SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak and Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle have been good friends for almost 30 years. It goes back to their days at Montana where both were players for the Grizzlies and continued over the years as they coached in Missoula together for a couple of years.
Now the two will be coaching against each other for the first time when the Utes and Beavers meet Thursday night in Corvallis, Oregon.
After winning 64 percent of his games with seven winning seasons in eight years at Montana, including three NCAA appearances, Tinkle was named head coach at OSU last spring, succeeding Craig Robinson. The Beavers were picked last by a wide margin after losing most of their top players, but have been the surprise team in the Pac-12 with a 16-9 overall mark and are tied for fifth in the league standings at 7-6.
“Can’t stand him,’’ Krystkowiak joked before going on and on about how much he likes Tinkle and admires the coaching job he’s done this year.
“We worked together, we were on the same staff at Montana for a couple of years, and Wayne did a great job taking over when I left. He’s a real solid person, solid coach and a good friend.’’
Besides Tinkle being on Krystkowiak’s staff in 2004-06, the two were teammates at Montana under coach Mike Montgomery back in 1985-86. Krystkowiak noted how it was fun to coach against Montgomery the past three years when he was at Cal and now he has another friend coaching in the Pac-12.
“It may be a little more involved the week of the game because people want to talk about the relationship, but when it’s tipped off it’s really about our team trying to beat their team and not anything individual,’’ Krystkowiak said. “Now Wayne might have something different to say — he might want to kick my butt for how I mistreated him back when he was a freshman, but it’s nothing personal. I’m happy to have another guy I know quite well in our league.’’
When Krystkowiak was asked if he’d given Tinkle any advice he may have regretted now that he is having so much success, Krystkowiak replied with a smile, “You’re saying he’s done a better job than me? I did. We won six games our first year so ... ”
EX-UTE COACH AT OSU: When Tinkle got the job at Oregon State, his first decision was to take assistant coach Kerry Rupp along with him. Rupp, of course, is a Utah native who coached high school basketball in Utah for 24 years before joining Rick Majerus’ Ute staff in 2000.
Rupp also took over at Utah in 2004 when Majerus left his job, and he led the Utes to the Mountain West Conference tournament championship and to the NCAA tournament. Since then Rupp has bounced around a bit as an assistant at Indiana and UAB and as the head coach at Louisiana Tech for four years before joining Tinkle prior to the 2012-13 season.
Rupp remembers getting the phone call last spring when Tinkle got the OSU job.
“He called me 10 minutes before the plane was going to take off and said here’s what you’ve got to have. I was about 15 minutes from my house and made it in about 12 minutes and got on the plane and never really looked back. I was honored that he asked me to go with him.’’
Of Tinkle, Rupp said, “I’ve been around some very great coaches and he takes a backseat to no one. He’s a great person, a great coach, a good mentor. He’s got a great feel for the game and how to run a program.’’
MISSED ON PAYTON: One of the big reasons for Oregon State’s good season has been the play of point guard Gary Payton II, who leads his team in scoring at 13.2 ppg, is second in assists (3.0 apg) and leads the Pac-12 in steals with 2.9 per game.
The interesting thing is, Payton played the past two years in Utah for Salt Lake Community College, where he averaged 14.1 points and was a second-team JC All-American last year.
When asked why the Utes didn’t pursue Payton, Krystkowiak said they didn’t have any scholarships available, that Payton was likely to go to Oregon State, where his dad starred, anyway, and that he wouldn’t have had a great opportunity this year with Delon Wright playing most of the minutes at point guard.
“We looked at him,’’ Krystkowiak said. “I’d be crazy not to go back in time when he showed up at SLCC and make sure we had a spot. But in recruiting there’s no crystal ball. There’s a lot of people that would like to have Delon too. That’s something we can live with. He’s a big strong guard and like Delon went to a place where there was an opportunity to play right away.’'
UTE NOTES: The Utes have moved up to No. 9 in the latest AP rankings, their highest ranking since being No. 6 at the end of the 1998-99 season. ... The Utes are 10th in the nation in scoring defense (56.4 ppg), 13th in field goal percentage defense (37.9), and fourth in defending two-point shots (40.1 percent). ... Utah is third in the nation in scoring margin (plus-17.9 ) and fifth in field goal percentage at 49.7 percent. ... The Utes improved to 20-4 with their victory over Cal Sunday. This is the best Utah record in a decade since 2004-05 when the Utes were 21-3 after 24 games on their way to a 29-6 overall record under first-year coach Ray Giacoletti.