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U. coach focuses on points

New University of Utah basketball coach Ray Giacoletti is focusing on things that will put points on the board for the Utes.
New University of Utah basketball coach Ray Giacoletti is focusing on things that will put points on the board for the Utes.
Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

Ray Giacoletti, the University of Utah's new basketball coach, has a sign in his office that reads: "Will It Put Points On The Board." It's to remind him to spend his working hours on things that will actually win basketball games.

"I don't want to get distracted by other things," he says.

Soooo, he doesn't read local newspapers or listen to talk radio or watch the local TV stations, because the opinions of writers, talking heads and fans don't put points on the board.

Even his office, after seven months with its new occupant, is still relatively bare and devoid even of a computer. Decorated offices and e-mail don't put points on the board, either.

Sitting in his office, a week into fall practice — practices put points on the board — Giacoletti sat down for an interview. I was able to get an appointment with the new coach, even though I won't put points on the board.

Giacoletti, who was giving a speech downtown to a group of boosters, was late for the appointment. He called me from his cell phone at his own office. "Sorry," he said, "I'm running behind schedule. Sen. Hatch was there and he wanted to talk to me. He's a big basketball fan. I was a little awestruck. I was sitting there thinking, holy smoke, it's Sen. Hatch."

Senators and boosters can put points on the board. Hatch helped expedite Australian star Andrew Bogut's paperwork to return to the U.S.

Bogut puts points on the board.

Giacoletti told me to make myself at home in his office while I waited. "There's a fridge in there. Get yourself a drink. I'll be there in 10 minutes," he said, apologizing several times.

Ute fans are going to like the new guy. He's a trim, relaxed, youthful 42-year-old man with neat clothes and close-cropped hair who likes to play the guitar, lives in a house after taking up residence in a hotel (egads!) for a while, has a wife and is, well, a regular guy.

"What you see is what you get," he says.

Translation: You won't need a team of psychologists to figure out this man. Recently, Mike Sorensen, the longtime Deseret Morning News beat writer who dealt for years with Giacoletti's mercurial predecessor, Rick Majerus, met with the new coach and inquired about the media's ground rules. Could he interview the players? Attend practice? Interview freshmen? Do stories on any player he chose? None of these things had been allowed under Majerus's micromanagement.

Giacoletti's reaction: Uh, why not? Of course.

"There are a lot of ways to do this job," says Giacoletti. "The only way I know how to do it is the way I've done it for 19 years, and that's to be as open and honest and people friendly as possible."

Giacoletti cut his teeth coaching at smaller schools, most recently North Dakota State and Eastern Washington. The Utes might never have found him if he hadn't come so highly recommended. Athletic Director Chris Hill was looking for a big name to replace Majerus — "Everyone wants you to get someone that makes you go, wow, that's a smart A.D.," he says — but then someone advised him: "Don't win the press conference and lose the next season." It seemed like every time Hill made a phone call to inquire about a name candidate, someone was telling him to check out Giacoletti.

"I can't tell you how many guys said that," says Hill. "I finally thought, well, I better look at this guy."

It has been a whirlwind seven months on the job for Giacoletti. The coach and his assistants stayed in a Salt Lake hotel for 2 1/2 months while their families remained behind to sell homes and let kids finish school.

They essentially lived together, sharing meals, working and talking hoops from morning to night.

"It was like summer camp," he says.

Giacoletti made two trips to Australia, the first time to woo Australian Bogut into returning to Utah, and another trip to the Athens Olympics to court Bogut again. He also called all-conference guard Marc Jackson, who, weary of Majerus' style, quit two years ago, and convinced him to return to the team.

"It's a different atmosphere," says Jackson. "It's a total change."

Giacoletti has brought a more personable, player-friendly atmosphere to the team. Sitting in his office, the coach says, "It's important to develop relationships. We want the players to stop by the (basketball) office, even if it's just for five minutes to say hi."

As if on cue, a few minutes later Bogut comes into the office on the players' day off and chitchats with the coach. "That's what I'm talking about," says Giacoletti. "We encourage that. Maybe we can have a conversation about something other than basketball."

So far, the players have embraced Giacoletti's style. "He's a lot different — that's good," says Tim Drisdom. "He's a lot more patient. He's no pushover, that's for sure. He can get after you. But he's more tolerant.

I think everyone's happy with the change."

Says Jackson, "He treats everyone great, and he's upbeat and energetic.

He can get upset, but it's not degrading or directed at one person."

Giacoletti is passionate about basketball, but he's got a life, too, and he strives for balance. "That's the challenge for every coach," he says. "My wife and my faith help." So does his love for playing the guitar.

A few years ago, his wife, Kim, after listening to him wish for years that he could play the instrument, bought him one. Now he has four guitars and a stack of sheet music he's trying to learn. He favors classic rock (last summer he attended a Van Halen concert), and likes to retire to a music room he created in the basement of his house.

"I wish, instead of me playing so much basketball when I was a kid, my mom had put a guitar in my hand," he says.

During the next few months, he won't have much time to play, he confesses. After years of working happily at smaller schools, Giacoletti steps up to a school that Majerus made into a powerhouse. He admits that he was daunted the first month he was on the job.

"I'm going to work hard to make people proud of Utah basketball," he vows, then returns to a day of more meetings with his coaches. Meetings put points on the board.