By JOSH RIZZO
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
PAYSON, Ill. -- Brian Rea wanted the community to embrace the Payson Seymour boys basketball team.
He had to teach the Indians to appreciate -- not expect -- the support.
So it became customary for the Indians to meander into the stands following a game to thank their family, friends and fans.
Never was it more difficult to do that than after a 66-60 loss to Madison in the Class 1A super-sectional at the Jacksonville Bowl. But never had the support meant so much either.
"I think it really helps. It makes us look good as a team," junior guard Cody Hildebrand said. "As a community, coming together to thank the crowd shows we care that they come to support us."
Rea was selling the concept of his team being a family.
There are no choreographed pre-game introductions for Payson. At home games, all the players -- not just the starters -- get introduced by the PA announcer.
It may seem minor to some, but that decision and many others like it had a major impact on the Indians' success because it created a one-for-all mentality.
Together, they reached historic heights, finishing 27-5 while earning their first regional title since 1993 and first sectional title in school history.
"This has been my favorite team to coach because it's been a true family," said Rea, who has been tabbed the 2013 Herald-Whig boys basketball Coach of the Year. "They've bought into the family aspect, and everything they did was for the team.
"We had some standout players, but every single kid was involved in what we did this year, and I think that's the thing we did differently with this team.
"Huge credit to them. They bought into what I was selling."
Setting the foundation
Aaron Edwards' souvenir T-shirt served as a beacon for how much he stood out.
An unplanned trip left Edwards standing in a royal blue Kentucky shirt among a throng of Louisville students dressed in cardinal red.
The 2012 Payson graduate didn't think he'd end up at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Oct. 23, 2010, for a Louisville-Connecticut football game.
Rea drove between 10 to 12 team members to observe a University of Kentucky basketball practice in Lexington, Ky., that weekend. During the ride back, fireworks and the bright lights of the stadium caught their attention as they passed through Louisville.
Pulling off the interstate, Rea and his players decided to try to get into the game. At first, the group was turned away by security. Undeterred, they wandered around the stadium.
"We were walking around to see if we could find another way in," Edwards said. "We saw this student gift shop or something that was connected to the stadium. You could walk in this gift shop and walk through to a door that entered the stadium. So, we kind of went one or two at a time and we snuck through the door and it put us right in the middle of the student section."
It wasn't the only team-building effort that happened away from the gym.
Last summer, the Indians went to a team camp at Hope College in Holland, Mich. While there, they discovered another game that could easily be played in the dorms where they were housed.
"Last summer, it was Frisbee," junior center Gage Klitz said. "In the dorms, we'd play Frisbee all the time. Trick moves, trick shots. Spending time with each other is always fun."
While many of the details from the trips get fuzzy for Rea, creating memories his players can talk about for the rest of their lives is something he won't forget.
"Some of their best memories aren't from during the season. They are from during the offseason," Rea said. "They are from the things we do in the summertime. Sneaking into a Louisville-UConn football game, just things like that. It's a truly a family."
Keeping the intensity
Finding a way to balance Rea's intensity while showing his lighter side requires a delicate balance. Payson's practices are high-tempo, designed to simulate in-game situations as closely as possible.
Music playing in the background serves as both motivation and a simulation of potential crowd noise.
"Something that loud, I want them to stay motivated," Rea said. "It helped when we got into the state tournament series stuff with the size of the crowds and the noise and stuff like that. It helped them focus more, and we used hand signals and stuff like that."
Earning a compliment from Rea in practice is admittedly tough. He expects full effort at all times. Rea has set up some "goof-around time" and will often hold rainbow shot competitions to lighten the mood.
"He pushes me really hard and is on me all the time when I mess up," Hildebrand said. "It shows me that he cares and he wants me to get better. Sometimes in practice, we'll randomly do drills like 11-man break and just have fun and lighten the mood. He'll say a joke or we'll turn on music and start dancing and have fun."
Seeing that side of Rea has helped his players feel comfortable with him as a coach.
"He's just like one of us," Klitz said. "He's more of a friend than a coach."
Focusing on building and establishing relationships has helped Rea turn Payson into a contender. Having just finished his ninth season as a head coach and fifth at the helm for the Indians, Rea will continue to look for ways to create memories and form relationships, both on and off the court.
"It's not about Xs and Os," Rea said. "All around our area and the state, there are tremendous Xs and Os coaches. It's all about how you deal with people and kids and want them to be part of something bigger than themselves."