BYU women's basketball: For coach and player, basketball forms a bond
Provo • BYU women's basketball coach Jeff Judkins was stunned. The Cougars were stumbling in their conference opener against San Francisco, and his normally reliable veteran point guard Haley Steed was the reason.
Her passing and decision-making were poor. During the timeout, Judkins confronted Steed, and not in the politest of language.
"Haley, you've got to start playing, kid. What's the problem?" Judkins demanded.
"I had a bad whole first half," Steed acknowledged, as BYU overcame a small bump to defeat San Francisco on Jan. 5 in the West Coast Conference opener.
The in-game exchange serves as only a small portion of their relationship. Judkins and Steed, two gym rats bound by a deep love of basketball, have also been through the wringer together.
"When I recruited Haley, I knew Haley was going to be a great player," said Judkins, now in his 12th season at BYU. "Over the years, she has become more like a daughter to me than a player.
"Because of her injuries, because of what she's gone through, her sacrifices, the time we shared together, I just feel like I know her better than anybody."
Steed's unusual athletic path, one created by a series of injuries and an NCAA ruling that granted her two extra years of eligibility, has allowed her to play a seventh season of point guard for BYU. This time, seven has been good luck for both as they look to repeat as conference champions.
"Juddy probably yells at Haley more than anyone," said Haley's mother, Kristen Hall. "I always laugh to myself at how much he yells at Haley. It's an amazing relationship. There's incredible respect both ways.
"I know [Steed's injury] had to be a hard time for him as well. He didn't blink an eye. We never felt anything but support. That was a big part of what helped Haley think she could make a comeback."
Despite not being a playing member of the team, the 5-foot-4 guard didn't waste her three lost seasons. Whether on the bench or during practices, she drank in as much of Judkins' basketball philosophy as possible.
"She's a coach on the floor," Judkins said. "She has the best feel of what's going on out there better than anybody other than myself. I've been lucky she's a gem."
As they talked, they found common insight and occasional disagreement. Steed can challenge her coach and has done so.
Judkins doesn't hold back, either.
"We feel like we can feed off one another," Steed said. "I feel comfortable knowing I can go to him and he trusts me."
As with any relationship, this one took time to build. It also had a crossroad.
By 2009, Judkins had every right to look somewhere else for a point guard. He had recruited Steed, then known as Haley Hall, a celebrated All-State guard at Clearfield High, to run his basketball team.
Yet, in three years, Steed had played a total of nine games. She didn't even make it to the start of 2007-08 because the left knee blew out in practice prior to the season opener.
Certainly, the third ACL injury should have been the final crushing blow.
Mentally, "I felt done," Steed said.
It was just after Steed had once again crumpled to the court, this time one game into the 2008-09 season, that the relationship between coach and player really changed.
The desire to help Steed comes from what Haley's dad, Dorne, himself a high school basketball coach, calls Judkins' one real flaw.
"It's a positive weakness," Dorne Hall said. "I always said Juddy is too nice."
Maybe Judkins could see what Steed could and has produced more than nine points, seven assists and four rebounds a game.
The truth is, Steed didn't want to play for BYU. For reasons she can't explain, the last uniform Steed wanted to wear was Cougar blue.
Steed's attitude changed after meeting Judkins and the players at a basketball camp. When Judkins recruited Steed following her first-team, All-State selection as a freshman at Clearfield, he saw visions of championships at BYU.
It's taken a while, but in 2012, for the first time with Steed on the court, BYU advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
"[Judkins] cares about wins," said Haley's husband, Bo. "But the bottom line, he cares about the kids making a success in life. He was a large part of what kept Haley going."
Steed, who always had the idea of coaching in the back of her mind, points to Judkins for helping inspire her dream.
"I love basketball so much," Steed said. "If I can say one thing that still surprises me after seven years, I still learn things. I like what he has to say."
Steed embraced what Judkins said in those dark, painful moments back in 2008.
"For me, I wanted Haley to walk out of here and say this was the greatest experience she's ever had in her life," Judkins said. "When she got hurt the third time, my feeling was she couldn't really say that, that she didn't complete what she came here to do."
It was Judkins who was able to get Steed past the discouragement. Despite her swollen, painful knee, Judkins renewed her desire to try one more time, eventually blossoming into the all-conference player Judkins knew she could become.
"It's going to be hard not seeing No. 33 out there running around," Judkins said. "I have been really blessed. To have her stick this out, I don't know too many people who would have done this, especially spending seven years with me."
Haley Steed file
• A Nancy Leiberman Award finalist in 2012, she suffered three ACL tears in her first three seasons at BYU, playing a combined nine games between 2007 and 2009.
• She holds BYU's single-season record for assists (237) and has now been part of the women's basketball program for seven of coach Jeff Judkins' 12 seasons as head coach.
• Judkins began recruiting Steed her sophomore season at Clearfield High School, where she was a four-time all-state selection.