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Virus-stricken Krystkowiak, Utes, choose captains, prepare to finally open season Thursday vs. Washington

Utah’s 56-year-old coach says he is fully recovered from the virus, but is now dealing with an infection from surgery after a recent elbow injury incurred while doing yard work.

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Utah Utes guard Rylan Jones (15) shown here cheering from the bench during the first round of the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, has been named a team captain for the 2020-21 season along with juniors Timmy Allen and Riley Battin.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Another Monday, another startling health revelation from Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak.

A week after confirming he was sidelined with COVID-19, the Utes’ 56-year-old coach missed his scheduled weekly radio show on ESPN 700 Monday night after having surgery earlier in the day. Assistant coaches Tommy Connor and Andy Hill were scheduled to fill in.

Monday morning, Krystkowiak said on 1280 The Zone that he was going in for surgery Monday afternoon to take care of an infection from a previous surgery to repair a torn elbow tendon — which he sustained while doing yard work last month.

As for his battle with the virus, Krystkowiak told Hans Olsen and Scott Garrard he was “feeling top shelf” and fully recovered. He said he came out of quarantine last Friday.

The Utes have been practicing since last week in preparation for Thursday’s season- and Pac-12-opening game against Washington (0-1) at the Huntsman Center.

“We’ve got a good group. Nobody said this thing was going to be easy. We are in the midst of something that nobody is ever going to forget... Hopefully we can play in an NCAA Tournament in March. That’s the goal.” — Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak

Tipoff is at 4 p.m. MST and the game will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks. Washington opened its season Sunday with an 86-52 loss to No. 2 Baylor in Las Vegas.

“We’ve got a good group,” Krystkowiak said. “Nobody said this thing was going to be easy. We are in the midst of something that nobody is ever going to forget. … We want to be a part of something positive where those guys (say) we had a group of coaches that were committed to us, and hopefully we can play in an NCAA Tournament in March. That’s the goal.”

The Utes paused team-related activities on Nov. 13 after several antigen tests came back positive, athletic director Mark Harlan said at the time. The pause forced Utah to cancel a couple of games last week when most — but not all — teams were playing, some of them as many as three times.

Krystkowiak said junior forwards Timmy Allen and Riley Battin and sophomore guard Rylan Jones were named team captains.

“The guys have a lot of moxie and stand for the right things, so we can put the reins in their hands as far as leading our team,” Krystkowiak said.

Recounting his own experience with the virus to 1280 The Zone, Krystkowiak said there was a 10-day period in early November when he was “getting chills, was achy, had flu symptoms,” but he was tested daily during that stretch “and all those tests kept coming up negative, negative, negative.”

The day he started feeling better, he got a call from a U. trainer telling him he had just tested positive. During his 10 days of self-isolation, mostly spent in an apartment above the garage at his home, he felt OK outside of a few sniffles. Then his surgically repaired elbow started throbbing.

“It was the weirdest thing,” he said. “It is hell getting old.”

Also Monday, the Pac-12 announced it will use a new technology to aid in “rapid and reliable” contact tracing for COVID-19 called KINEXON SafeZone. The system uses small, lightweight wearables called “SafeTags” that all athletes, coaches and related personnel in men’s and women’s basketball and football will wear, on and off the courts and playing fields.

“A real fancy way to do contact tracing,” Krystkowiak said.

As for opening the season against a conference opponent that will have played a game, maybe two, Krystkowiak said the Utes have learned to just roll with the punches during this pandemic-altered year. Preparing for UW is difficult because its style of play, including a zone defense, “is really hard to simulate in a practice setting,” he said.

“I think for the most part we’ve been wounded, and we’ve had our moments, but there is not a team out there that doesn’t feel like they’ve been turned upside down in some way and been affected by COVID.” — Larry Krystkowiak

He said the Utes will rely on film from past games against the Huskies to draw up a game plan.

“I think for the most part we’ve been wounded, and we’ve had our moments, but there is not a team out there that doesn’t feel like they’ve been turned upside down in some way and been affected by COVID,” he said. “It is far from perfect, so I think this is one of those times that flashes back to your younger days when you were on the playground or in an open gym and if you were a basketball player you went in and you didn’t want to lose. You played really, really hard. … And that’s what we are going to do.”