Jeff Judkins has BYU women’s basketball soaring to a West Coast Conference regular-season championship and a No. 1 seed at the conference tourney in Las Vegas next month.
His 23-2 (13-1) No. 19-ranked team has chemistry, shooters, strength, size, athleticism and now a record-home crowd in the Marriott Center of 6,281. His team has a 30-game home win streak, undefeated in back-to-back seasons.
He’s been blessed with a group of players who work together and move the ball like something choreographed on Broadway. The spacing is amazing, the passing crisp, the assists just pile up like apples in a bushel basket.
He’s got the league’s best player in point guard Shaylee Gonzales, a deadly shooter, finisher and passer. He’s got a senior sidekick to Gonzales in Paisley Harding, who is a gifted shooter, driver and defender with remarkable footwork and athleticism. In Lauren Gustin he has a rebound-gobbling power forward, who is both intimidating and dominating.
And backing all this up inside the paint there’s 6-foot-7 Sara Hamson, a queen of swat, a talented rim protector, who made a decent run (464) at her mother Tresa Spaulding Hamson’s school record of (494) career blocks.
Yes, Judkins is skating into the final week of league play with games at Santa Clara and Pacific on the road.
He’s got momentum, confidence, an edge that’s finely honed.
But what about the maestro himself?
Judkins is a players’ coach, schooled in the mechanics of plays by the late Rick Majerus, but balanced out in the finer points of relationship building. He’s a recruiter with credibility and sales acumen because he has believability.
“Judkins is really good at knowing the strength of each of his players and how to get the most out of them, “commented Kristen Kozlowski, who played for BYU’s Sweet 16 team two decades ago.
“He places players in a position where they can succeed by helping them learn how to prepare, how to adjust throughout the game and how to use their natural instincts to respond to the flow of the game.”
Judkins has a Huck Finn, ah shucks, persona that is non-threatening and non-egotistical. It’s an attractive personality trait one is born with and cannot be learned because of its genuine, organic nature.
He is the father of five children and 16 grandchildren and at 66, is experienced at applying his principles of relationship building to a team setting. He has a remarkable ability to project his love for the 18th player on the roster equally to his No. 1 star. He preaches the importance of team-play, sharing the ball, creating the threat that anyone can score. He demands hard play, dedicated effort on defense and trust in one another.
Kozlowski praises Judkins for teaching intricacies of basketball to his players, such as how to make reads and when to attack offensively, with a ball pick as opposed to dragging defenders and completing a post-entry pass on the roll — and when to curl off a screen versus flaring out for a shot.
“Defensively, he teaches how to defend a shooter versus a non-shooter,” she said. “He teaches his players how to think the game on both sides of the court so they can have an advantage with each scenario.”
There are plenty of elements to the success Judkins has enjoyed over the years, dipping into his experience as a top-level elite collegian shooter and an NBA career that started with the Boston Celtics and teammate Larry Bird.
But his strength is in the details.
“Judkins helps his players grow confidence through preparation and repetition. He has an incredible basketball mind,” Kozlowski explained. “He was mentored by some of the best in the game and when his opportunity came to take on the head coaching position at BYU he was fully prepared to take everything he knows about the game and teach it to his players,”
Judkins will be going for his 454th career win Thursday at Santa Clara.
That’s a lot of locker-room celebrations.
Judkins, explains Kozlowski, listens to his players and that makes him effective.
“As a teacher of the game you have to be open to feedback from your players,” she said. “There’s a lot of back-and-forth dialogue on this BYU team to focus in on their game plan and what they are doing each game. Judkins has always been open to feedback from his players and willing to listen and work together to form the team game plans.”
One of the building blocks for Judkins is teaching players to trust each other, as mentioned.
“Mutual trust is a key element with this year’s team. Player-to-player trust and coach-to-player trust. They all trust each other. Trust that they will execute their game assignments, they trust each other to make the right play for the team, and the players trust the coaches to have them completely prepared for each opponent.
“When I played, Judkins used to say to us all the time, ‘Every game you’re going to battle with your teammates,’” Kozlowski said. “If they were on the front line with you in a war would you trust them enough to have your back … do you have their back in every situation to do what is best for the team?’
“This year’s BYU women’s basketball team trusts each other and has each other’s back in every game situation they have faced. When you combine that trust with talent at every position, your leaders and superstars, as well as the best coach in BYU history, they are destined to make a big run through March.”
According to Feb. 20 rankings, this BYU women’s team is No. 9 in the NET rankings and projected to be a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This year’s team has been ranked as high as No. 16 three times this year.
How good is Judkins?
Just watch his players, witness the chess game they play on the floor.