COLUMBIA — It is 7 p.m. on a Monday, and there seems to be a rally going on inside the Rock Bridge High School gym.
At least, that's the way it sounds.
Voices echo off the brick walls of the gym, so many and so constant that no one word can be clearly identified. The doors remain closed, but that does little to mute the goings-on inside.
This is a ruckus, if ever there was one.
In fact, it isn't a rally. It's not a concert, a recital or a town hall meeting, either. This is a Rock Bridge boys basketball practice.
The team runs through a zone defense drill, with players swarming to the ball as it gets swung around the perimeter. The drill involves constant movement as players scramble to fill in holes in the defense. Still, their mouths move even faster.
"Ball!" "Cutter!" "Behind you!" "He's mine!" "He's yours!" "Get a hand up!"
The voices seem to blend together, until it's nothing more than one deafening clatter. To an outside observer, the racket is just that — racket. To the team, though, this communication is everything. It's the key to their success.
"Talking is crucial, so we're trying to talk as much as we can and make sure everybody on the court is talking," senior forward Austin Ray said. "We need to make sure everyone's on the same page, and nobody's left alone."
As the practice goes on though, the voices begin to fade. Players get complacent, fatigue sets in and communication breaks down. Eventually, what was once a rally is more like a study hall.
Now, the only audible sounds are the squeaking of sneakers on hardwood and the dribble of the basketball. That, and the yelling of exasperated coaches.
"We can be a quiet group, and that's not a good sign. We have to speak, or we won't be very good," coach Jim Scanlon said. "It will dictate what we do."
Until the team's as loud at 8 p.m. as it is at 7 p.m., Scanlon knows there is room to improve.
"We're just not a very good team right now. I've already told them, 'We're not very good right now,'" Scanlon said. "We need to scrap and claw for everything we get early."
When the voices fade, there are consequences — not only in games, but in practice.
"We try to do as much talking as we can, or else we … uh … get in trouble," sophomore guard Nick Norton said.
He hesitates while speaking, long enough to glance over at Scanlon in the distance. Endless laps up and down the basketball court linger in his memory.
Scanlon said he hopes all of the laps and constant urging will eventually sink in.
"You just pound it in them. You say, 'We have to speak. We have to talk,'" Scanlon said. "We say it every single day."
The Bruins, who begin their season against Central Kansas City High School on Friday in Kansas City, measure their improvement in decibels rather than points. The louder they are, the better they'll play.