As the University of Utah mens basketball team looks to welcome the SMU Mustangs on December 18, it looks to complete an important portion of its pre-season schedule.
Known for his attention to detail and application of his extensive basketball experience at all levels, head coach Larry Krystkowiak put a great deal of thought into the Utes' pre-season match-ups.
With a secondary goal of allowing Utah players and staff to be at home for Thanksgiving, Krystkowiak urged the organization of the Utah Thanksgiving Tournament. The primary goal was to assimilate a conference tournament setting, with several games in the span of a few days.
"[A tournament schedule] puts you, as a staff and as a group of guys where you have to be able to bounce back and prepare for the next game," he explained just prior to the Thanksgiving tournament. "It gets our guys in a mind-set that there's a lot of different styles of play, and we're going to have face them one right after the other. I think that's good for you."
Earlier in the season, head coach Larry Krystkowiak purposefully sought out a team that had an open schedule that could accommodate a home-and-home series.
"It's similar to why we scheduled SMU twice. We're going to play them at their place first, and then we get a chance to make some adjustments, then we get to play them again at ours," Krystkowiak continued. "So that's a little bit like a conference [situation] and a regular season where you're going to play a team twice. So we tried to build in a few of those elements to [the pre-season schedule]."
How Utah ended up with SMU as the team it would meet twice in the pre-season was a combination of timing, parallels between the two programs, as well as the history between Krystkowiak and SMU coach Larry Brown.
"We wanted to play a home-and home against someone for sure, and when [Larry Brown] got the job [at SMU] in the spring they were looking for games," Krystkowiak said of the timing. "So that was one of the few teams that had enough holes in their schedule where they could do that still, and they were looking for a number of games, too."
Krystkowiak expanded on some of the other things that intrigued him about an SMU home-and home.
"I thought it would be neat to have an opportunity to coach against him again, and maybe our programs are in similar places in terms of us both scratching like heck right now," he furthered. "Things aren't exactly like three or four years in where you've got a foundation built, so I don't think anyone thought they'd come in 8-1, so we've got our hands full."
As two former NBA coaches, Krystkowiak also had some personal history and experience with Brown to draw on.
"We had the same agent when I was a player and he was a coach. So that goes back 30 years. The math is amazing, but that's what it is," he revealed. "We were always friendly with each other, and closer than most people, I think."
For a thoughtful Krystkowiak every game and every situation was meant for, and used as a learning experience for his team.
"Our hope is to be able to play some games in the Pac-12 tournament to where we can lean back on this experience, and know that we've done it before," he closed.