OREM You've seen him hurl chairs across the basketball court. You've seen him curse and shout at referees and players. You've heard him say things most people refuse to even think.
For many, playing for legendary NCAA basketball coach Bobby Knight would have been a nightmare.
But for Jonathan Plefka, it was one of the greatest blessings he could ever receive.
Plefka, a 6-foot-8, 245-pound relief pitcher for the Orem Owlz, spent 2 1/2 years playing basketball for Knight at Texas Tech University. In 56 games, he averaged 6.4 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
"It was just a great experience," Plefka said. "It's something I wouldn't trade for anything in the world. If I could do it again, I'd do it every single time. It was probably the hardest 2 1/2 years of my life, but I think I've become a better person and just a better player through his work ethic." Plefka can recall numerous lessons Knight taught him, but one that really stands out is the importance of staying disciplined in all situations.
"Every game counts," Plefka said. "You've got to play every game 100 percent. You never know what will happen at the end of the year, and if you struggle one game you might not make the tournament. You've got to take every game seriously."
Plefka says it's because of discipline that his Red Raiders were able to enter the NCAA tournament at the end of his senior year in 2006-07. The Red Raiders finished the regular season 20-11 before losing to Kansas State in the second round of the Big XII tournament. The NCAA tournament hadn't started yet, and Plefka wasn't sure if his team would even be invited.
"That was probably the most nervous I've ever been watching the selection show on TV because we didn't know if we were in or not," he said. "We were a bubble team and at that time, there's so many bubble teams. We had to sit there about twenty minutes before the last region came up. Luckily, we got picked."
The Red Raiders lost 84-75 to Boston College in the first round, but Plefka was grateful for the experience anyway. Plefka, who played on the baseball team as well, was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 47th round of the 2006 MLB draft. For Plefka, choosing to continue his baseball career was practically a no-brainer.
"I had opportunities to play basketball overseas, but playing baseball has always been my dream," Plefka said. "I thought I'd probably never get this opportunity again, so I might as well take advantage of it."
Plefka spent last season in the team's instructional league in Arizona and was given a spot on the Owlz' roster for 2008.
According to Owlz pitching coach Zeke Zimmerman, Plefka's experiences and the lessons he learned at Texas Tech have been extremely helpful on the diamond, especially as the first half of the season concluded and the Owlz found themselves battling for the division title.
"The biggest thing is he's not going to change who he is," Zimmerman said. "Whatever he is, he's going to be in all situations. He's going to carry the same level of intensity and craziness. His relationship with his teammates isn't going to change and they feed off that."
Such an attitude is extremely important, Zimmerman pointed out.
"Any time you're put in an arena where you have a large amount of people and it's a highly intense situation, you get to see how much you can slow your game down," Zimmerman said. "He's been put in those situations. Pitching in front of these four or five thousand people here is probably child's play for him."
Plefka's numbers so far this season are by no means amazing. In the first half, he allowed 14 runs and 15 hits in just 13 1/3 innings. But even so, Zimmerman says he's seen a vast improvement from last year.
"When he was in the instruction league last year, he was throwing 82-84 mph," Zimmerman said. "He's 88-92 now. He's developed a change-up, he's developed a slider and he's become a strike-thrower. Be careful telling him there's something he can't do."
Plefka also has a unique way of keeping everybody loose.
"He has a knack for doing voices," Zimmerman said. "He can do a southern accent or he can do a Latino accent. He can sound just like them and it cracks me up. Just today he was talking to Francis Cabrera from the Dominican Republic. He said something and then did something that Francis does. I was like, 'That's Francis' and I turn around and it was Plef. It was hilarious."
Plefka may even be able to impersonate manager Tom Kotchman, but Zimmerman has yet to hear that one.
"He probably does that somewhere else," Zimmerman said with a chuckle. "He'll probably break it out as we get going along."
First baseman Gabe Jacobo, who left the Owlz after last Sunday's game to go play for the Angels' Class-A affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa enjoyed his time playing with Plefka.
"We like to hear Bobby Knight stories," Jacobo said with a small grin. "He knows what pressure is. He's been there."