Ever seen the movie, "The Waterboy?"
In the film Adam Sandler plays an awkward, "aquatic engineer" (as he calls himself), who goes from being the team's waterboy to its best linebacker?
Well, in Santa Maria, a similar thing is going on with the boys' basketball team.
Senior forward Cyruz Alvarez was the school's goofy mascot a little more than a year ago.
Now, he's the Fighting Cougars' leading rebounder.
"I thought he was a pretty good mascot, but I'm glad we have him on the basketball team," Santa Maria head coach Albert Briones said. "That kid is just relentless on the boards."
Alvarez had never played a game of basketball before last year.
He would sometimes shoot around with the other boys during open gym, and that's where Briones saw him and got a crazy idea.
At 6-feet tall, 175 pounds, and hops that had his head skimming the roof of the gymnasium, Alvarez was exactly what Briones was looking for in the post.
"You could always tell he could jump," Briones said. "We thought with some weight training and basketball teaching he could become a good player."
Briones was right.
Alvarez lacked a lot of basic skills when he first suited up for the Cougars.
Nowadays, however, it's hard to tell the kid started so far behind.
"In the beginning his shot was real ugly, his dribbling was real ugly. It was all real ugly," sophomore teammate Felix Cantu said of Alvarez. "But now it's real good."
Briones credits Alvarez's outstanding work ethic for his vast improvement.
Briones said Alvarez was one of the hardest workers during the offseason and that his dedication is now paying dividends.
"He saw that I cared about him and he gave me everything," Briones said. "That's all he needed."
Alvarez knows coaching had a lot to do with it as well.
He had a lot to learn, and Briones gave him the instruction he dearly needed .
"Coach helped me improve my dribbling, my shot, my passing," Alvarez said. "Coach also put me through some jump training to increase my vertical. He did a lot for me."
In some aspects, the same things that made Alvarez a great mascot also make him a great basketball player.
Alvarez is as energetic as they come and doesn't hold anything back when he's on the court.
He leads most of the drills in practice, performing every one with the utmost effort.
When he's not performing the drills, he is usually clapping or cheering on his teammates.
His gusto is contagious.
"He brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the team," Cantu said. "He's a goofy guy, but when it's time to take things seriously he's very serious."
Alvarez showed that seriousness during the fast-break portion of practice on Wednesday.
The drill started with Alvarez alone on one side of the court and two players driving at him with the ball from the other.
Alvarez forced the kid with the ball to pick up his dribble six feet away from the basket. The kid passed to his teammate, who Alvarez hounded upon reception.
The teammate, knowing he had no chance to shoot over Alvarez, passed it back to the boy who brought up the ball. Alvarez teleported across the paint and instantly had the boy draped.
Finally, the kid decided to shoot. Alvarez swatted it right back at him.
The kid again tried to go up with it, and Alvarez again rejected it with force.
Wanting to just get rid of the ball, the boy tried to pass to his teammate, but Alvarez was ready.
He tipped the pass and then went the other way for an easy basket.
"He's been a godsend. He's matured so much," Briones said. "He's turned into something else."
Alvarez averages a team best 6.3 rebounds per game. He is also third in scoring with an average of six points per game.
With a huge matchup against Monte Alto (4-1 in District 32-1A Division II) looming on Friday, Alvarez will be counted on heavily to deal with the Blue Devils' 6-foot-7 center.
Briones said Alvarez will need to use his speed as an advantage and beat his man down the court if he is going make up for the seven-inch height differential.
If the Cougars (17-5 overall, 4-0 in district) win the game, they will be in good position to win their first district title under Briones, who is in his second year as their head coach.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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