Clovis High girls basketball coach Miles Watters talks to his team during a practice on Thursday as Los Lunas High School. The Lady Wildcats face Mayfield at 8:45 p.m. tonight in the Class 5A girls state championship game. Photo by Rick White
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 as subtle as the hundreds of shades of white paint, but they’re there.
His passion for the 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’ adding his first state title at Clovis to the 11 he earned 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 for them to concentrate the whole time,” said Watters, directing his comments toward assistant coach Dan Replogle. “We’re doing better. We didn’t used 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 gives sophomores Aimee Hilburn and Brittany Blackmon most of the credit 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’ve 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,” Watters said — 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.
at University Arena
Clovis (27-3) vs. Mayfield (25-1), 8:45 p.m.
In the semifinals: Sophomore Aimee Hilburn led a balanced attack with 14 points, eight assists and six rebounds and Brittany Blackmon added 12 points and nine rebounds in a 56-32 win over Gallup. Madison Spence scored all 12 of her points after halftime and Carissa McGee added 11 points as Mayfield edge Rio Rancho 53-52 in double overtime.
Coaches: Clovis, Miles Watters, 3rd year. Gallup, George Maya, 9th.
Players to watch: Clovis, Monique Walker, 5-9, Sr., P (11.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Hilburn, 5-11, So., F (11.8 ppg, 5.1 apg). Mayfield, McGee, 5-9, Fr., F (13.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg); Krystal Torres, 5-6, Jr., G (12.1 ppg).
Watters’ scouting report on Mayfield: Athletic and deep, will press all night. Doesn’t shoot the ball particularly well from outside but will drive to the basket hard looking for fouls and hits the offensive boards.
The skinny: Clovis will need to make good decisions in the open court. Led by Blackmon and Walker, the Lady Wildcats have a big advantage inside, but Mayfield can score points in a hurry off the press.
Did you know: Clovis beat Mayfield in the 4A state title game in 1999.
By the numbers: Watters has led his team to the state playoffs in all 15 of his seasons at Clayton and Clovis.
Radio: KKYC-FM 102.3, KCLV-AM 1240
Quotable: “We want to be selective when we run. Part of our success this year has been running the ball. But I think in the halfcourt we can give them some problems.” — Clovis coach Miles Watters.