Originally, Jason Washburn wasn't a believer.
He wasn't on board with Larry Krystkowiak. He missed departed coach Jim Boylen, a man he loved playing for. He was skeptical of the new regime, and it wasn't difficult to figure that out.
"Those first few months were a bit strained," Krystkowiak recalls.
On Saturday night when Utah travels to Washington, the Utes will start Washburn at center. He is now an all-conference candidate with three double-doubles in five Pac-12 Conference games. He is now at the center of every opponent's scouting report.
While what's happened between early last year and now has been quite a leap for Washburn, the relationship between coach and player has made just as big, if not bigger, of a jump. The two have gone from being at odds to becoming close in action and philosophy.
Washburn has gone from resisting to being one of the biggest supporters of Krystkowiak among the players.
"When he first came here, it took me a while to adjust," Washburn said. "Coach is a very action-oriented person. He doesn't talk a whole lot. Once I figured out what he wants, I think our relationship took off. I consider him a great coach and a friend."
Krystkowiak made his name in the NBA as a rough-and-tumble power forward in the paint. He's always had a nose for rebounding the ball. He's always had a soft touch from the perimeter. What he lacked in talent, he made up for in toughness and intangibles.
His ability to produce big men in his coaching career has been notable as well. He's employed tough love on Washburn, has yanked him when he hasn't played hard, has yelled at him through inconsistency.
And it's worked. Washburn has evolved into a leader. The improvements to his game have been dramatic. Against Arizona State, Washburn kept Utah in the game, outplaying Jordan Bachynski while scoring 19 points and grabbing 18 rebounds.
He did much of the same against Arizona, outplaying a much more publicized Wildcats frontcourt in the process. Not many saw this outburst coming, as Washburn lost his spot in the starting lineup to Dallin Bachynski in November.
Instead of pouting, Washburn played harder, won his job back and has thrived ever since.
"Jason has come a long way, even since the beginning of the season," Krystkowiak said. "We talk a lot off the court, and we feel the same way about a lot of things. He's a guy that I'm very happy for and a guy that's easy to root for because of everything he has endured."
Sometimes during warmups, Washburn will say something to Krystkowiak that leads him to believe Washburn could make a good coach someday. Once thought to be one of the more immature players in the Utah program, Washburn has evolved into an unquestioned leader of the 2013 Utes.
The losing has been tough, difficult for all involved. But Washburn has refused to succumb to negativity, pointing out that he has two months remaining in his college career and that he fully intends to make the most of it.
When he leaves the program, though, he won't lose contact with Krystkowiak.
"We've developed enough of a friendship that I will always feel comfortable coming back and talking to him, or calling him to seek his advice," Washburn said. "He's been a great coach for me and has helped my game in a lot of ways."
Utah at Washington
O At Alaska Airlines Arena (Seattle)
Tipoff • Saturday, 9 p.m.
TV • ESPNU
Radio • 700 AM
Records • Utah 8-9, 0-5; Washington 12-5, 4-0
Last meeting • Washington 57, Utah 53 (Jan. 7, 2012)
About the Utes • Utah is mired in a five-game losing streak. â¦ Aaron Dotson is considered a gametime decision with an injured knee. â¦ Utah has yet to win a Pac-12 road game under Larry Krystkowiak. â¦ Dotson and Glen Dean are both from Seattle.
About the Huskies • C.J. Wilcox leads the league in scoring during Pac-12 play. â¦ Washington is the defending league champion. â¦ The Huskies won their first three games on the road. â¦ Three of those wins have been by double digits.