The Dagger - NCAAB

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In an effort to build trust between his returning players and his eight freshmen, Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating has devised a handful of unconventional team-building activities on and off the basketball floor.

The one his players are still talking about weeks later required an iPod, head phones and some vocal warm-up exercises.

After instructing all the players to choose a song they knew word-for-word, Keating told them they had to put on a pair of headphones and sing along to the song in front of the entire team. The winner was the player who could go the longest without messing up the lyrics or getting too shy or embarrassed to continue.

"The other coaches told me, 'There's no way they're going to do this,' but they all did it," Keating said Wednesday. "They didn't complain about it. They weren't shy. They got up there and owned it as long as they could. We kept a clock and they were all rooting for each other. My thing was that it was great for them to be able to be themselves in front of each other because that's what they need to be able to do. It's that building of confidence and trust in a young team through alternative methods that we're really trying to work on."

Most of the Broncos performed hip-hop songs, but there was also some Frank Sinatra and Linkin Park to spice things up. Although Keating described most of his players' voices as "worse than singing in the shower," he came away impressed enough with sophomore forward John McArthur's rendition of a Mario song to remark with a chuckle, "John can sing pretty good. I was a little surprised."

Santa Clara chose not to release video of the sing-off since players were told highlights of their performances would not be shared with anyone outside the team, but Keating was willing to reveal that 7-foot freshman Robert Garrett was the winner. Not only did Garrett belt out 50 Cent's "Ski Mask Way" and "What Up Gangsta" in front of his teammates, he did both songs without headphones because he knew the lyrics so well.

"It was actually very easy for me because I'm a fan of rap music and these guys are guys I'm comfortable around," Garrett said. "I definitely feel we're closer together now because we all know how goofy we can be and now we have that connection. It's definitely big for a young team that we're coming together a lot earlier."

Building trust and camaraderie in the preseason is especially important for Santa Clara because the Broncos will need their returners and newcomers to mesh quickly to contend in the WCC.

Backcourt standouts Kevin Foster and Evan Roquemore return, but Santa Clara graduated forwards Ben Dowdell and Troy Payne and lost top big man Marc Trasolini to a season-ending ACL tear during the team's exhibition tour of Vancouver. The hope for the Broncos is that Garrett, McArthur and 6-foot-7 returner Niyi Harrison can help pick up the slack in the frontcourt.

"To the credit of our team, they haven't gotten down about it and said, 'Mark's out, we're done,'" Keating said.

"With Marc, we had some pretty high expectations, but I think our expectations are still pretty high. Realistic? We don't know yet because when you get to college basketball, the best players do better. But it will be fun to see them grow and hopefully we get them to grow a little bit quicker."

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