By Rick White
ALBUQUERQUE — His salt-and-pepper hair isn’t the only thing that has changed about Miles Watters as he’s grown older.
The differences are subtle as the hundreds of shades of white paint, but they’re there.
His passion game still burns as hot as the mid-afternoon sun and he accepts nothing less than perfection on the court. But the third-year Clovis girls basketball coach has mellowed since the days he ran boot-camp-like practices at Clayton two decades ago.
Credit in part goes to a fun-loving, hard-playing bunch of sophomores who have the Lady Wildcats a game away from Watters winning his first state title at Clovis after earning 11 at Clayton.
The Lady Wildcats (27-3) face top-ranked Mayfield (25-1) at 8:45 p.m. today in the Class 5A title game at The Pit in a matchup featuring two of the state’s most athletic teams.
“These are young kids, it’s hard from them to concentrate the whole time,” said Watters, directing his comments toward assistant coach Dan Replogle. “We’re doing better. We didn’t use to let their minds wander.”
“My mental approach had always been that if you didn’t have your game face on, something’s wrong. But these kids can be loose and joking before the game and still go out and play a heck of a game.”
Clovis assistant coach Regina Downing credits sophomore Aimee Hilburn and Brittany Blackmon most for bringing about the change in Watters.
“He always used to keep his distance from the kids,” Downing said. “Now he laughs and shares jokes with them.”
“They got him,” Downing said with a knowing chuckle. “They’ve got him.”
Watters said he’s made concessions in his hard-line approach to winning because this team has shown the ability to be ready come game time.
“We give him a hard time every chance we can,” Hilburn said. “He’s had to change because this is the way we’ve always played.
“We want to win but we still want it to be fun.”
He’s still controlling in many ways, including how the players act on and off the court — “we want them to be ladies off the court and warriors on it” — but he showed his softer side later by rewarding his players with the option of a post-meal dessert.
All he wants in return is something sweeter to him than the Molten Chocolate Cake some of his players ordered — a state championship.