Bob Withers thinks he's in coaching heaven, and his Diamond Bar High boys' basketball team hasn't even won a championship yet.
Every day, he looks forward to practice. Every game, he can't wait to try new strategies.
Withers is the beneficiary of a group of players who combine brains and brawn.
Senior forwards Zeeshan Hyder and Nathan Lyons-Smith scored 1,560 and 1,540, respectively, on the SAT, and each had a perfect score of 800 on the math portion of the test. Junior point guard Collin Robinson scored 1,400 on the SAT.
All three have grade-point averages of 4.0 or higher. Combined, they are taking 13 Advanced Placement classes, ranging from calculus to economics to Spanish IV.
"It's tremendous," Withers said. "We put in a lot more sets and a lot more defenses than normal because of the capacity of the kids to absorb."
Last season, Diamond Bar finished 19-8, and the team GPA was 3.8. This season, the Brahmas (9-7) hope to challenge Glendora for the Sierra League title and be a competitive team in the Southern Section Division I-AA playoffs.
Withers has coached six of the Diamond Bar players since they were 10 years old.
"They are the best and the brightest, and if you do an article in 10 years, they may not be playing pro basketball, but they will be superstars in our society," he said.
There are many qualities to admire in a group of players who symbolize the true meaning of student athlete.
Robinson is a 6-foot point guard who averages 11.3 points and 4.7 assists. He thinks he can finish with 20 dunks this season. That would be an accomplishment, but he learned from his mother, Evelyn, that achievements happen for those who believe.
"She's one of those very stubborn people," Robinson said. "It's real hard to change her mind. She passed that on to me. It makes me believe I can do anything, and when it's in my head, nothing can stop me."
Robinson's best subject is English. Writing comes easy for him. He has played basketball since he was 3, but his mother made sure academics came first.
"She's always pushing me and makes me think I can do more than I actually can, and it's come to fruition," he said.
Robinson volunteers at a public library as a tutor, teaching students 5 to 14 about math. "I think it's your duty to give back," he said.
Robinson said playing on the court with smart teammates makes the team better.
"During the summer, when we had played five games in a row and were really tired, we were still running everything to perfection because we had to figure out new ways to score while we were tired," he said.
As for understanding what it takes to be successful, Robinson said, "No one is selfish on our team. Everyone passes the ball around and puts the team before themselves."
Hyder is a 6-2 forward known as a defensive stopper, but he leads the team in scoring with 13.5 points per game and is No. 1 in rebounding at 5.4.
"You just have to think you're better than the opponent," he said. "Defense is all about heart. For 32 minutes, you have to go all out."
Hyder doesn't need a calculator to figure out numbers. They come effortlessly to him. He has applied to Stanford and wants to go into accounting.
He has seen his favorite movie, "Dumb & Dumber," at least 15 times. Laughing and playing basketball helps him lessen stress from academic pursuits.
"Your four years of high school are going to make or break your future," he said. "You have to be balanced."
Hyder volunteers during the summer at a center that helps the mentally disabled. "At first, it's scary, but they are people," he said. "That's why I do it. You feel pleasure in helping someone."
Hyder's parents are Pakistani immigrants. They were proud when their oldest child told them of his SAT score. "I got a lot of love," he said.
Hyder can't wait to see how his teammates perform in league play. "We're not the biggest or fastest team, but we know the game," he said.
Lyons-Smith is 6-3, an Eagle Scout and an expert in math.
"It's in my genes," he said.
His parents work in business and finance, so it's no surprise he wants to attend Stanford and study applied mathematics.
He's one of those rare 17-year-olds who can fit in among the nerds and the jocks. "The jock group looks down on the nerds for studying all the time, and the nerds look down on the jocks for not studying at all, and I see both sides," he said.
He owns his share of nerd T-shirts, including one that features a saying about the binary code. He has his jock T-shirts too.
"I value hard work," he said. "The jocks work extremely hard to get their bodies in shape. Other students study so they can get their grades. I feel balance is necessary. Sports gives you a different perspective on how life is, the physical and mental aspect."
Lyons-Smith is averaging 5.6 points and 4.8 rebounds.
"We're going to have a great season," he said. "Six of us have been playing together since we were 10. We know where each other is going to be. We throw it, and he's there. It's amazing to watch."
Lyons-Smith has participated in Boy Scouts for seven years, and obtaining the status of Eagle Scout is something he treasures.
"That was truly amazing," he said. "All the time and effort put into it and to see people's faces turn, 'Wow, you're an Eagle Scout.' It was definitely worth it."
Lyons-Smith offers words of wisdom: "The SAT has nothing to do with how smart you are. Common sense has a lot to do with it and the ability to learn."
No doubt, Diamond Bar is a team to watch because its players know how to absorb knowledge with the best.
Eric Sondheimer can be reached at email@example.com.