Clovis coach in charge of polishing stars’ skills

Clovis High School girls basketball coach Miles Watters jokes with actors Tuesday at Rock Staubus Gymnasium. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth

By Ryan Lengerich: CNI staff writer

Allison Cochran approached the free-throw line Tuesday afternoon and calmly sank two shots.

The 19-year-old Eastern New Mexico University freshman made countless shots in her four-year basketball career at Melrose High School. But this time, the lane was crowded not just by basketball players, but actresses.

Cochran landed a roster spot on the Middleton Cyclones, a 1960s girls basketball team at the center of the feature movie “Believe in Me.” The $8 million film, about an Oklahoma girls basketball team’s run to the state championship, is set to begin filming in Clovis and surrounding areas later this month.

Cochran outplayed — and out-acted — about 20 girls in a casting audition last month to land a small speaking part.

“The director told me ‘you are a very good basketball player, and that could nail your part,’” she said.

Film officials selected a hodgepodge of talent from Los Angeles, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Texas and eastern New Mexico.

Jim Keith, the basketball team coach on whom the movie is based, visited Clovis on Tuesday. He gave the cast signed copies of “Brief Garland,” the novel written by his uncle that inspired the film.

With two weeks remaining before director Robert Collector yells “action,” Clovis High girls basketball coach Miles Watters has assumed the task of molding basketball players who have never acted and actresses who have never played basketball into a team.

“This is something brand new to me, I’ve been (coaching basketball) for a lot of years, and not anything like this,” Watters said Tuesday following his second practice with the girls.

CHS boys peeked through the Rock Staubus Gymnasium windows — their first glance of Hollywood in Clovis. Watters wants his new team in top condition — scheduling practice twice-a-day before showtime.

“We are a basketball team now,” Watters said. “It is going to be very physically demanding on them in the next couple weeks, playing basketball eight hours a day.”

Farwell High graduate Hailey Grimes took a leave of absence from cosmetology school in Lubbock to make room for her brief acting gig. The 18-year-old said she isn’t nervous about her part.

“I am just here to play basketball,” she said, standing next to Cochran, her new teammate. “Everybody here has agents and we don’t know what is going on.”

Some girls have agents, but Brandy Engel, a 19-year-old aspiring movie star from Pittsburgh, has an acting coach. She auditioned in Los Angeles with dreams of landing her first movie role, and did with a major part in “Believe.”

Game scenes will be shot at multiple gyms around eastern New Mexico, said Assistant Director Dave Clock. The CHS gym will be the filming location for the regional championship game.

Watters has more than 400 wins and 11 high school state titles to his credit. But his new team practices set plays, designed not to win a championship, but fit a script.

“There seemed to be quite a few actual scripts where we are going to be showing basketball scenes where they will be going five, six, maybe seven possessions each way,” Watters said, adding he has no speaking part in the film.

“You want to make it look as authentic as possible.”