When a coach changes things up, calls all his players in on a Saturday after a Friday loss for a practice, a message is going to be sent.
Loud and clear.
So when Desert Vista boys basketball coach Dave Williams did just that over the weekend after Friday's 60-51 loss at Chandler Hamilton, it was clear the coach felt the need to re-focus the Thunder with five games, starting with last night's game against Mesa, before the postseason.
Williams repeatedly talked about discipline while working on the team's transition game, but more than anything the first-year coach wanted to make sure the players didn't stew over the loss to Hamilton that ended a three-game winning streak.
"You renew your spirit and mind," Williams said. "You have to just let it go. You don't want to tear the kids down because they work so hard. I didn't want to let the negativity sit there for a couple of days so we came in and got it all worked out."
Desert Vista was 17-6 overall with a 3-3 record heading into the game against Mesa and ranked No. 5 in the Class 5A Division I power rankings. Considering the program won 19 total games over the previous two seasons there isn't much to complain about, but a coach always wants more.
"We are having a great season, and I'm happy," Williams said. "But I could be happier."
That's where Saturday's extra practice comes in.
"Early in the season we tried adding the transition, and they couldn't pick it up," Williams said. "Now that they are more experienced, more athletic and seeing the difference, it can make them a different team."
The team was pressing and running early in the season, especially when it ran off a string of 12 wins in 13 games, but ever since the Fiesta Region action started, the pace has slowed.
"When we won 14 of our first 18 games it was with transition and the press," Williams said. "We were running, not walking. We were smoking everyone in the transition game.
"We went from being rabbits to being real slow. We are going to try and get back to it and have fun."
The players also got dinged up as several key players either missed time or played through injuries and illness.
"We are getting back to full strength and that's huge," junior Danny Powell said. "It takes some of the pressure off some guys. We can get back to who we are and running the fast break more. We've been playing half-court with these teams, and every game is turning into a dog fight down the stretch.
"We don't want that. We want to push and run them out of the building like we were earlier in the season."
Powell has taken on much of the load this season. He averaged 20.3 points and 10.5 rebounds through the first 22 games. Defenses are approaching him differently since the start of the season, which has resulted into much of the transition game drying up.
The team has had several players step up to provide other options at various times, but nothing consistent.
"We all want to help him out," junior guard Steve Klein said. "There's a lot of pressure on him, and we have to give him some help. As long as we play as a team, it will come together."
Junior point guard Jeff Lowery has scored as much as 20 in a game, but averages 11 and Klein popped off for 25 against Red Mountain in November only to average 7.2 points a game.
The answer might be 6-foot-7, 195-pound junior post KJ Hoffman, who has continued to progress all season, although he missed the Hamilton game due to illness.
Against Chandler on Jan. 18, Hoffman had 13 points and 13 rebounds. It was just a glimpse of what his coach believes he can become.
"KJ is our guy," Williams said. "No doubt about it."
Regardless of who it ends up being, the Thunder can become a true force if a consistent option appears and the team gets back to running and shows the discipline Williams is looking for the rest of the way.
"If we can turn the corner, it can be really fun," Williams said. "We are right there in the top five in the state, and we haven't been playing like we did early on. Once we get it back on track we can be tough to beat."