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Synchronized Sneakers : Mike May's Madison Avenue Approach to Coaching Takes Conservative Hart High Basketball Team to 18-1


NEWHALL — They show for work in coat, tie and leather dress shoes, carrying notebooks filled with biweekly reports.

They meet in close quarters two, sometimes three times a week to review their performance and plan for the next day's work.

Product refinement is always first and foremost on the agenda--as one might expect from a small firm in a highly competitive business environment.

Its approach is conservative, formulaic, diligent.

The more one learns about the Hart High boys' basketball players, the more one wonders why they don't have monogrammed briefcases and initialed cuff links.

But the answer comes fast and clear. The leader of this methodical, successful group--Mike May--doesn't himself sport any of the Madison Avenue accouterments.

If there ever was a coach's team, Hart is it.

Hart is Mike May personified. Not Mike May the player, who led El Camino Real High in the mid-1970s with flash, flair and a splash of mustard, but Mike May the coach, who professes teamwork, toil and triumph with a minimum of luster.

His senior year at El Camino Real, May was a fast-breaking, fancy-passing guard who averaged 20 points a game and had a shooting range well past today's three-point stripe.

His coaching scheme preaches blue-collar defense and a patient, orderly, sometimes tedious offensive attack.

It is a bore to watch, but the results are exciting for Hart, The Times' No. 1-ranked team in the region.

The Indians are 18-1 this season and 36-9 since May's arrival a season ago. The players like May and they are sold on his charcoal-gray playbook.

But those same players are confounded when they see their coach--who once played for Brigham Young--hot-dog it in his church league. The 6-foot-1 father of four (whose wife, Cindy, will give birth to a fifth this week) runs and guns, makes no-look passes and can slam-dunk.

"He just dominates," senior guard Brian Ballew said.

Said Craig Panama, who referees both May's high school and recreation league games: "When you're the coach and you're better than your players--that's saying something."

May, 37, explains his dual personality.

"Rec league's for fun," said May, who coached at Colton High for five seasons before moving to Hart. "We're out there for a good time. Basketball's a form of expression. When you're done playing seriously--collegiately or professionally--you can let loose. That's kinda the way I take it.

"With the (Hart players), it's a little more on the serious level. We're representing the school. It's a teaching-learning process.

"Kids naturally want to run. They don't naturally want to run a patterned offense and be disciplined. I think if we put our emphasis on (the half-court game) first, then I think we can reach our potential as a team."

Hart players--most of them seniors who grew up watching former Coach Greg Herrick's teams streak from basket to basket while Herrick danced in front of the bench--say they like May's arms-crossed, close-mouthed, de-individualized philosophy.

No coast-to-coast outlet passes, no vertical dashes, no one-on-three spin moves, no thunder dunks. No showtime.

It's man-to-man, arms-in-the-air defense. It's wide-open jump shots only or back-door layups on offense. It's bring it up slowly and pass, pass, pass until the opponent passes out.

"Sometimes we're running motion for maybe a minute or so, then we get the layup and it demoralizes the defense," Ballew said.

"Often we look for a guy to overplay his man and anticipate a pass. That's when we get the back-door layup."

Said senior center Cody Patterson, who played for Herrick as a sophomore: "Maybe at first (May's) style seemed too disciplined. But once we got into the motion and got the hang of it, we realized that was best for us."

Last season, Hart was 3-5 and struggling under May. But then the team concept clicked and the Indians finished 18-8, winning the Foothill League title for the third consecutive season.

May's 36-9 start at Hart has prompted other coaches, such as Burbank's Jeff Davis, to call him for advice.

Davis, who played at El Camino Real after May, credits May for helping him secure a scholarship to East Texas State with hours of schoolyard tutoring when both were teen-agers.

"He showed me little things like release point and how to warm up," Davis said. "We'd be out there at 9, 10, 11 o'clock at night playing under a fog light.

"He's a great coach. I called Mike when we went 1-4 and he said, 'Make sure your players are playing to their strengths.' I started looking at that more and more. Then we won three in a row. Instead of looking at the whole, he told me to look at the parts.

"His approach is very interesting. It's very practical, very rational."

May is like the president of a successful business who has found a formula that produces positive results.

In fact, you could say the Indians are run by the accounting firm of May, Spindt, McDonald & Angel.

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