Michael Tilleman grew up putting a ball through a net, not over it.
So when he switched from basketball to volleyball, one of his objectives was to avoid getting snarled in the net as much as get the ball over it.
“Yeah,” the Desert Vista senior said with a grin, “when I started I was in the net a lot.”
His brother, Dan, was a standout basketball player who went on to play three seasons at Desert Vista before continuing his career at the University of Calgary.
“Up until my junior year I took the same path as my brother did before me,” Tilleman explained. “It was nice to follow his path, especially with his success. But in my junior year I decided to try other things.”
He started to dedicate his time to volleyball, a game he had to learn from scratch when teammate Sean Coffinger talked him into trying it as a freshman.
“I knew nothing about volleyball,” Tilleman said. “But it’s something you can pick up in high school. I think if you started out not knowing either, basketball would be harder, but since I grew up with basketball it was easier for me.”
Desert Vista coach Ryan Tolman, who had worked with Dan on a basketball court, saw the volleyball potential in his younger brother.
“When Michael started out as a freshman he was a little gangly, had a hard time staying out of the net and was still putting it all together,” Tolman said.
“He played a little as a sophomore and then in his junior year he decided not to play basketball and concentrate on one sport, and it really shows.”
The 6-foot-4 opposite side hitter and middle blocker has become a key to the Thunder boys volleyball team this season.
“The things that Michael does on a volleyball court are pretty spectacular,” Tolman said. “He’s every bit as good as anyone in the state.”
But it isn’t a place for a single superstar, Tilleman said.
“Volleyball is a team sport, and teams that have only one good guy usually aren’t successful,” Tilleman said. “It seems like this year every position on this team is special. It’s fun to see everyone get after it in practice then play well in a game.”
Players who didn’t see a lot of time on the court are filling their roles this season, Tilleman said.
And that, Tolman says, goes back to Tilleman.
“He’s a dominant force, and he makes everyone around him play better because they’re paying attention to him,” Tolman said. “Plus he’s opening up holes for other guys.”
Tilleman is also stepping out of his brother’s shadow.
“People still ask me if I’m Dan’s brother, and I like to tell them that he’s my brother,” Tilleman added with another smile.
But they may be together again, if not on the basketball court.
According to Tolman, his star could be headed to Calgary to play volleyball next year.
“That would be a nice one-two punch for them in basketball and volleyball,” Tolman said.