Having heard the usual taunts and chants all night, Brighton High School sophomore Ben Krystkowiak sneered at the Timpview student section as he ran down the court after making a 3-pointer.
Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak shuddered as he relived his son's response in Provo, where the family's name is not especially revered: “I'm like, “Dude, you really don't need to bring that on yourself.' ”
He’s saying that as both a coach and father, lines that occasionally become blurred. Utah’s program has five sons playing for prep and college teams. The list includes Krystkowiak’s three sons; former Ute guard Jake Connor, who’s finishing his career at nearby Westminster College as a graduate transfer; and future Ute guard Rylan Jones, who hopes to conclude his Olympus High tenure with another state championship in March.
Tommy Connor teases Utah director of basketball operations Chris Jones about what his life will be like next season, when he becomes a father of a Runnin' Ute – and, technically, cannot coach his son on the court. By the NCAA’s job description, Jones is not allowed to speak directly to the players during games or practices. And the view from the bench is intensified, Connor said, when “it’s your kid out there.”
Jones “laughs it off,” Connor said, “but I don't know if he knows exactly what he's about to get into. … Luckily for him, the kid's such a good player.”
Jake Connor • 6-5 senior guard, averaging 10.3 points and 2.1 rebounds for Westminster College.
Rylan Jones • 6-1 senior guard, averaging 20.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 3.1 steals for Olympus High.
Ben Krystkowiak • 6-2 sophomore guard, averaging 7.7 points and 1.7 rebounds for Brighton High.
Cam Krystkowiak • 6-10 post-graduate forward, averaging 10.5 points and 6.5 rebounds for Northfield Mount Hermon School.
Luc Krystkowiak • 6-5 senior forward, averaging 17..4 points and 7.0 rebounds for Brighton High.
Krystkowiak's three sons all spent time together on the court for Brighton last season, with Cam as a senior and Ben as a freshman. Cam, a 6-foot-10 forward is enrolled at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts, and is being recruited by Ivy League schools. Luc is a 6-5 senior forward and Ben is a 6-2 guard, each starting for Brighton.
“When he's talking to me after a game, I don't know if he's talking as a coach or to be my dad, but you take things from it and you learn, obviously,” Ben said.
Krystkowiak tries to make that distinction clear. “It's always dangerous, if you've got the 'coach face' on all the time,” he said. The coaching perspective is “a little bit more rough or raw.”
His father’s approach is “really chill, actually,” Luc said. “He’s never pressured us to play basketball, never super hard on us. He just wants us to have fun while we play. He wants us to love the game.”
The Krystkowiak name is inescapable, making them targets of opposing students and creating expectations for them as players. “For the most part, our boys have seen it and realize that there might be some extra pressure that comes with it,” Krystkowiak said. “I think they've handled it pretty well.”
Coaches like having players with their basketball background. NMH coach John Carroll said of Cam, “As you point to where he should be in practice, he's already there … what comes kind of instinctively to him is laborious to other kids.”
Brighton coach Garrett Wilson said, “To have three of them that you know have been taught the right way, it's been awesome.”
As for the pressure he feels in coaching the sons of a famous coach, Wilson said, “It's interesting; we've had conversations several times just about that idea. … It's an interesting dynamic, but now that this is the third year into it, I've come to be really comfortable with it. Larry and [his wife] Jan are both so great. They came to me and said, 'Look, you've got a job to do. You get to do that as a coach.' That's pretty cool. It says a lot about him to trust me.”
Krystkowiak will be coaching Chris Jones' son next season. Rylan Jones' arrival as a scholarship player also will create a new dynamic in a relationship where the father personally coached his son's summer teams in Logan for seven years and guided his career.
“We had a blast,” Chris Jones said. “I'm really fortunate, because he wanted me to coach him. It was never a father-son, butt-heads, I-don't-listen-to-my-dad thing. I was super lucky, because he didn't feel that way. He wanted the coaching and he wanted me to help him … He flourished with that.”
In November, two days before Rylan signed with Utah, Chris Jones sat on the bench before a game at Minnesota and wondered what next season would be like, with his son in that environment. He later learned that Rylan was having similar thoughts at that moment.
“I'm sure at the end of it all, it's be a real positive thing and it'll be fun just to be around him every day and watch him practice and watch him get better,” Chris Jones said.
Rylan's showing in national and international camps, beyond high school basketball at Logan and Olympus, suggest he “rises to the occasion with every hurdle that has been thrown in front of him,” his father said. “When that ends, I don't know.”
Rylan Jones is known for focusing on what he's doing right now. He loves high school, saying he would like to stay at Olympus forever. Yet he allows himself a glimpse into the next four years at Utah, being around his father. “I think it'll be fun,” he said. “I mean, there's obviously going to be a little added pressure or some tough situations that could come out of it, but you know what? I'm just looking forward to it. I think it'll be a fun ride.”
That was the Connors' experience, although Jake's case was different, as a walk-on who appeared in 36 games over three seasons. He graduated from Utah last spring and transferred to Westminster, where his father once relaunched the school's basketball program.
Their experience at Utah was “awesome,” Connor said. “I wouldn't have traded it for anything, and I don't think he would have. …. we traveled the world together and I got to see him every day and coach him every day.”
Jake Connor now plays at the NCAA Division II level for Westminster coach Norm Parrish, a former Ute staff member, logging nearly 35 minutes per game. “It's definitely a lot different ,” he said. “We had a lot of good times up there, but it's been good to play for somebody who's not my father. … There was always just naturally a little bit of added pressure on both of our ends, not in a bad way, [but] just because of our relationship, obviously.”
He’ll always remember the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, a European tour and trips to Hawaii and New York. And he’s at Westminster, in a modern facility near the old Payne Gym, where he spent much of his childhood. Connor lives with Utah players Beau Rydalch and Novak Topalovic and two Ute student managers, while working toward a master’s degree in community leadership.
“Being able to watch him evolve over four years and mature and get better, then now go watch him when he's playing a lot, it's really fun,” Tommy Connor said.
Larry Krystkowiak has the same feeling, every Tuesday and Friday when his own team is in town. His Ute apparel and 6-9 frame make him noticeable in the bleachers. During a Brighton home game this week, when Luc stepped to the free-throw line, Jordan students chanted, “Daddy's watching.”
The coach knows he's being watched, as he watches. Luc emphatically blocked a shot and Jan Krystkowiak naturally did what any mother would do, jumping and raising her arms. Her husband resembled an Irish dancer, clenching his fists and keeping his arms at his sides.
As the game wound down, Ben stayed on the bench. The Bengals trailed by a point in the last 20 seconds, when Wilson called a post-up play for Luc. He missed a shot in the lane and no foul was called, as his father stared straight ahead. A disappointing finish seemed likely for the family, even after Luc's 22-point game.
During a timeout, Larry Krystkowiak moved from his seat and stood against the wall behind the basket. After a Jordan player hit one free throw but missed the second attempt, Brighton’s Adam Templeton made his only basket of the game — a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
The Bengals swarmed the court. Krystkowiak grinned.
UTAH AT CALIFORNIA
At Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.
Tipoff: Saturday, 6 p.m. MST
Radio: ESPN 700.
Records: Utah 10-8 (4-2 Pac-12); California 5-14 (0-7 Pac-12).
Series history: Tied, 15-15.
Last meeting: Utah 77, California 43 (2018).
About the Utes: Utah has won three straight games for the first time this season, beating three teams (Washington State, Colorado and Stanford) in the bottom tier of the Pac-12. Now comes Cal, winless in conference play, with this fact that should get the Utes' attention: Twice in this decade, a team has gone 1-17 in the league, beating only Utah. … The Utes are in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Pac-12, a half-game out of second place. … Previously published schedules showed a later tipoff; the game was moved up for ESPNU’s purposes.
About the Bears: Cal has not won a Pac-12 game since Feb. 3, 2018. … The Bears lost 68-59 to Colorado on Thursday, but they showed some determination in rallying from 18 points down early in the second half, briefly taking the lead. … Cal has four double-figures scorers, led by Justice Sueing (14.1). … The Bears are 5-5 in Berkeley, where the Utes have lost on their last two visits – most recently in 2017. … This is the teams' only meeting this season.