What do you do when your computer becomes sluggish and error messages begin popping up? You reboot it. What do you do when your basketball team loses all but two members of last year’s team due to graduation? Reboot.
That’s what Veterans Memorial head boys basketball coach Romeo de la Garza, Jr. is doing with his Patriots this year. Not due to sluggishness or errors but due to having a team that includes only one player with any varsity experience.
“We had a senior ball club last year,” explained de la Garza. “Almost my whole team was made up of seniors. As a result I only have two returning players on this year’s team with one that did get some playing time. So if you look at the breakdown of our roster, we’re a completely new team without much varsity experience.”
The two returning players from last year’s Bi-district championship team are senior post Lazaro Garza and senior guard David Sanchez.
While such a dramatic lack of varsity experience is something that would concern any coach, the fact that the Patriots have made the playoffs 10 of their 13 years of existence, all under de la Garza, is a testament to how successful a boys’ basketball program he and his staff have built at Veterans Memorial.
“These kids have been in our program since they were freshmen,” de la Garza said. “We have so much continuity in our coaching staff that our kids understand our system so when they get to me at the varsity level they know what to expect. With the success we’ve had in our program and with the tradition we have, our kids understand what it means to wear a Patriots’ uniform. We take a lot of pride in putting them in a position to succeed and they take a lot of pride in doing the same.”
At last week’s Mission Thanksgiving Classic Basketball Tournament, which Veterans Memorial hosted for the first time due to on-going construction at Mission High School, the Patriots made it all the way to the Gold Division Championship game only to lose to Weslaco East 46-28.
In that tournament the Patriots wore warm-ups that read, “Strength in Numbers.” When asked what the significance of that saying was, de la Garza said, “We try to emphasize that in order for us to be successful and accomplish our goals, we’ve got to do it with more than just five guys. Everybody on the team needs to be involved and needs to understand their respective roles. Every player needs to understand what is expected of them when their name is called and that even when they’re not on the floor, they are still an important part of our team and of our program.”
While the Patriots’ lack of varsity experience this year is a definite disadvantage, one advantage they do have is large numbers throughout their basketball program. That is why despite the fact that only two lettermen have returned, the Patriots still have 10 seniors on the roster.
“We carry 15 players on our freshman team, 38 on our junior varsity lite team, 15 on our junior varsity and 15 on our varsity,” shared de la Garza. “We stress the fact that while we’re very excited about them being part of our program, there is responsibility and accountability involved with being a Patriot and as such they have to go out there every day and give the effort that we expect them to give.”
With their District 31-5A schedule tipping-off January 1 against the Roma Gladiators, de la Garza expects the odds-on favorite to take the title this year to be the Edinburg Vela Sabercats.
“Vela has got everybody back this year,” explained de la Garza. “Our district is going to be a dog fight every night. It’s going to be a battle and a war every night. But we’re up for the challenge and our mentality is to take one game at a time and we’ll be looking to improve every time we step on the court.”