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December 2, 2012

Past and present

The University of Utah began its proud basketball in the early 1900s, winning its first National Championship in 1916 by virtue of winning the National AAU tournament that year. The Utes would miss the tournament in 1917, but would return in two consecutive seasons; in 1918 and 1919. While appearing in the tournament, the Utes would ultimately fall short of the ultimate goal in each of the two seasons.

Though Utah enjoyed success for a stretch in the early 1900s, it was coach Vadal Peterson who had a vision for building a program with sustain-ability over the course of time.

Hired in 1927, Peterson coached the Utes for a span of 26 years, retiring in 1953. Peterson's tenure yielded the program a 385-230, a National Championship (1944) and a then-prestigious NIT championship in 1947 and six conference championships.

Utah's success was enough to capture the attention of Kansas State coach Jack Gardner, who had led the Wildcats to two Final Four appearances, laying the foundation for a basketball tradition that lives on today at Kansas State.

Once at Utah, Gardner built upon Peterson's legacy and during his 18 year tenure, moved the program into the nation's basketball elite. It was during the Peterson that the term 'Runnin' was adopted, due to the notoriously quick tempo and pace of his offensive schemes. Many credit Gardner's methodology and style of play as a precursor to the modern game of basketball that exists today.

Peterson's Utah teams made a habit of the NCAA tournament, gaining berths six times from 1955 - 1966, which results in six Sweet Sixteen appearances, three Elite Eight appearances and two Final Four appearances in the same time-frame. In the latter part of his career, Gardner's success dissipated, though he remains the only coach in Utah history to coach two separate teams to the two Final Four appearances, and was the chief supporter and catalyst for building the Huntsman Center. Gardner's career record at Utah was 339-154.

After Gardner's successor Bill Foster, Utah looked to return the program to the national stage, and to Jerry Pimm to do it. In his 11 year stint, Pimm would amass a 173-86 record and take the Runnin' Utes to four NCAA Tournament appearances, including four Sweet Sixteen, two Elite Eight and one Final Four appearance. Despite his success, Pimm would leave the program due to strained relations with the Ute Athletic Department, which signaled the end of Ute basketball dominance for a stretch.

Lynn Archibald, a Pimm assistant, took over the reigns and while he enjoyed some success at a conference level, Archibald led Utah to two conference championships and one Sweet Sixteen appearance in 1983.

Archibald's demise led to the name most closely associated with Utah Basketball; Coach Rick Majerus, who put the Utes back in the national spotlight and built a literal basketball empire.

With a career record of 323-95 over his 15 years at Utah, Majerus took Utah to the NCAA tournament nine times. Majerus teams reached the Sweet Sixteen four times, the Elite Eight two times, the Final Four once, which culminated in Utah's National Championship game appearance in 1998. Utah would settle for runner up to National Champion Kentucky in a 78-69 defeat, but still put together one of Utah's best-ever basketball seasons with a 29-4 record and a final ranking of NO. 2 in the nation.

Through the Majerus era, Utah won 34 regular season conference titles, four conference tournament titles, made twenty five NCAA tournament appearances, 14 Sweet Sixteen, five Elite Eight, four Final Four, one NIT championship and one National Championship under the current system and excluding the 1916 National AAU championship. Utah's 26 NCAA Tournament appearances ranks 5th in the annals of NCAA Basketball.

From 1949 through 2004, Utah finished seasons ranked in the Top 25 a total of 18 times, inside the Top 15 fourteen times and had seven Top 10 finishes. To this day, Utah ranks as the nation's 12th winning-est basketball program, in spite of a 130-125 total record since the beginning of the 2005 season.

Majerus' eventual successor Ray Giacoletti and his successor Jim Boylen combined for a 123-100 record and presided over some of the most tumultuous seasons in Utah history, ultimately, leaving the program in the position it finds itself today.

After two consecutive seasons of player turmoil and drama, Boylen found himself out of a job at the end of the 2011 season. The controversial seasons ended in 14-17 and 13-15 records respectively, effectively sealing the end of his tenure at Utah.

Enter Larry Krystkowiak, who was left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of Boylen's departure, on top of having to contend with Pac-12 competition.

With no time to recruit his own players in his first season, Krystkowiak picked through Boylen's players, deciding who would stay and who would go. Simultaneously, players made their own decisions about their futures at Utah and in the process, a team was tentatively pieced together. The result was a 7-25 season, which did little to assuage the concerns of fans and boosters alike, but did not dissuade Krystkowiak's efforts to forge ahead with the the huge task that lie ahead of him.

Early in the Krystkowiak era, it was apparent that he was not content to simply build on top of Utah's existing foundation, choosing rather, to tear it up, destroy it and build a new one from the ground up.

Building a new foundation required a huge commitment from Utah Athletic Director Chris Hill, and previously unheard of financial investments and most importantly, the right players.

Even with little time to do so, Krystkowiak refused to lower the standards that he'd set for himself, and the program he was charged with restoring to its former glory.

In short, Krystkowiak's wasn't just looking for good basketball players, he was looking for high-character kids on which to rebuild the foundation of Utah basketball.

Fortunately for him, Utah already had several athletes that fit the bill on campus who were simply part of former teams who, for whatever reason, couldn't find success. For those players, expressing a desire to stay helped solidify their character and standing, despite the hardships they had already endured while wearing a Utah jersey.

"I made a commitment to Utah, and I planned to keep my word. I felt I owed it to myself, and to the fans who came out to support us through hard times," said senior Cedric Martin on the import of keeping his commitment. "I felt, right away, like Utah was my home. I wanted to stay here and make this program proud again. Even if that meant some hard times for me."

Krystkowiak also inherited the steady values, leadership and unwavering commitment to Utah Basketball of centers Jason Washburn and David Foster, who both opted to stay through multiple chaotic seasons when most of their teammates opted to leave.

Metaphorically, the two centers represent the two pillars of Utah basketball, steadying the program and in some ways, refusing to let it crumble completely, and it was their mere presence and commitment to Utah that ultimately kept the program together through adversity. It was also their guidance and leadership and setting of standards that drew others in.

"As soon as I got here, I just felt comfortable. Immediately, this place felt like a family and I wanted to be part of it," said junior guard Glen Dean. "I guess it seemed like it could have been a negative situation, but the guys that were already here were just stronger because of all they'd been through. It just made them more of a family, and they welcomed me with open arms."

Even players who had not yet stepped on the floor at Utah felt a tie to the program, despite the turmoil it was experiencing. For these players, Utah's reputation as a strong program combined with Krystkowiak's vision for a new future made the difference.

"I was on my mission, and I heard the coaches were changing and all these rumors. I didn't know what to make of it, and I was kind of wavering on my commitment," said redshirt freshman forward Jeremy Olsen. "But then my parents were talking to Coach [Krystkowiak] and got comfortable with some of the things he was saying and out in the mission field, I was liking what I was hearing. He just wanted to do things right and just make it a solid program again, but the right way."

Gaining a comfort level with the new coaching staff sealed the deal for Olsen, who had a strong emotional tie to Utah due to it's past history and success on the national stage.

"First of all, my commitment meant something to me. I didn't make it lightly, so that was a factor," said Olsen. "But I was just really comfortable here. Also, I grew up watching Bogut and Miller and that group, and I was a huge Utah fan. I kind of dreamed of playing here."

With so little stability and continuity, so many new pieces coming together could have been disastrous on a worst case scenario, or slow-to-gel in the best case scenario. In fact, with the perfect mix of personalities, nothing could be further from the truth.

"I guess looking at it from the outside, it could be perceived as negative. We haven't had much time to play together, and all of that. Instead, it's been perfect. There was no time for cliques to form, which happens a lot on teams,"said newcomer to the team Dallin Bachynski. "We came in, went to Brazil and you didn't have any preferences, or biases. We were just thrown together in a bag, and we came out of it as one team. Not small groups on a team, just one united front."

So in his second season, it appears that Krystkowiak has successfully laid the very beginnings of the new foundation for Utah Basketball. So much so that he attracted talents like Jordan Loveridge, widely considered to be the absolute cornerstone of the program going forward, as well as Justin Seymour, Dakari Tucker, Brandon Taylor and two sophomores in Bachynski and transfer Harry Whitt.

The sextuplet represent the integral core of Krystkowiak's blueprint and vision for Utah Basketball. Each of the three exemplify what the Utes hope to be, are above all, selfless, humble, hard-working, and come already instilled with a team-first mentality and sense of contributing to the larger goals.


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