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What used to be a way to get out of chores is now a way of life.

Growing up on a dairy farm in Maryland, Austin Schroyer made a deal: If his son was working out or practicing basketball, he could get out of some of his daily tasks.

"I learned to like basketball a lot," Wyoming head coach Heath Schroyer said.

The sport took over his life, and 30 years later he says he doesn't know what he would do without it.

Schroyer, the player

He was pretty young to be experiencing his first love.

But when he got his first basketball when he was 5, it didn't take long until he was hooked.

Schroyer worked on his game with his father and friends from that point until it was time to go to high school. Living in Walkersville, Md., a town with just one elementary, one intermediate and one high school, it was time to branch out.

He chose DeMatha High School and legendary coach Morgan Wootten, even though they were 90 minutes down the road.

"My mom would leave the house at 5 a.m. with me and I'd meet an assistant coach halfway and he'd drive me down," Schroyer said. "Then my dad would usually pick me up halfway and I'd get home at 8 o'clock at night and eat and do homework."

Schroyer would later become the first person in his family to go to college, starting at Kings River Community College before leading his Armstrong State team, as a captain, to the Division II Sweet Sixteen.

"I wasn't a great player, but my senior year was a great run at Armstrong State," Schroyer said. "We got to the NCAA tournament, won our conference and went to the Sweet Sixteen."

But it was at DeMatha, an all-boys Catholic school, that he learned he wanted to be a head coach, and he got in-depth lessons in how to do it.

"Coach Wooten, he is way beyond a basketball coach," Schroyer said. "He is one of the best leaders and motivators I've ever been around.

"I still believe that (going to DeMatha) might have been the most important decision that I ever made."

Schroyer, the coach

Very few coaches have taken a faster track than Heath Schroyer.

He was coaching the defense at BYU under Steve Cleveland before he could legally rent a car in some states and he rebuilt a program at Portland State before he could legally run for president.

"I was thrown to the wolves pretty quick," Schroyer said. "I was obviously very fortunate to get my first real break early. And this is the fourth program that I've been a part of … and at this point in my life to have the fourth experience has been very beneficial."

That first break came at BYU, and if Wootten gave Schroyer his coaching foundation, it was Cleveland who taught him what it takes to build up a program.

"Coach Cleveland really understands how to build a comprehensive program at this level," Schroyer said. "From academics, to basketball, to social, to media, to booster groups, everything.

"He really understands where he wants a program to go. He has a blue print, he has a plan."

After helping the Cougars win Mountain West Conference regular-season and tournament titles in 2001, Schroyer took his first stint in Laramie, and in 2002 the Cowboys won the regular-season title.

The next year he became the second-youngest D-I head coach at Portland State. The Vikings went 5-22 his first year, but two years later won 19 games, the conference title and earned a trip to the NCAA tourney.

But that was his last year in Portland.

"That was a really, really tough decision," Schroyer said. "We were rolling … and had a great recruiting class. (But) Coach Cleveland gave me my first real break and it was an opportunity to go back and help him and kind of repay him for everything he did for me."

So he left and joined Cleveland at Fresno State for two seasons.

And now, he brings experiences from all those stops back to Laramie, where he's already well into his campaign to tranform the program.

"I describe him as a go-getter, because he has the determination to be great," junior guard Brandon Ewing said. "(The MWC) has Steve Fisher, who in my eyes is a legend as far as coaching, and then you've got guys like (UNLV coach Lon) Kruger who's on his way to setting his legendary mark.

"And I believe they are going to pass the throne to Coach Heath Schroyer. He's going to be the future of the Mountain West Conference."

Schroyer, the family man

If Heath Schroyer had his best season thus far at Portland State, he also had his hardest.

Right in the middle of trying to rebuild the Vikings' program, Schroyer and his wife Karen got the toughest news of their lives. Their son Hayden, who was 2 years old at the time, was diagnosed with autism.

"It was really tough - that was probably the hardest year of my life, and probably our family's lives," Heath Schroyer said. "Taking over a program that was, to put it nicely, not very good. And then finding out your son is autistic and dealing with those issues completely away from family.

"But we got through it and it made us stronger."

It definitely helped Schroyer further learn how to balance coaching and family.

He says the hardest part is making sure to find time to spend with now 5-year-old Hayden. They have breakfast together once a week and numerous dinners. And on Sundays, Hayden takes over the floor at the Double-A.

Hayden and Karen - who Heath ironically met at a bar while coaching at BYU - have settled back in in Laramie, where Schroyer thinks his family has found the perfect fit in Laramie.

Hayden has started school in a smaller class setting, and they live just minutes from the Arena-Auditorium and a few hours from Karen's parents in Salt Lake City.

"That's why I really like it here," Schroyer said. "We're five minutes from home and there's time my wife will pick him up from school and bring him over to practice.

"Those kinds of things really make this job, for me, very special."

Put it all together

All of his experiences have certainly made Heath Schroyer a dynamic individual.

On the floor at games, his intensity will make fans love him. In a practice setting, where that intensity is magnified, those same fans could find themselves hating him.

His players, despite being tested physically and mentally, love it. They know he's making them better.

Away from the court, Schroyer's a soft-spoken, family-oriented guy - seemingly the complete opposite of the floor general that he is.

He's a salesman who says all the right things about his revamped program.

But as a coach, a husband, a father, a mentor and a leader, he's a winner.

And most importanlty to the Pokes' fans, he's ready to win in Laramie.

SCHROYER SAID IT

On his wife, Karen: "My wife is an angel, she's a saint. There's some days I wonder what in the heck she's doing with me, but as a family we've sat down and made goals. And (Karen) understands what the job is both on the floor and off."

On his job: "My junior year I knew I wanted basketball to be part of my life. I'm very fortunate to be making a living doing what I love to do. The scary thing is, I don't know if I could do anything else."

On mentors outside of Morgan Wootten and Steve Cleveland: "(Notre Dame coach) Mike Brey is a guy I respect a lot. I went back a year ago and spent three or four days with Mike. He's another DeMatha guy - we came from the same tree. He's helped me a lot just as far as understanding the business side of it. Another guy people would never really know is Keith Hughes. He was my junior college coach and the first coach that I worked for. He's probably the best pure basketball mind I've been around. And I've learned a lot from my players."

On coaching timetable: "I want to coach here as long as the administration and the people will have me. For us right now, this is where I've always wanted to be. This is a part of the country I love to be at. I couldn't be more comfortable personally."

On associated head coach Fred Langley: "I can't think of a guy I'm close with basketball-wise or off the court. He's a very, very good friend and a good confidant. I feel very fortunate to have him here. It's a very comfortable feeling for me to go down to practice every day and know that a guy that has been with me for this long and shares the same philosophy and the same vision … to have him here is very fortunate."

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