Q & A with Utah Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak

The Bootleg's Kevin Danna was able to grab a few minutes with Utah's first-year head coach Larry Krystkowiak. The former NBA and University of Montana forward once starred for Mike Montgomery before Monty came to Stanford, so there are a lot of interesting storylines as he brings his Utes squad to Maples Pavilion tonight. 'Special K' was a three-time Big Sky Conference MVP in his playing days.

Q & A with Utah Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak


The Bootleg: Coach, what has the adjustment been like for you guys as a staff- not only being in a new conference, but also this being your first year together? How has that made things tougher on you?


Larry Krystkowiak: Being in a new conference didn't affect us at all, because we were going to be in a new conference regardless of where we all got together as a staff and a program so it was all really fresh for us (nice phrasing of the question, Kevo!). The really challenging part for us is that when you look down that 18-game schedule in the Pac-12, it's kind of a daunting task for us right now, but there's been so much change and needing to become familiar with each other and all kinds of stuff. We're making some good progress, but it has been somewhat of a whirlwind.


TB: What is this road trip like for you, coaching against a former teammate and then your collegiate head coach?


LK: I'd be lying to you- it's kind of neat on a sidebar, but until you just mentioned it, I hadn't really thought about for a couple of days since I spoke with a reporter earlier in the week. It'll be neat to say "hi" to those guys when the time comes, but really the focus has been more about our team than everything else.  It's always good to catch up with somebody, but beyond that, it's more about the game.


TB: Do you have any good stories about Johnny from your days with the Spurs in San Antonio?


LK: Not good stories or great stories; we just were both rookies in that first year and we didn't win a lot of games- we won, I think, one out of three games… There were four rookies that started about the last 30 games of that year. It's kind of a rare thing as a rookie in the league to get to play that many minutes and I thought it helped all of our development quite a bit. But it's tough; the NBA is tough as it is when you're winning and we were just kind of some young pups that were happy to be there and trying to survive.


TB: Considering the way your team played against the Washington schools at home, do you feel as if the Runnin' Utes are starting to turn a corner on the season?


LK: It might be a little premature to talk about "turning any corners". I do know that we're getting better- we have addressed some things and we're not making some of those mistakes that maybe we were early on and we're getting better effort - probably more important than anything. It's a long season for us-  it was a pretty positive weekend, but for us, we haven't played very well on the road in any game this year so the challenge is on for us to try to capture some of that energy level that we had at home and be more competitive when we do go on the road.


TB: In your last six games, you're 3-3 against better competition than the schools you faced in a 1-8 start.  What's been the difference?


LK: I think our roles are defined a little bit better as players. We've shortened the rotation down; I think we've got more veteran guys. We have to stay out of foul trouble or we won't be able to keep a short rotation, but we've played seven or eight guys. Maybe early on, we were dispersing a lot of minutes around and we were making a lot of errors and had guys as freshmen and newly-arrived junior college guys that really oftentimes aren't capable of getting through it and don't understand how hard you have to play and mentally how locked in you have to be.  We're just getting better and not making some of those same mistakes…They're allowed to play a little bit freer and we've probably been coming off that learning curve whereas other teams weren't dealing with that early on. So some of those things I think are probably making us a little more efficient and having some better success.


TB: You mentioned the junior-college transfers. You have a lineup that is filled with upperclassmen, but not necessarily guys that have been together three or four years. How would you say they are playing together now from a "cohesiveness" standpoint?


LK: I think we have made pretty good strides…We've only got one senior that's playing, a couple of junior college guys that are in the starting lineup and then a couple of juniors that were in the previous program, but for us right now, I think some of that experience has been the key; just having guys that have been through it and they have a pretty good understanding for it. We've had some injuries to a couple of our wings (phone cutting out)… We just haven't quite gotten that boost from the young kids yet.


TB: Josh Watkins has been your "go-to  guy" on offense and he was the man who came through the most in the Washington State victory. We all know he's a good scorer and disher, but what does the senior mean to this team beyond the stats?


LK: Well he's a junior college player coming in; this is his second year of D-I ball and I think he's made some pretty good progress in understanding the importance for him to get us into offense. I think he's really a "pick-and-roll" guard and maybe early on was forcing the issue at times and we weren't making the shots and oftentimes didn't have guys in the right spots for him to distribute to. But I think it's kind of a nice combination now, where we try to get some scoring out of him from time to time using the pick-and-roll and then, like the other night in the Washington State game, he came out and had six assists in the second half and found guys. So he's starting to understand the multi-dimensional role that we need to have him play besides just scoring points and I think that's been a big lift for our team.


TB: He did hit that winner in the Washington State game. What did you learn about your team in that victory over the Cougars that perhaps you didn't know before?


LK: We had a chance to maybe fold it up a little bit. We had a nice lead in the first half, came out of halftime flat and they kind of took control of the game for maybe the first eight or ten minutes of the second half and we got down. We had been in that position before, where we had bounced back, but we stayed pretty resilient and continued to compete and put ourselves in a position down the stretch where we could win and that was a big lift for us mentally-  and getting the win. In a lot of ways, it kind of validated our week- we had a pretty good week of practice. So things lined up for us, and it was kind of uncharted territory.


TB: You mentioned that the week of practice prior to the Washington game was the best week of practice you've had all season. How does this week's worth of practice compare?


LK: It's been pretty good. The Colorado game was a little bit embarrassing; there was a lot of negativity surrounding that early in the week and I thought it was a little bit of an embarrassment to a lot of us - players, coaches. So we came in with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder, I thought, on Monday morning that's really hard to duplicate unless you go through that. And a lot of it is mental, too. A lot of it is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy…We did have a good week this week- I thought we continued to make some progress, but probably not at the same edge that we had a week ago. You've got a pretty special group,  I think, when they come in after an embarrassing loss the same way they would maybe after a win and a close loss. That's part of growing and understanding that you gotta kind of bring it in practice regardless of the situation.


TB: What's one area in particular you would like to see your guys improve upon as a team the most in the last half of the regular season?


LK: We're just kind of building on the same things we just discussed, Kevin. The effort has got to continue to be there regularly. The road situation is really scary for us- we've got to be able to make plays and keep our poise and play hard in a road environment. So that more than anything I think is one of our biggest challenges.


TB: Any chance we see the all-black jerseys again considering you got your first conference victory in them?


LK: Hold on (checks with somebody). We're gonna wear them on Saturday against Cal. I knew we were breaking them out one time on this trip, but I wasn't sure.


TB: Is that going to be a more regular thing, considering the success you had in them?


LK: They are sharp uniforms. They look good; they're a bit of a classy look. More than maybe the fact that we got a win in them, it eases the burden on our managers to not have to wash the uniforms since we have a couple of them on the road (If I may interject myself here…As a former manager, I greatly appreciate his sentiment, but I think it's actually easier to just have one road uniform. The most stressful part of being a manager is making sure you have everyone's jersey, so when you introduce a whole other set of uniforms, it makes things that much more difficult. Plus, game shorts and game tops are such a small part of the laundry load on a game day- you have a ton of warm-ups, Under Armour gear - underwear, basically- as well as practice jerseys and underwear from shooatround earlier in the day. The jerseys are almost the easiest part of the laundry! But hey, maybe other managers would disagree with me).


TB: People around here are obviously very grateful for what "Monty" (former Stanford head coach Mike Montgomery) did in turning around Stanford Basketball. In your eyes, what makes him such a good coach?


LK: I think probably more than anything he is just super-prepared. He is a communicator with his team, somewhat of a perfectionist in terms of execution. I mentioned it last week to another reporter- I don't know if he has a huge strength per se that puts him in that position as much as it is that he doesn't have any kind of weakness to his game, you know? He kind of encompasses a lot of the different elements that it takes to be a good coach, and he possesses an awful lot of those.

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