Gary Morgan probably thought Coach Greg Hayes had gone off his rocker. So did most of the other players on the Canyon High basketball team.
"I thought the whole idea was kind of dumb," Morgan said. "I thought it was a waste of time. But he's the coach. Nobody had the nerve to tell him it wasn't a good idea."
There were no sounds of basketballs pounding against the hardwood as the Cowboys began conditioning for the upcoming season. There was plenty of passing and diving for balls and running and sweating and all that stuff. And when they jumped, they still came back down--only without the ball.
Like it or not, Morgan and the confused Cowboys were forced to prepare Hayes' way. Make that the Hayes' and Ardyce Masters' way.
Masters, who coaches boys and girls volleyball at Canyon, took the basketball team under her wing last month. Twice each week, Masters had the players--and Hayes--in the gym spiking and digging and playing in front of a different kind of net.
"It was Greg's idea," Masters said. "He came to me and asked me to help out. I said, 'Sure, if the guys want to do it.' "
Even having their coach participate along with them didn't cause the Cowboys to jump at the idea at first, but slowly they began to dig the volleyball scrimmages.
"I like it," forward Brian Schroeder said. "I think it's a cool idea."
Said Masters: "It's a good carry-over into basketball. It helps their reaction time. And the jumping sharpens their vertical approach."
Masters' approach to coaching has produced 40 consecutive Golden League wins and four consecutive league titles for Canyon's girls team. But that's volleyball ; you hit the ball over the net. What good will Masters' techniques do when it's time to sink 20-foot jump shots?
Insisted Hayes: "Playing volleyball is going to help us. It gets us jumping."
And Canyon will need to be jumping just to measure up to the opposition.
At 5-foot, 8-inches, Hayes isn't accustomed to looking many of his players in the eye. Until this year. The past two seasons, Canyon has stood tall atop the Golden League, finishing first b1869899808six scorers having graduated, Hayes has come eyeball to eyeball with a large problem--small players.
"As far as our top 10 players are concerned, we're six-foot-and-under," Hayes quipped. "We'll have to find a six-foot-and-under league to play in. I guess it's my fault. They always say that a team reflects its coach."
Actually, the Cowboys' average height is 6-1, and Hayes does have a couple of tall players. Junior Brad Tufts is 6-6 and sophomore Jon Civita is 6-4.
"Our big kids are skinny and inexperienced," Hayes said. "If we were a pro team, we would trade one of our guards for a big guy. We're going to have to do things with our quickness this year if we're going to be competitive."
Canyon played 20 summer league games but won only five. Watching the team struggle against taller opposition, Hayes reasoned that short people had good reason to play volleyball.
"This summer everybody was so much bigger than us," Hayes said. "It was like playing with a different set of rules. We're playing volleyball to help our vertical ability."
The players were not so quick to agree.
"We've got to run everybody off the floor if we want to win," said Morgan, a senior guard. "I thought the only way we were going to get better was to play basketball. I didn't like playing volleyball. It was sloppy and we were just waiting for the bell to ring."
Said forward Mike Garner: "I couldn't see what the purpose was. I didn't know why we were doing it."
Unhappy and bored at first, the Cowboys began to acquire a taste for Masters' game.
"When we started out we just worked with them on some individual stuff," Masters said. "But when we moved into a competitive situation with hitting and blocking, they liked it a lot more. You could see them starting to enjoy it. Now they really look forward to it."
The Cowboys really began to view volleyball differently when they saw who Masters invited to help coach. Girls.
"Some of the guys take their shirts off and try to show off," said Chris Bice, a sophomore volleyball player. "It's kind of cute. You'd laugh if you saw them. Some of them won't get off the court when it's our turn to practice. They shoot baskets with the volleyballs."
"We wanted to impress them," Morgan said. "But we also could see that the volleyball was beginning to help us. We're jumping better and communicating better. There's teamwork."
Masters may benefit from her extra coaching duties in the spring when a few of the basketball players join the boys volleyball team. Garner, Schroeder and senior Chris Schmitt all have expressed interest in playing. Hayes has encouraged other players to try out for the volleyball team. He is also considering allowing volleyball in the Cowboys' regular practice sessions, which began this week.
"I just feel that the kids need to do other things," Hayes said. "That's one of the reasons why we're playing volleyball. Not just to help our vertical ability, but to get a break from basketball."
And, hopefully, to get better breaks while they are playing basketball.