BYU has lost 10 straight basketball games to Utah, but today's grudge match could be different. The Cougars have inside information. They have an informant. They have The Man Who Went to the Other Side. They have Jeff Judkins, who joined the enemy after making his escape from Rick Majerus' doghouse, and he's been spilling his guts ever since.
"No question," he said when someone asked him if he's been revealing the inner workings of Utah's basketball team. "Can we stop it? I don't know. Can we execute it? I don't know."Except for Majerus, does anyone know the Utes better than Judkins, his former assistant? He's watched videotape with Majerus. He's scouted opponents with Majerus. For 10 years he picked the brain of college basketball's mad scientist. As it turned out, he got to spy on the Utes for years without knowing it. Judkins knows Utah's players like family. Not only did he play a big part in recruiting most of them, he also developed a close friendship with them, playing the good cop to Majerus' bad cop, before the bad cop sent him to Provo to "reaffirm his faith or something."
Even now, he remains close to the Utes. Ute star Hanno Mottola ate Thanksgiving dinner at Judkins' house. On New Year's Eve, Jensen and Mottola called to wish him a good year, and at Christmas Nate Althoff and Phil Cullen sent him e-mails bidding him season's greetings. Over the years Judkins has befriended all of them. Alex Jensen and Jeff Johnsen have been to his house. Adam Sharp came over once to help him move furniture. Althoff has ridden his horses.
"My relationship with them is still strong, and I don't want it to be any other way," says Judkins.
The relationship will be given a strange test in today's game in Provo. Judkins has been the Ultimate Ute for four decades, first as a young fan, then as a star player, alumnus and assistant coach. After falling out of favor with Majerus, Judkins did the unthinkable and joined BYU as its director of basketball operations. For the first time in his life he'll be on the other side during the BYU-Utah game. It's as if President Clinton joined the Republican party, or Ralph Nader signed up with Ford, or Jesse Jackson moved in with the Skinheads.
"This game is going to be hard on me," says Judkins, "because I've been a Ute my whole life. I probably know the Utah guys better than the guys here. It's like your son's on the opposing team, and you're going to coach against him. "
Under NCAA rules, Judkins is not allowed to coach on the floor, but that doesn't mean he hasn't had long talks with BYU coaches, who were eager to listen to anything he had learned while working with the powerhouse Utes.
"We've spent a lot of time together privately and talked about the things they've done (at Utah)," says BYU head coach Steve Cleveland. "It would be foolish on my part not to open my heart and mind to everything he has to say. I have a better understanding of what Utah's philosophy is. He knows the players and personnel. That's got to be a plus. Whether it makes a difference, I don't know. They're really good."
Says Judkins, "They had questions. They didn't understand some things (the Utes) were doing -- things like 'What were you trying to do when you were in motion offense? What were you doing in the post defensively?' They definitely know more about what Utah is trying to do. But it's motion offense -- it's a lot of reaction. So it's hard to prepare for." Judkins laughs for a moment as he considers today's game. "It's like pulling up to a stop sign and Majerus has got a Porsche and we've got a VW, and we're going to race. These guys are experienced. They've played in tough places. But it's nice to be able to weigh ourselves and see where we are."
Judkins has brought more than a Ute scouting report to Provo. The Cougars say he has improved their preparation. Majerus is a master at scouting opponents and preparing game plans, and Judkins has passed on his methods to the Cougars.
"One thing that's apparent is Utah's attention to detail," says Cleveland. "I've always been a very organized person, but being around Jeff has helped me take it to another level in game preparation and management issues. I have no problem telling the public Jeff has been an asset in terms of game preparation. We were spending a lot of time on it; he just made it more effective. He brought things to my attention. I don't think we've been at (Utah's) level. He shared this with us -- film breakdown, match-ups, and so on."
"I worked with one of the great coaches in college basketball," says Judkins. "So we've talked about a lot of things (at BYU). Things we did at Utah. But it's been a two-way street. It's been good for me, too. I've learned a lot from them."