NEW YORK — Before Tuesday’s NIT semifinal game at Madison Square Garden, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak received a special email. It was from Arnie Ferrin, who helped the Utes win their one and only NIT title in 1947.
“It’s pretty neat,” said Krystkowiak, who noted that three players from that team are still alive. “That’s back when the NIT was the banner. That was the one you wanted to have, not that it’s diminished — but things have changed.”
Even so, the Utes are determined to reclaim the crown. Hours before reaching the championship game with a 69-64 win over Western Kentucky, Krystkowiak wore a shirt to breakfast that read: “Play for more” on it. He read the email from Ferrin and asked the team who they could play for in the tournament. Past players and others were mentioned, including retiring athletics director Chris Hill and the late Jon M. Huntsman.
“We’ve talked about ‘go big.’ Let’s ‘go big’ like Jon did. We heard that message at his funeral,” Krystkowiak said. “So that’s been a bunch of things that we’re trying to gear up for and trying to make it a special ending.”
ANOTHER INSPIRATION: Krystkowiak said that reserve center Jayce Johnson was also on Utah‘s list of guys to play for on Tuesday.
“(He) sprained his ankle in practice yesterday,” Krystkowiak said. “He couldn’t play today, but if we win there’s a chance he could play on Thursday.”
HILL ARRIVES: On the day Hill formally announced his retirement this spring, the nation’s longest tenured athletics director boarded a flight for New York. He arrived around midnight and checked into his hotel around 1 a.m.
“And here we are,” Hill said prior to Utah’s victory over Western Kentucky. He indicated nothing would keep him from doing so.
“It’s New York, New York. I’m not going to miss coming here. That’s for sure,” Hill said. “I didn’t plan on playing this week here, but that was about two months ago. But we made it. The timing worked out fine.”
Hill explained that he decided in mid-January to announce his retirement when basketball season was over. He chose Monday so that his immediate family could all be there.
“So this is a date that worked and we went ahead,” Hill said.