Monday, February 25, 2008
Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Luke here.
As Michael Vandahl poured in point after point against Moffat County earlier this year, the full spectrum of his game was on display.
Long range 3s, mid-range jumpers, back-to-the-basket moves and off-the-dribble layups. From the left corner, top of the key, right baseline or in the paint, Vandahl looked the part of one of the best basketball players in the state.
But - believe it or not - Vandahl's story really isn't one of talent.
Sure, the 5-foot-10 senior point guard always had some natural abilities. He's quick. He's smart.
But talent only goes so far.
A look at his work ethic explains how Vandahl's gone from a good player on a good team to the best player on the court and a future college point guard.
In Kelly Meek's 36 years as a Steamboat Springs basketball coach, he's never, ever, had a player ask for more individual help.
Between Vandahl's eighth- and ninth-grade years, it started. He'd call Meek and ask for help on his game.
"I have no idea how many times he and I met early morning," Meek said. "We worked on the holes in his game because he had a lot of them. It was just failure after failure after failure in here. But he kept calling again and again."
In these one-on-one sessions, Meek wouldn't let Vandahl look good. He'd attack the soft parts of his game. He'd put him through treacherous workouts, trying to break Vandahl. But Vandahl embraced it. He embraced the pain of the workouts, and he'd never show an ounce of breaking.
Maybe the pinnacle of Vandahl's dedication to his game came this summer. Vandahl admits that because of his time playing summer basketball with an Amateur Athletic Union team down in Denver, he didn't get to focus as much as he wanted on his individual workouts.
But after Vandahl finished an AAU tournament in Los Angeles earlier this summer, he called Meek at 10:30 p.m. from Los Angeles International Airport. Vandahl wanted to have an individual session the next morning with Meek in Steamboat. Vandahl didn't get into Steamboat until 4 or 5 a.m. the next morning. But only a couple of hours later, there he was, in the gym with Meek.
"For young kids and people that think this just came naturally for Mike - it didn't," Meek said. "Mike had the one natural thing. That's a big heart."
With the Steamboat season coming down to win or go home, Vandahl will be at the forefront of the Sailors' playoff charge.
But no matter the outcome, Meek said Vandahl's story and growth is one people and young players should follow.
It's one where Vandahl was never the most talented guy, but one where there wasn't anyone out there who would work harder.
"You want to get better. You want to play college," Vandahl said. "Every day you don't work out, somebody else is."