Though their teams went out of the summer league hoops tourney before the finals, two guys from in town displayed excellent promise for the season to come, one from EHS and the other from Vela.
The Bobcats will surely depend more on Marc Figueroa this season, because this summer he has been more active, driving to the basket with speed and force, and hitting some shots from the perimeter. And the SaberCats are finding out that Josh Diaz, a junior, has some real ability. Diaz was a standout for Vela in the semifinals Wednesday, dazzling McAllen High defenders with his hesitation dribble, quick stabs at the goal, and an underrated talent for offensive rebounding.
Figueroa and the Bobcats exemplified the struggles the summer has held for them, in the tourney. Their early round match against Econ went down as a forfeit when the short-handed ’Cats could not field a team of five by the deadline. Minus injured Antoine Woodard and missing a few other fill-ins, the EHS crew went 4-on-5 against the Jags and held its own for awhile. The teams played a half of ball before the forfeit kicked in, and during that time Figueroa was working hard alongside fellow guard Matt Cruz.
They will need to carry some of the load for the coming year, together with Damian Garcia, who is not playing summer ball. If Woodard can come back strong by district, he will take the pressure of junior post Jesus Cantu. Right now, the club is strapped for depth but its starting group is as good as any in the league.
Meanwhile, the Sabes played the semi without post Noah Sekinger, who had injured an ankle at an out of town tourney a few days before the summer clincher. That they were able to hang tough all the way with one of the best teams in the Valley was a testament to how fine Diaz was.
Sekinger, who helped coach the squad from the side, said that the guys on his team know all about what Diaz can do with the basketball, and adds that the rest of the district is going to see how fantastic a ballhandler he is once the season hits.
Dipping in and out, breaking ankles, and finding the open man off his deft penetration activity, Diaz was terrific the whole game, keeping his teammates energized. He and aggressive Trey Chavana carried most of the offensive burden for the team with Sekinger sidelined, combining for 39 points. Chavana connected on four three-pointers.
After trailing for most of the night, the Sabes caught the Bulldogs at 58-all when Diaz – after setting up a teammate with a crisp pass – barged to the offensive glass just in case. When the shot missed, there was the spindly SaberCat, scoring on the follow.
When J.D, Velasquez knocked in a trey on the next possession, Vela led 61-60, hoping to outlast an athletic, hot-shooting McHigh unit. But the ‘Dogs ran off the next eight points to eventually win, 69-64. Still, the performance of Diaz was enough to hang one’s hat on hand despite the loss; if he keeps this up, the A.O.-like crossovers and explosions to the rack, he might just join the pantheon of recent city greats, such as graduated superstar Ryan Garza.
His improvement from year to the next suggests that he has what it takes to make a run at doing that.
NOTES: North battled McAllen in the quarters and bowed out by 7, and junior Noah Chavana notes that the Cougars had their chances to pull the upset.
“We had the ball down 3 late, so we did a pretty good job of hanging with them,” he commented. “We did not get the ball to the right spot late in the game, but overall we played pretty well.”