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Matt Gade, Deseret News
Former Ute Billy McGill is honored at halftime during a game against the Arizona Wildcats at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014.
He’s meant a lot for this school and as I said in my tweet I feel really lucky that we had a chance to get to know each other and make sure that he understood we wanted him back in the program. —Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, on the passing of Billy McGill

SALT LAKE CITY — When Utah basketball legend Billy “The Hill” McGill passed away last month at the age of 74, Runnin’ Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak expressed his feelings via Twitter.

“Feel very lucky to have spent time with Billy this past season and honoring him as member of Pac-12 Hall of Fame,” read his tweet. “Special player and man.”

McGill, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1962 NBA draft after leading the nation in scoring with 38.8 points per game at Utah, was inducted into the Pac-12 Hall of Honor at the conference tournament in Las Vegas last March.

Krystkowiak was his presenter.

“It’s sad to see him go,” Krystkowiak said. “He’s meant a lot for this school and as I said in my tweet I feel really lucky that we had a chance to get to know each other and make sure that he understood we wanted him back in the program.”

McGill spent a few days with the team last season.

“We’ve always talked about trying to tie in the former players. It’s always important that they know our current players and our staff,” Krystkowiak said. “So we had some time to spend with him. He watched some practice.”

McGill had his No. 12 jersey retired by the Utes several years ago.

HUNTSMAN CENTER RENOVATIONS: The home of Utah basketball is getting a serious facelift.

“I think getting rid of that cloud up above sure changed the feel of the building,” said Krystkowiak, who checks in on the changes regularly.

A new basketball court, along with audio and lighting improvements, are among the amenities being installed inside the arena.

“I think it’s going to be good and then tied in with what we’ve got going on with the new practice facility it’s pretty cool,” Krystkowiak said. “It blows me away how fast they’re making progress.”

As for the new-look Huntsman Center, Krystkowiak is confident the Runnin’ Utes will continue to feel at home inside the refurbished building.

“I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. It’s not going to be anything substantial. It’s all going to be enhanced,” he said. “It is what you make of it. It’s still the same elevation. I know that.”

CHINA TRIP: Krystkowiak and his staff, along with players Jordan Loveridge, Jeremy Olsen and Brandon Taylor, are headed to China later this month as part of a Pac-12 all-star tour.

Krystkowiak thinks the experience will be beneficial, especially for the coaches.

“It’s going to be fine. We could use some time together, sorting a few things out and talking some basketball,” he said. “So we’re looking forward to it. We don’t see it as a burden at all.”

KEEPING IT REAL: Despite going 21-12 and reaching the NIT last season, Taylor insists the Runnin’ Utes are still going to approach every game as if they’re the underdogs in 2014-15.

“Because at the end of the day we really are. We really still have something to prove. We haven’t been top five. We haven’t been top three,” he said. “So expectations and polls about who is going to be No. 1 or who’s going to be 12th really don’t matter at the end of the day. You have to go out there and compete.”

OFFSEASON WORK: In preparation for his junior season, Loveridge said he’s working on a little bit of everything.

“There hasn’t been one area other than defensively being able to guard guys on the wing,” Loveridge explained. “With that you’ve just got to play in games and try to guard the best guys you can. But offensively just been trying to work on a little bit of everything.”

MORE THAN BASKETBALL: Olsen is looking forward to visiting China later this month.

“I haven’t seen the itinerary. I know we’re not going there to be tourists, but it’s part of it. It’s definitely part of it,” he said. “I hope we get a chance to see the Great Wall. That’s something I’ve always wanted to be able to see. If that happens that would be great.”

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer