N.M. prep basketball

Young teams to focus on conditioning, defense, confidence building

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

GRANTS, N.M., Nov. 21, 2013

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The onslaught started with three quick baskets in the first few minutes of play. But as the game wore on, conditioning became a concern for Ervin Bennett, the Thoreau boy's basketball coach.

"We did real good for the first six minutes," Bennett said. "We hung in there and played with equal skill level but the boys wore themselves out when we tried to run with them."

The team Bennett referred to was the Grants Pirates, as both clubs played on even terms at Grants High School in a 30-minute scrimmage.

On Nov. 9, the Pirates hosted five teams with Crownpoint, Miyamura, Native American Community Academy, Thoreau and Piedra Vista competing.

"I appreciate the teams that showed up," Grants coach Joseph Sanchez said. "When you're able to play four teams like we did today you're able to see where you are at overall."


The Pirates return a few players from last year's squad that finished the season with a 9-18 record, including senior point guard Jacob Wilcox, senior post Cassius Corley and sophomore post Ritchie Lucero.

Sanchez said the rest of the players are made of top players from last season's J.V. team.

Because of their inexperience, the first-year coach is hoping that his players will adapt to his way of coaching in the early going since they open up with a tough schedule.

"We do have some athletes but we're installing a new system so it's brand new to everybody," Sanchez said. "We're going to play an up-tempo game so we're making sure that we are getting in shape."

On Nov. 26, the Pirates will open up the season with Espanola Valley, a team currently ranked No. 4 in Class 4A in the preseason poll. Grants will also play No. 5 Kirtland Central, No. 9 Santa Fe Capital, No. 11 Albuquerque St. Pius and Farmington in the regular season before district play.

In addition, Sanchez said they have the possibility of facing No. 2 Roswell in the second round of the Poe Corn tournament next month, which is hosted by Roswell.

"You want to be tested early if you want to play at the Pit," Sanchez said, referring to state tournament. "That is part of the journey, being able to able to compete and beating some of the top teams."


Like the Pirates, Thoreau is not entering into the season with an experienced group.

In fact, the Hawks return three kids that played varsity last season with point guard Shanton Yazzie being the only senior on the team. Thoreau also returns Noah Lewis and Alfred Smith.

"We're rebuilding our varsity team with our J.V. players from last year," Bennett said. "They did real well last year as J.V. players and once I get these kids back on the floor and play like they did last year I think we have a good chance of getting a better record than last year."

Last season the Hawks posted a 9-17 record and finished in last place in District 1-3A behind Shiprock, Bloomfield and Wingate.

"We were pretty good on offense but we didn't play any defense," Yazzie said of last year's squad. "We're concentrating more on defense this year and if we can play defense we should win (a few) more games."

Despite having a young team, Yazzie said he likes their chances of making a run at this year's district title.

"It's going to be tough but we should be more competitive," he said.

As for early favorites, Bennett said Shiprock is the team to beat with Bloomfield and Wingate not too far behind.

"They are bringing back a good group of kids this year," he said of the Chieftains.

Before heading into the district season, Bennett is hoping to pick up a few more games since they have only 14 games on their schedule.

"We are lacking five games," he said. "We need those games and it'll hurt us because the rest of the teams in our district will be five games better than us."


With two starters coming back from last year's 10-17 team, Crownpoint coach Shawn Miller is feeling pretty optimistic about the upcoming season.

"This is the first time since I've been in Crownpoint that I can go 10 players deep," the fourth-year coach said. "I am looking at that as a positive."

With his starting lineup already set for Friday's opener against To'hajiilee, Miller said he expects no disruptions when he's subbing people in and out of the game.

"I have a good rotation," he said. "And with my bench being really deep I have shoes filling in for those who are coming off the floor."

Last season the Eagles finished the District 1-2A race in fifth place behind Tohatchi, Ramah, Rehoboth and Navajo Pine in the eight-team league.

And despite having a deeper bench and three starters - junior guard Avery Jodie and seniors Justin Largo and Rondale Begay - back from last year's team Miller said it's pretty hard to project his team as one of the frontrunners for this year's district title.

"It's anybody's ball game and that's what I emphasize with my boys," Miller said. "Every team gets better at the end of the season so I really can't say."

As an example, Miller said they played Rehoboth early in the season and won but during the district campaign the Lynx defeated Crownpoint by 17 and 18 points.

"When it came to district they were a different ball team," Miller said of Rehoboth squad.


The Patriots have six seniors coming back, including two that played significantly from last year's team that finished 12-14 overall.

Miyamura coach Matt Vail said he's going to rely on those seniors, as the Patriot squad will also suit up a couple of sophomores and freshmen. Needless to say, this is going to be a work in progress.

"We have some new kids playing the game so we're going to have to put the pieces of the puzzle together," Vail said. "I think confidence is going to be the biggest thing for this group."

The Miyamura coach is hoping his club will develop that in the early part of the season before they start district play on Jan. 25 with Los Lunas Valencia.

"I think getting the young guys to make shots and getting them to play defense and create turnovers will develop that confidence," he said. "As long as these guys can go through enough offense and defense experiences they should be ready when district starts."

Piedra Vista

As a state qualifier last year, the Piedra Vista Panthers are hoping to make another return to the Big Dance.

The Farmington-based school will attempt to do that with only two players that have experience as the Panthers entered the New Mexico Class 4A playoffs as a No. 16 seed last season. They finished the year at 15-15 after losing to Roswell.

"We're a pretty young group," Piedra Vista coach Adam Huff said. "The kids are going to need to learn how to win at the varsity level. If we win some early ones I think we're going to do really good."

The Panthers will look to junior point guard Troy Dixon and senior post Isaiah Valdez for leadership as the Panthers lost nine players to graduation last year.

"Right now we're an up-and-down team," Dixon said. "It's going to take some hard work on our part to improve our game and like coach said we need to win some close games to help our confidence."

With a bevy of returners, Huff said the Kirtland-Central Broncos is the team to beat this year in their district.

"They have a lot of people coming back," the Piedra Vista coach said of the Broncos. "Obviously Christian Mackey is the one of the best post in the state. They have a few other good guards that play consistent."

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