Have you ever wanted something so badly you could taste it?
Or worse-you eat, drink, sleep, and think of your greatest desire nearly every minute of the day? Such is the case with BYU's senior setter Hector Lebron.
"I think about winning another NCAA title every minute of every day," says Lebron. "Everything I do revolves around going to Long Beach in May and doing it all over again."
As one of the remaining members of the 1999 National Championship team, Lebron has shared his burning desire with his teammates, and they to have started "feeling it".
"We talk about winning it all every single day," Lebron adds. "Before, after, and during practice, we think about it everyday. I'm thinking 24-7 about volleyball. That's all I think about. I sometimes think about other things, like school work and things, but I always have flashes of how great the feeling was to win in 1999. I think about being in the Pyramid in Long Beach and playing as a senior in the finals. Many people are happy if they win just one (National Championship), but we want another one. The feeling was too good not to experience again."
In 1999, Lebron led BYU to the coveted National Championship with a nearly perfect record-30 wins and only one loss. The 6-2, 215-pound native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, lit it up with 1,505 assists-second most in BYU volleyball history. Lebron also showed great athleticism and skill with 113 blocks and 149 digs. His stats were awesome and his ability to lead the Cougars was noted throughout the collegiate volleyball arena. In fact, Lebron received All-America honors for his performance in 1999.
Anticipating to carry the momentum into the 2000 season, Lebron was thrown a curve ball and things didn't work out as planned-at least that's what he thought. But in the brilliant coaching mind of BYU head man Carl McGown, it was all part of the plan.
"We had two great setters in the gym," McGown says. "Chris Pitzak had already used a redshirt season and Hector hadn't. It came down to that. We kept thinking if Hector would redshirt, we would be able to use Pitzak full-time and keep Hector on hand for the 2001 season. We felt like we were going to be a good team, and Hector has the ability to win and inspire others to win. We've known that about him ever since he came to BYU."
After redshirting the 2000 season, the desire to play, compete, and win burns even deeper in the heart and mind of arguably the nation's top setter.
"Redshirting last year was the toughest thing I have ever done in my life," Lebron admits. "Not only was I not competing, but people were asking me if it had anything to do with grades and things like that. That was difficult because it was a decision both Carl (McGown) and I made for all the right reasons. After he originally talked to me about it, we discussed it more, and more and then we just decided it would be best. I guess coaches have to plan ahead and we both knew this year's team was going to be pretty good. He was happy with the decision, and it has worked out for the best. We are a more experienced team, and now, we are going to be contenders for the National Championship. It was a hard decision to make, but I think it has worked out for the best."
Speaking of decisions, how about the one McGown made, even before Lebron made the trip to Provo. Having applied and been accepted to BYU, the admissions office sent a note to McGown, letting him know a prospective student from Puerto Rico had applied and was interested in playing volleyball. After looking at his information sheet, McGown approached Ossie Antonetti, asking if he knew this Hector Lebron from Puerto Rico. In fact, Antonetti had been the one to convince Lebron to apply to BYU.
"After we found out he was playing middle blocker and was only 6-foot-2, we weren't really interested in him," McGown said. "We told him to come to BYU, but we didn't have anything to offer him, in terms of a volleyball scholarship. We probably weren't very nice to him."
Whether on scholarship or paying his own way, Lebron was set on making the journey to Utah.
"All I wanted to do was come to the United States and start for a team and then win a National Championship," Lebron says. "When I got the opportunity to come to BYU, I didn't even think about it twice. At the time, Ossie was here and he left me with no doubt that this was the place to come. The sacrifices really didn't matter because this is what I wanted to do."
In the summer, BYU assistant coach Hugh McCutcheon had a chance to see Lebron play. He mentioned to McGown he was now playing outside and was a pretty good athlete.
"At that point, we just needed athletes in the gym," McGown recalls. "We came up with a little money for him-not a lot-and got him to come and play volleyball."
When he got here, Lebron immediately recognized he wasn't going to play middle or even outside, so he asked McGown about becoming a setter.
"He came up to me and said he wanted to learn how to set," McGown says. "And so we taught him how to be a setter. It wasn't long before he had beaten out our starting setter and was splitting time during matches. No matter what team we put him on in scrimmage, his team would win. If we put him with this group, they would win. If we put him with this other group, they would win. He is a hard worker, dedicated, and is a winner."
Lebron credits McGown for giving him a chance to prove himself, but really, it was Lebron who made the most of the opportunity. But the journey hasn't always been an easy one, and the opportunities haven't always been so obvious. After his sophomore season, Lebron was prepared to pack it in and transfer to another school, looking for a little change of scenery.
"I was really selfish and almost left BYU," Lebron recalls. "I often think about it and how destructive that would have been. Carl sat down with me and told me it wouldn't be a good idea to leave. I am so glad-so grateful I didn't leave. I don't think I would be playing volleyball right now. It would have ruined me.
"Carl has been a huge influence in my life. For me, he has taken the roll of a father. I owe him everything. Everything that has happened to me, I owe it to him. I am so thankful and so grateful to him. He is an incredible man. It's the way he treats us, and the way he loves us-he treats us like family. I know if I have a problem, he will listen to me and help me. Those are some of the reasons I want to work as hard as I can for him, because we all know how hard he works for us.
It has often been said, in order to get ahead, you sometimes have to take a step back. In essence, redshirting was a step back, and now, in 2001, he's back. Back on the court and ready to lead BYU to another National Championship.
"I think we owe it to BYU," Lebron says. "We have tremendous support and the fans are incredible-the best anywhere. We should remember that and work really hard to win it for them.
"After we won in 1999, people came up to me and said it was the greatest thing they had ever been a part of. People are always asking me if we will win it again. I think we owe it to them. We owe it to this great school and to the student body for their support and for the opportunity that we have been given to represent this school."
As the constant team player, Lebron admits it won't be easy, and obviously, he won't be able to do it alone.
"We're good right now, but there are some things we need to do in order to win it all again," he says. "There is no doubt in my mind we will get better. What matters is we turn it up a notch when the time comes. We need to play every match like it's for the National Championship. We've got fiery guys. We've got go-to-guys. We've got guys that are big and strong. We have everything we need to win a National Championship."
Sounds convincing. Can you taste it?