's basketball program is suffering through a historically bad season. At 5-20 entering today's contest with fellow Pac-12 newbie Colorado, the Utes have suffered their first 20-loss season in more than 100 years of playing Dr. Naismith's game.
A minimum of six games remain for Larry Krystkowiak's team this season, then the rebuilding project begins with his first "real" recruiting class coming in next season, along with a pair of talented transfers (Glen Dean and Aaron Dotson) who are sitting out and will be ready to play next season.
Today at the Huntsman Center, Ute fans will get a chance to forget this season's struggles for just a little while and remember fondly one of the great seasons in Utah basketball history when the school honors the 1976-77 squad, coached by Jerry Pimm and led by Jeff Jonas and Jeff Judkins.
That 1976-77 team went 22-7, won the WAC Championship and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The season was highlighted by early-season wins over national powers UNLV and over Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
I had dinner last week in Arizona with Jeff Jonas and then spoke with him again on Thursday on my radio show. The one thing that shines through when talking to Jonas or any of his teammates from that team and era of Utah basketball is the pride in the program and love of the school. It's something Krystkowiak and his staff are trying to build once again. Names like Buster Matheney, Greg Deane, Tony Hodges, Michael Dunn and more were key players on the 1976-77 Utah squad, but also key names in Utah basketball history.
I'm looking forward to meeting the man that put that team together, head coach Jerry Pimm. I've been around Utah basketball for more than 10 years now and I don't recall a time when coach Pimm came back to a game. He's retired and living in Santa Barbara, after 15 successful seasons as head coach of the Gauchos.
Pimm was 173-86 in his nine seasons as the bench boss at Utah and had a number of very good teams, winning three WAC championships. You can make a case (and those being honored today probably will) that the 1976-77 team was Pimm's best at Utah.
So in a season where things haven't gone the way Utah fans have grown accustomed to over the years, today will be a nice chance to reflect on the good times and honor those who were responsible for them.
Bill Riley can be heard as the voice of the University of Utah on game days and also on weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the "Bill Riley Show" on ESPN Radio 700 AM.
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