Larry Krystkowiak played basketball in the NBA, CBA and overseas for more than a decade – from 1986 to 1998 – during which he had countless wonderful experiences.
But it was in 1994-95 that he had perhaps his most life-changing season, for that was the year he discovered he wanted to be a coach.
“That was was the year that I played with the Bulls,” Krystkowiak recalled on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I got myself healthy and signed a one-year deal with the Bulls, and it was the same time that Michael Jordan was coming back from playing baseball. And when he came back from playing baseball, I suffered an emergency appendectomy and kind of got shelved for the rest of that season. Phil Jackson started to invite me into the coaches’ meetings, and they sent me out scouting in the playoff and kind of got my interests piqued in it for sure.
“I’ve said before that my coaches were always kind of a father figure me,” Krystkowiak continued. “I always paid close attention (to) what they were saying and how they were coaching and maybe making a mental file about things that I thought were effective – coaching tactics – and things that weren’t. Once I started doing it, it was like, man, there was part of me that wanted to finish my degree, get my degree and go into the real world. And then I realized after a failed real estate career and (working as) a financial planner that what I really knew was hoops and started building on that. So it was probably that ’95 season with the Bulls that really piqued my interest, though.”
Krystkowiak has coached in the CBA, the NBA and in college. He coached the Milwaukee Bucks in 2007-08 and has been with the Utes since 2011. They went 6-25 in his first season; now they’re in the Sweet 16.
No. 5 Utah (26-8) plays No. 1 Duke (31-4) this Friday at 9:45 p.m. ET.
If the Utes hope to advance, they’ll have to slow down freshman center Jahlil Okafor, who has averaged 25 points per game in his last three games – while shooting 34-of-45 (75.6 percent) from the floor.
What’s most impressive about the 6-11, 270-pounder from Chicago?
“There’s a lot of things,” Krystkowiak said. “I think first and foremost, it’s just a combination of his size and his footwork. I think the majority of big guys in today’s game – with the three-point shot and the game spreading out – the day of the big man is kind of a lost art. A lot of kids – even if you are big – for whatever reason they want to play on the perimeter. So to have somebody of that size and mass (is valuable). Somebody’s obviously done a great job of working with him with his footwork and his moves and his attack moves, passing skills – it’s a deadly combination down there. Not only does he establish a great post presence, but they do a nice job of throwing him the ball, which is another art that I think is sometimes overlooked. The kids are growing up their whole life and they’re not playing with a center, so how in the world are you going to throw it to him? That’s a skill and Duke does a nice job. They spread the floor with shooters and they let him go to work down there.”
What does this mean? It means that Utah’s season may hinge on the play of its own freshman big man, Jakob Poeltl, a 7-footer from Austria who averaged 9.1 points and 6.7 rebounds this season.
“He’s come a long way this year,” Krystkowiak said. “He was putting up some big numbers and then we played a game at Arizona – we got blasted pretty good. The day after the game, he woke up and his ankle was all swollen up. He suffered an ankle sprain in the middle of the game and we really didn’t know it. That slowed him down for about a month. (He) had a hard time getting his health back.”
Then Poeltl kept getting in foul trouble.
“That’s been the biggest concern – just keeping him on the floor,” Krystkowiak said. “Some of that’s being a freshman and not understanding some of the concepts. He’s got to earn his stripes a little bit out on the floor. But he’s a 7-footer that runs, (he’s got a) 36-inch vertical jump, great hands – which is often overlooked – (he’s a) really skilled passer and he runs like a deer.
“I think he’s got a lot of what it takes to play at the next level,” Krystkowiak continued. “I’m not sure that he’s ready, but that’s what this NBA thing is all about: They’re willing to pay millions of dollars to develop a young man. We’d love to keep our hands on him, but that’ll be a decision he’s going to have to make when the season ends.”