Some similarities are obvious between Utah’s Larry Krystkowiak and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.
Both have unique last names that start with the letter ‘K’, which has prompted fans in Salt Lake City to call Krystkowiak the other “Coach K,” the title that Krzyzewski has held for nearly his entire career.
Additionally, both names have a Polish background, something that Krystkowiak has taken pride in, saying that his heritage is “really important” to him. Krzyzewski has even been inducted into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame, while Krystkowiak awaits his turn to see his name etched into the same book.
“I’m on the ballot. I dont know if I made it or not,” Krystkowiak said. “They’re probably running out of candidates, so I’m probably due. I haven’t made it the last three years.”
While Krystkowiak looks to follow Krzyzewski’s footsteps into the Hall of Fame, Krystkowiak also hopes to see the same success that the original Coach K has seen in his time at Duke. It’s no secret that when Krystkowiak first took over the Utah program, the first season of his tenure was hard to watch. With just six wins to their name, the Runnin’ Utes were the definition of a rebuilding program.
But what some don’t realize is that it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for Krzyzewski when he first took over the Blue Devils. Despite never quite having as bad of a season as the 6-23 campaign the Utes stumbled through years ago, Duke finished with losing records in two of Krzyzewski’s first three seasons as head coach before turning the program into what it is today.
“[Duke] often times were on ESPN and I can remember changing the channel because they were bad,” Krystkowiak said. “It wasn’t all roses when he started either. So maybe there’s a little similarities in where we are, the key is going to be if we can maintain the level that they have done such a good job of maintaining.”
And Krzyzewski certainly has maintained a level of dominance in Durham, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a coach or a program that has been as good for as long as the Blue Devils have been during his time as head coach. Four NCAA Championships, 11 Final Four appearances, oh, and not to mention the fact that Krzyzewski is the only coach to reach the 1,000-win mark in his career in the history of college basketball.
The numbers speak for themselves, and like Krystkowiak said, time will tell if the Runnin’ Utes will be able to maintain a similar level of success up on the hill. One thing for certain is that Utah and Duke will square off this Friday in Houston with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.
While the two coaches have never coached against each other in an actual game setting before, this won’t be the first time the two have crossed paths. According to Krystkowiak, the two were in Las Vegas scouting a high school tournament a few years back that was taking place at Bishop Gorman High School when the two Coach Ks met at a 7-Eleven near the school.
Krystkowiak said, “Hey, there’s the real Coach K,” but that’s about as far as the conversation went.
“I don’t remember him stopping or laughing,” Krystkowiak said. “ I thought it was funny, but I’m not even sure he knows who I was.”
But come Friday night, Krystkowiak and Krzyzewski will cross paths once again, and you can bet on the latter knowing who his coaching counterpart is when the two teams take the floor in Houston.