Former players join coaching staff at Alta
Coaching was not on their radar anytime soon—if ever. Yet two former Alta basketball players were at the helm of the Hawk sophomore basketball team this season.
Jed DeLeeuw and Zach Runia were given the assignment to oversee the sophomore team by varsity coach Jim Barker. And it wasn’t an easy task, as the freshmen and sophomores that made up the team had to learn the program and structure of Alta basketball.
“They had been around the players in our program through pre-season stuff we had done,” Barker said. “I thought about it for a while and felt like they could make a huge contribution to our program.”
DeLeeuw, a Sandy resident now attending the University of Utah, graduated from Alta in 2009. He was a starting guard his senior year and helped on varsity and junior varsity as a sophomore and junior. He moved to Utah from Colorado prior to his freshman year, and met Runia while playing on the sophomore team at Alta when Runia was a sophomore and DeLeeuw was a freshman.
“We became good buddies from our experiences playing ball together,” DeLeeuw said. “We had similar life experiences and we both love the game of basketball.”
To that end, the two would come to Alta’s open gym program in the fall months. Open gym is a program at Alta where anyone interested in playing basketball for the Hawks can come to the gym and hone their skills. It is prior to tryouts and anyone can come play.
Enter DeLeeuw and Runia, who would come and play ball with the potential newcomers. It helped keep their game up while their experiences helped polish the new players.
“We liked to come and play because it is our old program and we had some great memories in that gym,” Runia said.
It was at one of the open gym sessions Barker approached the pair about the idea of coaching. They quickly jumped at the chance.
“We both know what (coaches) Barker and (Curtis) Hill expect and the way they run the program,” DeLeeuw said. “We both played under the same coaches and same system as our sophomores. Everything we teach them is what we went through ourselves. We teach them what they need to learn to step up to the varsity level.”
Because neither wanted to overshadow the other as the “head” coach, the two settled on a compromise. Runia handled the decision making at home games, while DeLeeuw took over the helm for road games. DeLeeuw got an added bonus of coaching his younger brother, Michael, who is on the sophomore team.
Although new at coaching, the two seem to have a knack for it.
“It has been a blast coaching this year, one of the best experiences of my life,” DeLeeuw said. “I get to coach my brother and his friends. Now all 15 members of the team are kind of like my brothers. We have built friendships with them, not just as coach and player.”
Although DeLeeuw is leaning toward a degree in business at Utah, he is thinking about the possibilities of continuing to coach.
“I want to do it again next year,” he said. “There is a lot of stuff we have learned that we didn’t know at the beginning of the season. Plus we have a great team this year that is loaded with talent and was easy to coach. I want to see how I can apply what I learned this year to a different group.
As for the future, there is always the possibility I might continue coaching if I get the opportunities,” he continued. “It’s not my priority, but it is the sport I love.”