GRANTSVILLE — It’s 3 p.m. on a chilly, but comfortable afternoon. Breeds of livestock, abandoned tractors and poultry houses dot endless farmlands. Midwestern nostalgia triggers throughout Grantsville, the type of honky-tonk town heard in an Alan Jackson single.
“I went duck hunting yesterday,” Grantsville High’s Devin Adams says, pointing toward his friend’s nearby property. “Both of my parents grew up on ranches; I have a strong country side. I can wear my boots and Wranglers one day and my Jordan’s the next. It’s one of the only schools that wears camo casually.”
Homegrown, hard-working families populate the area, and emblematic of the small-town atmosphere, everyone knows everyone.
And everyone loves Friday night football.
“It has always been the top priority around here,” explains Adams. “The stadium is filled up and there’s people in lawn chairs all around the track. We have fan fest before every game and there’s a tailgating party with probably 40 trucks lined up.”
Comparatively irrelevant, Grantsville's basketball program has languished in the shadows of the football program. The Cowboys are 67-185 on the hardwood since the start of the millennium and haven’t recorded a winning season in nearly a decade. Constant ridicule accompanies every loss: “Bear River had a whiteboard with tallies of turnovers,” explains Adams, who suffered through 47 losses as a starter during his first three years of prep basketball.
“There were a bunch of 55-year-old men that had nothing else to do,” Adams says mockingly of past attendance, relaxing as if he were watching from his living room recliner. “They’d sit here, fold their arms and golf clap.”
Adams, who also plays football, wanted to prove more than one rooster can occupy the chicken coop. The eccentric student body president sought to alter the misguided perception that Grantsville basketball is merely a “hobby” and create a “common goal of excellence" for basketball alongside football.
First step: improvement.
“I decided by my senior year that we’re going to be a contender for state,” he said. “We’re not going to fall to the typical ‘Cowboy Curse’ where we don’t do anything. I told my friends, ‘We’re going to work our butts off and we’re going to get better.’”
Together, eight seniors dedicated themselves as one. Adams, Devon Arellano, Ky Fisher, Nick Arbon, Dallin Williams, Spencer Lawrence, Tyler Colson and Jake Riding practiced through summer leagues, regular pickup games and shootarounds in vacant churches.
Second step: awareness.
Team-organized door-to-door promotions, which Adams referred to as “a blitz,” inundated the community, and eventually interest increased.
“We’ll go out with cheesecake or anything like that and we’ll hit up two or three streets and say, ‘We have a basketball game this night and the next, if you want to come.’ Anytime we’re out we invite people to come,” Adams says.
Desolate bleachers filled for the annual red-white preseason scrimmage. Adams recognized the opportunity to showcase talent with entertainment. Impersonating “Uncle Drew” from the Pepsi Max advertisements, Adams pillowed his hoody, slipped on tube socks and masked his face with a grey beard.
Grabbing the microphone, he voiced: “Hey, now, I’m a little rusty — let me warm up a bit,” in a seasoned tone before amusing the crowd with a two-handed jam.
“In a small school like this dunking is a big thing,” he says. “They just want to see a fast-break flush — it doesn’t have to be a tomahawk. We showed we can actually play basketball and we’re not just an overaged Jr. Jazz free-for-all. ... Basketball has to be more than business sometimes, and it was fun to show my sense of humor while I compete.”
Grantsville basketball had found its belonging in the football-crazed town. “People hear that we’re fun to watch and they come,” Adams says. Today, signs encouraging attendance plaster gas stations and corner markets.
“For the first time I can remember the town of Grantsville is excited for Wednesday and Friday night games,” Adams explains.
Resultantly, the Cowboys have raced out to an 11-1 record this season — matching the win total of the previous two seasons combined.
“It’s special what I’ve seen happen,” Adams says, crediting the enlarged posters of the eight seniors enshrined behind the basket. “Last year we had a very talented group that fell off a wall after we lost to Bear River. They didn’t want to work hard in practice, but they still wanted to have fun. To me, winning is fun. I don’t care if I’m half-dead after a practice if it’s going to help me win — that’s fun.”
It’s 4 p.m. on the same chilly, comfortable afternoon. Adams reminisces amid dilapidated houses cuddled next to farming ranches. “After practice we either play 'NBA 2K14' or shoot something,” Adams laughs as he notices an announcement for the “White Out” against Bear River on Wednesday.
“For three years I have wanted to see the community become excited about basketball once again,” Adams says, peering out the window into the streets he’s walked countless of times.
“We decided we didn’t want to be the same laughing stock. ... I feel like we’ve succeeded,” he jaws proudly. “We’re not done, but I feel like we’ve proven ourselves finally. We can be a good basketball school — we’re not just football.”
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @phibbs_
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company