Two days before Spanish Springs' biggest game to date, T.J. McCauley's mind was 1,000 miles away from the Cougars' looming contest.
McCauley quickly refocused as soon as 11 a.m. on Dec. 18 passed, and he poured in 29 points in an 18-point victory over defending region champion Hug.
What changed for McCauley? He missed a deadline -- though it was one he chose to watch pass.
Entries for the first few rodeos of the 2013 pro rodeo season were due that morning.
"It was hard to sit through and not put my name in," McCauley said. "But I knew if I entered, I would have to miss some games here.
"And I need them as much as they need me."
McCauley is one of hundreds of dual-sport athletes in the region. But McCauley won well in excess of $100,000 competing nearly 280 days a year as an amateur on the rodeo circuit. He did so between age 10 and when he turned 18 a month ago and became a pro.
"Now that I'm 18 and turned pro, I get to go see what I've got," McCauley said. "I've been waiting to do this."
McCauley was rated a nine (out of 10) team roper when he was 14 and competed against the pros from then on. But he wasn't considered a professional because he wasn't 18.
McCauley and his younger brother, A.J., put on an exhibition almost every year at the Reno Rodeo. Four years ago, their time was better than any of the pros who vied for the $28,000 first-place prize.
"I've been watching them rope for so long," said Chico McCauley, the brothers' father, "it was no surprise and a lot of fun to see them do that."
The lure of elite competition and sponsorship commitments nearly left the Spanish Springs boys basketball team without its leading scorer.
"At the beginning of the year I wasn't going to play. I could see it coming," said McCauley, who's played basketball and competed in rodeo for as long as he can remember. "I went to a couple open gyms and it all came back. I know what it's like to be here and work and sweat and have fun with these guys. We're off to a good start and want to keep it going.
"I have huge sponsors that have been with me and have been waiting for me to turn pro. It was hard explaining that I was going to go play basketball for a high school somewhere when they think you should be competing against the best guys in the world and showing everyone why they're sponsoring you. But they understood."
McCauley, at 6-feet-7, can look out of place on a horse. But he looks right at home on the court. McCauley leads the Cougars (10-4) in scoring at 15.2 points per game and has the ability to finish close to the rim and a deft outside shooting touch rare for his size.
"He brings things to the court, like a gamer mentality, that you can't coach and successful teams have to have," Spanish Springs coach Kyle Penney said. "He changes the dynamic of our team. As a coach, it's much easier with him than without him.
"He's multi-dimensional with his size, and he attacks the rim. He can shoot it, too. When's he's active, we're at our best. And there are times when he's not real active. It's our job to get him to be active all the time."
No horsing around
McCauley long has been good on a horse. He won his first truck at age 12 and recently took home $40,000 from one event, Chico McCauley said. At 15, he competed in the prestigious Bob Feist Invitational, a Reno roping event strictly for the pros.
"The first time I saw him," Feist said, "I could tell right away there was a lot of talent there and he was going to places with it. He is just very impressive and very talented. There have been other kids to come through with a lot of talent, but none like him. I could see a world championship in his future if he pursues it full-time."
McCauley's natural skill led him to a life on the road for roughly 280 days a year. He traveled the country to compete and took classes online. He is scheduled to graduate in the spring.
"If you're just an average teenager in rodeo, you go on the weekends," McCauley said. "But all the good guys go during the week. I was always gone. Sitting in a truck for 10 hours, getting on a steer and then getting back in the truck and doing it the next weekend takes a toll on you."
A basketball getaway
"This is my getaway right now," McCauley said of basketball season. "I enjoy this free time that is my offseason. I like waiting around until 2:45 for practice."
McCauley, whose family also resides in Redmond, Ore., part of the year, missed three games earlier this year to compete in a Las Vegas rodeo and he doesn't participate in any offseason activities with Spanish Springs.
"We live with that, because that's going to be his life," Penney said. "We respect that and support him in that. He's going to be a well-known rodeo individual. My dad watched him in the Reno Rodeo and said he's good. There is no doubt he's good. It will be fun to follow him as he progresses."
McCauley began his life on the road and with online schooling in third grade. He didn't miss any social development along the way though, he speaks much more like an adult than most 18-year-old high school basketball players.
"He probably had to grow up a little faster because of his business dealings and the guys he was around all the time," Chico said. "He hit a little early."
For that reason, McCauley enjoys it that much more when basketball season rolls around.
"I was too good too fast and I always had to rope against the best guys in the world," McCauley said.
"I've always been around older guys, 20- (and) 30-year olds. That's what I like being around these guys. I treasure this time right here because these guys are my age. We talk about the same things -- girls, all the usual teenage stuff. I love it."
McCauley was on the North Valleys varsity team as a freshman and then on the junior varsity squad as a sophomore before he transferred to Spanish Springs last season.
"This has been a great group of guys the last two years and I know so many other people around here from playing basketball. Through tryouts and then practices, and then the games come around and I hang out with these guys and they become family. In team roping, you just have one guy that you're with all the time. Being with these guys, it's a good bunch of kids and I enjoy being with them."
But as soon as Spanish Springs' season is done sometime in mid-February, "I'm gone," McCauley said.