The Veterans Memorial Patriots claimed the 2014 Mission Thanksgiving Basketball Classic Tournament championship Saturday by defeating the Eagle Pass Eagles by a score of 66-34. The championship was the second in a row for the Patriots as they defeated McAllen High in the semifinals and La Joya in the finals to claim the Edcouch Elsa tournament championship just one week earlier.
Veterans Memorial defeated San Benito 60-48, Mission High J.V. 81-20 and Brownsville Porter 48-33 to advance into the finals of the Mission tourney where they not only defeated Eagle Pass but fell just short of doubling up their 34 points by scoring 66 points of their own.
“We came out and played very well against Eagle Pass,” said Patriots head coach Romeo de la Garza Jr. “The MVP of the tournament was our senior guard Jaycobb Hinojosa while Rigo Pena and Jesus Vasquez were our All-Tournament selections. There were some teams that dropped out of the tournament so the Mission JV team played in our pool but it worked out well and we played some good teams.”
With 12 of the 15 players on the varsity roster being seniors, de la Garza has a lot of experience to work with this year.
“We have a lot of players that had success at the JV level last year and this is a team that I’m really excited about because we have a lot of depth,” explained de la Garza. “If we get into a situation where we get into foul trouble there will be guys that I’ll be able to bring in off the bench that will be able to come in and contribute. That’s one thing that we stress every day that we don’t want to have a drop-off when the second group or even the third group comes in. We need to make sure that we’re out there playing with intensity and with consistency and that we’re executing.”
Coming off a disappointing season last year, the Patriots are off to an 11-0 start this year having won two non-district games, five games in the Edcouch Elsa tournament and four games in the Mission tournament.
“Last year we won 20 games which is one of our goals every year but one of our other goals is to make the state playoffs which we didn’t do for the first time in quite a few years,” said de la Garza. “So our returning players have that bitter taste in their mouths, as well as I do. Not making the state playoffs didn’t sit very well with us so we spent the offseason really working hard and not just on the basketball court but in the weight room as well.”
“Every season I ask my players how they want to be remembered,” added de la Garza. “They have the opportunity of continuing the tradition that we started here in 2002. This is a great group and they know what they want to do and they know what it’s going to take to get where we want to go.”
With the University Interscholastic League’s (UIL’s) most recent realignment and with the split of Sharyland High School which dropped both the Rattlers and the Pioneer Diamondbacks into District 31-5A, the Patriots will be facing a much different district schedule starting January 2, 2015 than they’ve ever faced before.
“Our district is going to be very competitive,” explained de la Garza. “In my opinion it’s probably going to be the toughest district in the Valley. You’ve got Edinburg Vela that’s currently ranked No. 1 in the Valley, you’ve got Sharyland who is returning several starters, you’ve got Roma who’s always competitive and then there’s us who will be competitive as well. Then you have Pioneer, Rio Grande City and Valley View so it’s going to be very competitive.”
Over his 12 year tenure as the boys’ basketball head coach at Veterans Memorial, de la Garza has led the Patriots to three district titles and nine playoff berths. As impressive a record as that may be, there is one other measure he uses to determine the success of his program – his former players’ post-graduation success.
“I’ve had some players that have gone on to play college basketball,” shared de la Garza. “I had a set of twins, Adan and Ivan Dominguez, who were part of two district championships here went on to walk on to the University of Texas Pan American team and represented our program there. I also had a young man named Isaiah Tovar who went to Howard University last year. He represented our program there for a semester but then decided that he just wanted to pursue his academics. I also had a another player, Joshua Villarreal, that played at a post-grad school called Elev8 that played an extra year to prepare for college and had some college offers but decided that he didn’t want to play collegiately after all.”
“Finally there’s Caleb Villarreal who is a graduate assistant at Southern Mississippi, a Division 1 program. He’s one of my former players as well,” added de la Garza.