All you gotta have is heart and zeal.
That's what the coach of Utah's "other" Cinderella basketball team requires from his players.All season long, BYU's arrival in WAC towns has been preceded by media coverage describing the Cougars as a team of
Shawn Bradley and . . . nobody. The constant knock on BYU is that it istoo slow, can't jump, and hasn't a single player that could score style points in a slam-dunk contest.
Smokey Gaines, former San Diego State coach and now a scout for the Denver Nuggets, said the thing that surprised him about BYU is that, outside of Bradley, there wasn't anyone with talent. And Gaines said that after BYU had beaten the Aztecs in San Diego.
BYU Coach Roger Reid has heard that kind of talk and says candidly, "In all honesty, I'm not sure they're wrong."
What he is sure of, though, is that it doesn't matter.
The evidence? How about a 10-3 conference record, a five-game winning streak, a victory in an arena voted by WAC coaches as the toughest place to play on the road - New Mexico's infamous Pit - and a shot at first place in the WAC, provided BYU first beats Utah tonight in the Huntsman Center.
And all this from a team picked to finish fifth in the conference.
This isn't the first time Reid's team has been a preseason pick to finish in the second division of the conference standings. Last year, the Cougars entered the season with a new coach, without top scorer - sometimes, it seemed, the only scorer - Mike Smith, and were picked to finish sixth. They went 21-9, won the conference title, and Reid was named WAC and District coach of the year.
Then Reid went out and had a spectacular recruiting effort, landing Bradley, Kenneth Roberts and Ryan Cuff. It would have been easy for Reid to forget this season,when he had only two returning seniors and only one returning player who saw extensive action last year, and let his freshmen play while looking to build a powerhouse several years down the road. Other coaches have done just that.
But that's not Reid's style.
"You have to understand my philosophy," Reid said. "I don't coach for tomorrow, or for who is there or isn't there. I coach every game like it's the World Series."
At the same time, Reid expects his players to play like every game is the seventh game of the World Series. This is a coach who hates to lose, who has said that the difference for him between winning and losing is that when he wins he lies awake all night, and when he loses he lies awake all night with his stomach churning.
He is also a coach who preaches that winning is a natural outcome of a couple of simple principles - hard work and team play - and a couple of attributes that he believes any player can possess - zeal and heart.
Sounds simple, but there are teams all over the country with "talented" players that can't put those principles together, can't dredge up those attributes, can't win.
"We get our guys to mesh," Reid said. "We try to play hard and play as a team. Those things are essential for overachievers."
They are also essential for anyone who wants to play for Reid. This is not a coach who puts a player on the floor merely because he was a highly touted recruit and is expected to play. Nor does he allow players to get away with talking back to him, pouting on the bench or any of the other signs of attitude problems that are visible in most teams that visit the Marriott Center.
"I don't tolerate nonsense, and my players know it," Reid said. "They're going to play my way."
The Cougars also learn to talk the Reid way. Talking to a BYU player is like talking to a BYU coach because they all emphasize the same thing - team, team, team.
"We're always talking team because the coaches are always talking team," said forward Steve Schreiner.
No kidding. Ask a Cougar player - say, Schreiner, for instance - about a good game, and he will invariably credit his teammates, his coaches - the team. These are not the kind of players who are going to make boastful comments that could end up on opponents' locker-room walls.
And while that kind of attitude may not make for great interviews, it has made for a good team.