WHY U COACH Gavin Petersen, Utah Women's Basketball


There are a few memories that come to mind when thinking about basketball in my life at an early age, and the one constant has always been my family.

I remember getting a basketball hoop built for me in our back patio as a birthday present, I think it was my 10th birthday. My dad built it himself, and I loved having it growing up. That’s where I would have my own “countdown” and hit many game winning shots.

My dad was an NCAA basketball official and I remember tagging along with him as much as I could. I would either help out as a ball boy or a floor wiper and I always enjoyed getting to take in the competitive atmosphere of college athletics.

I remember when he brought me to Salt Lake City when the WAC Tournament was held at the Delta Center when I was in the eighth grade (1991). We stayed in downtown SLC and I loved being able to watch those games.


Growing up in Hawaii was pretty awesome. We were always playing outside or enjoying the beautiful beaches that we were blessed to have. If we weren’t outside playing tag football in the streets or basketball somewhere, we would just ride our bikes around the neighborhood looking for things to do.

I was lucky to have some friends around my age on my street, so we always had someone to hang with. The older we got, the more organized sports we all played and we ended up competing against each other by the time we were in high school.

We did a lot as a family and it revolved around both me and my sister, Malia. It was sports for me and Hula for my sister. Now having kids of our own, our parents must have gone crazy at times taking us all around the island to do what we loved.

Both of my parents were very busy with work, but they were always supportive of me and my sister. My dad coached me in every sport I played and my mom was always there as well, keeping score and cheering us on.

Neither of my parents were tough on us. They allowed us to figure things out on our own, and provided guidance when needed. Even when I messed up, I was more concerned with that fact that I disappointed them more than I was with the punishment that was going to be handed out.

I really respect what my parents stood for and how they raised my sister and I. You are what you know, and I’m hoping to parent in a way that nurtures love, discipline and respect in the way that my parents raised me.

I’m so blessed to have had two parents that were so supportive and loving throughout my childhood.


Playing high school basketball was filled with adversity. To start off, we did not have a gym to practice or play in. We practiced off campus and the majority of our games were “road games.”

We went through two head coaches in my first two years and we were losing a ton with little-to-no discipline on the team. Heading into my junior year, my high school brought back Bobby Aw, a coach that had won the state title in the late 80s for UHS.

He was a major in the Honolulu Police Department and was a no-nonsense, old-school kind of coach. I can still hear him yelling at us as we were running our press-break verse the full court press in practice.

He challenged us and forced us to embrace the process of being successful. It was what we needed.

He instilled a level of discipline, hard work and commitment that has been a part of my DNA ever since. What he did for us, went well beyond the basketball court. Even though we fell short of reaching the State Tournament in those years, we did gain respect throughout the league and laid the foundation for the younger guys to keep building on.

We enjoyed playing basketball together and had a blast doing so. Unknowingly at the time, that was my first lesson on “how to” rebuild a program.


Being a part of successful basketball programs, being led by the "all-time winningest coach" at those programs has a tendency to “shift” your career paths.

I was a student manger at Hawaii Pacific, led by the legendary coach Tony Sellitto. We were one of the premier NAIA basketball programs in the nation and went to three-straight national tournaments before transitioning to NCAA DII status.

It wasn’t until I joined the University of Hawaii Wahine basketball program under Vince Goo that I wanted to coach collegiately. Working there, getting to see the detail that went into every aspect of the program – it blew me away.

The relationship that all of the players had with the coaching staff was something special, it was what I now aspire to be a part of.

I worked my way from graduate manager to a graduate assistant, where I was given more responsibility in the offices. I was able to assist in camps, official visits and video breakdown. I am so thankful for that opportunity that Vince gave me, and he really showed me what it took to be a successful coach at the collegiate level.


It was a dream come true to get the opportunity at Hawaii. I still remember the day it happened.

We met in Coach Goo’s office for lunch that he bought from HK’s. I thought it was just another day, when he slid me an envelope with some keys on it.

It was a letter naming me as the new assistant women’s basketball coach. I was shocked, excited and so grateful for the opportunity to start my career in my hometown.

Two years into my coaching career, Coach Goo wrapped up his stellar career and retired. That season, I learned to live in the moment and cherish all the people you get the chance to work with and alongside. I have tons of memories from those two seasons and I smile when I reflect on those good times.

When Coach Goo retired, I had to look elsewhere to continue coaching or try to remain on staff with the new head coach. Being from Hawaii, I still had not developed my network of coaches that I could look to for advice or direction – my only connection was Jon Newlee, who was the head coach at Idaho State University.

He informed me of a possible vacancy on his staff and we stayed in contact weekly when he called mid-June of that year and said there was an opening and he was offering the job to me. I’m pretty sure I said yes before he finished asking me.

Sight unseen, I told him I was all in!

It was the first time that I was leaving home. It was a decision that I knew I had to make if this was my career choice, even though it meant leaving all my family and friends. I remember tearing up as we pulled away from my grandma and grandpa’s house.

It really hit me then that we are not guaranteed anything in life and that could have been the last time I saw them. I knew that I was not going to fail at this because I was giving up so much.

There was a drive and motivation within me to make my family proud and to make the best of what was given to me.


Karen and I met in January of 2005 when she was coaching at Sacramento State and I was at Idaho State. Both of our teams were in the Big Sky and we ended up meeting because we were on different sidelines.

We ended up talking on the phone and started a long-distance relationship as we coached at different schools. After doing the long-distance thing for two seasons, Karen decided to move to Pocatello, Idaho to give our relationship a real chance to grow.

We haven’t been apart since that move.

From ISU, we followed Coach Newlee to the University of Idaho, and that is where we got the chance to coach together in the same staff. I proposed to Karen before our first season at Idaho, then we got married going into our second season.

We were at Idaho for three seasons and it was pretty cool being able to work with my wife. We did bring the job home with us, but it was good because we understood the demands of the job and also got a lot done by collaborating on things as well.


Finding out that you’re going to be a parent is an exciting and terrifying feeling all at once. I was thrilled that Karen and I were starting our family in Honolulu, but I had no idea what to truly expect. Going to the doctors with Karen was terrifying because of all the unknown.

Tests, ultrasounds, follow-up appointments, parenting classes once a week, omg! Plus, this was all during the basketball season in October, November and into December. We handled things the best we could and were given the best Christmas gift anyone could ask for. I can still remember Karen saying, “this baby better not come on Christmas Day!”

Sure enough, Christmas it was! Breagh being born in 2011 was life changing. Having her in our lives really put things in perspective and what really matters. The mood after a tough practice or a loss in a game, was changed the instant I got to hold her in my arms.

She changed me for the better 100-percent.

Fast forward to 2013 when we decided to make the move to Pacific in Stockton, Calif. At the time, Karen was seven months pregnant with our second child. Making that move, leaving family and friends was hard enough. Now add the fact that we needed to find a doctor for Karen, secure a place to stay, facilitate the move from Hawaii to California – it was crazy.

We still laugh at those moments when we were sitting on the floor eating our meals, living out of our bags for about a month. We made it work, all while Karen was enduring a pregnancy.

Brooklyn was born that November, and she got that name because I stayed home with Karen while the team at Pacific traveled to New York to play Iona and Fordham. I always wanted to go explore the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, so instead of that I stayed home and we welcomed Brooklyn into our lives.


I knew Lynne through some other coaches in the profession. I actually met her in Launceston, Tasmania when we were both there recruiting.

It was a COLD gym, and there was only about five U.S. coaches at the event, so we all sat together and chatted. Lynne had her blanket and gloves on as she huddled herself up to watch games.

Pacific was leaving the Big West for the West Coast Conference, so for a career standpoint, joining her at Pacific was a step up in the world of women’s basketball.

From a personal standpoint, I knew her and respected her a great deal. From a basketball standpoint, I selfishly wanted to learn from her and her staff the intricacies of AASAA (Dribble, Drive offense).

We had a very talented team as we transitioned into the WCC. I fell in love with coaching once again because of the players and the coaching staff. We had a good season and we all felt good about the direction of the program in the WCC.

When we got eliminated from the WCC Tournament our last year at Pacific, we both stayed in Vegas to recruit. I was at one of the tournament games and I saw online that the Utah job had become open. I immediately texted her and said, “too bad you hate the cold.”

She text back and said she had talked to her agent about the job already. As the process developed, I was hoping for the best. When she accepted the position at Utah, it got real right then and there.

Scenarios started to go through my head – what if she can’t hire me, what do I do then. She texted and asked if she could come over and chat with Karen and I at our home in Stockton, Calif. I had built it up in my mind that she was going to deliver some bad news.

She offered me the job, and once again – I was all in.


We have loved our experience here in Utah. Both of our children are in a great school, have fun activities that Karen keeps them busy in, and love cheering on the Utes.

The biggest difference here at Utah have been our facilities! Everywhere you look, our student-athletes and our coaches are taken care of. When I talked to recruits, I truly believe they could see my smile and feel the excitement about our program and our facilities. I still remember walking through the construction with my hard hat and talking about where things were going to be.

It’s been a great privilege to come to work every day and I try to honor those whom came before us by working my tail off to make them proud of our program.

Being in the Pac-12 also gives us all a tremendous platform to accomplish some great things on a national scale, whether it’s going to sold-out football games, watching our softball team advance to the Super Regionals, seeing baseball win a Pac-12 Championship, volleyball making a run to the Sweet 16, or gymnastics annually competing for a national championship – the list goes on and on.

Our family loves being a part of this athletics department, one in which we get to play in front of thousands of fans, compete at the very highest level in our sport, and doing so alongside some great people.

For our women’s basketball program, building this program with Lynne, Danny and Jo and the other staff members has been challenging, but rewarding.

We aren’t there yet, but the desire and drive to build something special here at Utah still remains and burns inside of all of us.

We all continue to do our part to elevate this program to greater heights.


My love for the game of basketball and all that it has done for my life is probably No. 1. In a very close second, are the relationships that I’ve been able to make through this profession.

Each player I’ve coached, or a colleague I’ve coached with, becomes a part of our extended family.

I’m so thankful for those friendships in my life – including meeting my wife in Reed Gym in Pocatello, Idaho because of the game. It is pretty special.

The job can be demanding, but it is so rewarding. IT ends up NOT being “work” because I love what I do and enjoy the process. I take personal pride in everything I do.

I want to be the BEST, I want our team to be the BEST, and that Competitive Drive in me is what keeps me going through ALL the Wins and losses, and all the late nights.