Los Angeles • They say when one door closes, another opens.
Jeff Judkins knows better. The first door never closed at all.
BYU vs. NebraskaMonday, 7:10 p.m. MDT
TV » ESPN2
No. 12 BYU vs. No. 4 NebraskaNCAA Tournament, second round
» Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles
Tipoff » 7:10 p.m. MDT
TV » ESPN2
Radio » BYU Radio
Records » BYU 27-6, 14-4; UN 26-6, 12-4
Series history » Nebraska leads 4-2
Last meeting » Jan. 2, 2001, at BYU; UN 56, BYU 53
About the Cougars » BYU has gotten more assists than its opponents in 26 games this year, and outrebounded opponents in 25 games. … Senior center and WCC Player of the Year Jennifer Hamson is coming off a near-triple double, with 12 points, 19 rebounds and nine blocks against NC State. … WCC Coach of the Year Jeff Judkins set his career high for wins in a season with his 27th against the Wolfpack.
About the Cornhuskers » Nebraska is in the Big Dance for the third straight season, and sixth in the last eight. … Jordan Hooper, the Big 10 Player of the Year, is the first Husker to record more than 2,300 points and 1,100 rebounds. … Nebraska’s entire starting lineup was honored on at least one all-Big 10 team this season, with four ending up on the first or second teams.
It’s still open a crack, enough to hear whispers from the other side. He left the Utes and men’s basketball a long time ago, but on Saturday night after his BYU women’s squad put a bruising on North Carolina State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the texts were streaming in.
Alex Jensen. Jeff Jonas. A lot of folks he used to share a sideline with once upon a time.
"Everybody in the world was texting me," he said. "That’s the thing about coaching: Those friendships last forever. I have to believe if Coach [Rick] Majerus were still alive, he’d have said something."
Of course, just because a door is open doesn’t mean Judkins is going to walk back through it. Of all the college basketball coaches in the state, the 58-year-old BYU women’s coach may be the most settled in for the present and for the future.
In his 13th season in Provo, Judkins is still engaged in the winningest season he’s had. Topping the Wolfpack 72-57 brought him to 27 victories this season, and while he’ll say goodbye to two outstanding seniors when the ride ends, he’s got young stars to spare. With 281 wins and counting, he’s comfortably the winningest coach the program has ever had.
It’s still sometimes odd to reflect on: He was a son of Salt Lake City, prepping at Highland High. He was a Utah man, both as a player and as an assistant on Rick Majerus’ most successful teams.
He wouldn’t have predicted it, but this is who he is now. And he’s very at peace with the crossover that has come to define his coaching career.
"Would I have told you 30 years ago that I would be coaching women’s basketball? No, but the situation happened," he said. "My job is like a young kid in recess, and I’ve been getting paid to go out and play."
There was a time when Judkins’ name was tossed into the ring when men’s jobs opened up. But 13 years later, the ship has all but sailed, and Judkins finds himself waving it cheerfully.
What he’s built at BYU has a lasting quality. He’s coaching a generation of players who associate the former NBA player most closely with the Cougars. And they couldn’t imagine the program under anyone else than the man they’ve affectionately named "Juddy."
"Everybody at BYU loves him," said guard Lexi Eaton. "He just has that personality that he can make anybody feel at ease. When he’s coaching, he can be very direct, to the point about solving problems."
There have been some skills he’s picked up along the way: He said he’s worked the hardest on getting his teams to aim for great seasons, not just NCAA berths. He’s learned to rein in some of his harshest criticism on players who respond better to gentler tactics, his team says.
This weekend in the tournament, his guidance has been steady. He makes sure his team sticks to routine: eat at the same times, sleep at the same times, practice at the same times. Judkins has found his groove, and he plants his players squarely in it.
Is he a BYU women’s basketball lifer? Judkins said perhaps only a men’s job opening at Utah or BYU could lure him away. But that’s far from his mind these days, and seemingly drifting further as his Cougars look to get to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since his rookie year as head coach.
"It’s not that in 13 years, I’ve never had opportunities to go," he said. "But you know, I like what I’m doing. It’s like you’ve got a son and a daughter: Do you cheer more loudly for one over the other? It’s about the same. It’s still intense, it’s still important. I’ve enjoyed it. I really have."
Eaton, for one, thinks he’s not going anywhere. These days, it’s easy to see why.
"I think he really wants that, and he loves what BYU is about," Eaton said. "I see him finishing out here. I hope so, because I have a little sister who wants to play for him. That’s the plan, anyway."
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