As the head coach for UC Davis, Jim Les’ first win in Salt Lake City won’t come against Utah on Friday at the Huntsman Center. It will come before the 7 p.m. tipoff, when Les looks into the stands and sees Aggies yellow and blue instead of Utes red.
Of course, it’s his Salt Lake City-based in-laws and Salt Lake-raised wife (with the kids) who will be donning the UC Davis colors.
But it didn’t come with without some prodding.
“I threatened to disown them all if they wore red,” Les said with a laugh.
Les, of course, is a former Utah Jazz point guard who served as one of the many backups to John Stockton. He spent just one season in Utah during his seven-year NBA career. But he calls Salt Lake City his “second home” because of his wife’s SLC connections, and is proud of the roots he planted during his time in the Beehive State.
This isn’t Les’ first time back in Utah as a coach. UC Davis played in the Gossner Classic at Utah State last season. But this does mark his coaching debut in Salt Lake City.
“It’s going to be fun coming back,” Les said. “I really appreciated my time here and we’re going up against a really nice team. Larry’s doing a great job with them.”
Les and Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak came out of the college ranks the same year but never played together formally. They did share an all-star game once or twice, and Les said he loved Krystkowiak’s work ethic, a trait that he says persists to this day.
Krystkowiak returned the compliment.
“It’s a team that takes after Jim,” Krystkowiak said. “He was a great shooter, and he has a team full of shooters. They spread you out, they have some athletic guys. Their big guys shoot the ball real well and they can really score. It’s going to be a challenge to defend this team for sure.”
Like Krystkowiak, Les took over a program with an empty cupboard. He won four games his first season, 14 in 2012. Now, in his third season, Les says UC Davis is ready to make real noise.
The media agrees. It has have pegged the Aggies as one of the favorites to win the Big West Conference. So, the Utes figure to get a considerably stiffer challenge Friday than they did in last week’s season opener against NAIA Evergreen State.
Les invited his former Jazz coaches — Jerry Sloan and Frank Layden — to the game. But he knows the Jazz play against the San Antonio and that reuniting with them will be tough.
But he will have fans in the stands nonetheless. They’ll be the ones in yellow and blue.
UC Davis at Utah
P At the Huntsman Center
Tipoff • Friday, 8 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network
Radio • 700 AM
Records • Utah 1-0; UC Davis 1-1
Series history • Utah leads 1-0
About the Aggies • UC Davis lost its only Division I contest of the season to Portland last week. … Corey Hawkins is the son of former NBA All-Star Hersey Hawkins. … Jim Les is a former Jazz player and is coaching his first game in Salt Lake City. … Les has won 18 games in his two seasons with the Aggies.
About the Utes • Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright combined for 41 points in last week’s win over Evergreen State. … Utah broke the century mark for the first time since last year’s season opener. … Utah last played UC Davis in the 1990-91 season. … The Utes scored 128 points against Evergreen State, doubling their 64.1 average of a year ago.