Friday, December 4, 2009

Basketball in the Rio Grande Valley

Anytime I’m driving home from any road trip, I always know I am home when I start seeing the rows of palm trees swaying effortlessly in the wind. The usual comment is, “we’re back in the valley.” This, being the Rio Grande Valley (RGV). If you are not familiar with this area, check the map and look at the southern most tip of Texas. Anything South of Corpus Christi is where I find my home and where I’m proud to say, “great things are happening!”

As time has passed, the RGV has begun to make a name for itself in many athletic departments. We can boast a 4A Soccer State title at Hidaldo HS, as well as major runs for state contention in Volleyball with 5A Harlingen South & Sharyland High School. Just recently we had several football teams still in the run for a state crown, 5A Harlingen High & 4A Mercedes. I could go on with different achievements that have taken place in the RGV, but let’s get to the heart of the matter, basketball. Last year the 2A Santa Rosa Warriors, coached by Johnny Cipriano, did something no other team has done since the 1970’s, taken a trip to the Final Four. Despite suffering a loss in the semifinals, the Warriors placed the RGV on the map of the basketball world. Where did Santa Rosa come from? Who was this team from a town with a population of about 3,200 people? As interest arose over Santa Rosa, basketball instantly became a bigger and better thing in the RGV. Now, as the 2009-2010 season is beginning to slowly turn its wheels, it is with great pleasure that I begin to introduce you to some of the valley’s best.

Let’s start with the 5A McAllen Bulldogs, picked #11 in the state of Texas according to TABC Preseason Rankings for 2009-2010. Since 2006-2007, when Coach Roy Swift took over the program, the Bulldogs have experienced tremendous success. With a district win in 2006, success has become synonymous with the Bulldogs. The past two years have seen two appearances in the Region IV-5A state tournament. Each year, since then, has also brought them to Pasadena, Texas with an invitation to play in the McDonald’s Texas Invitational Tournament. Coach Swift told me that going to this tournament and being the lone representative for the valley teaches his kids “to get better than what we were last year. It also allows us good competition and helps us improve each year. It sets up a huge motivation for our regular season.” The Bulldogs returned from the tournament with much to be happy about. They placed 3rd in Division 2 in the Gold bracket. Congratulations! (for tournament details check out Coach Max’s blog dated 11/19/2009)

McHi is led by four seniors who return with veteran experience, #21 Ryan Evans, #31 JJ Avila, #34 David Atkinson, and #3 Nevin Franks.

Ryan Evans (6’6”) brings a quiet aggressiveness to the court. Evans seems to have a very relaxed demeanor, but don’t be fooled, his drive to the hole isn’t relaxed in any way. He is swift getting his lean and lanky body to the basket. He’s a great team player and has good court vision. As a consistent top scorer, Evans will be another asset Coach Swift will need if his Bulldogs decide they want to reach Regional’s again.
J.J. Avila, a four-year varsity player whose 6’7” frame can easily disrupt most low-post players. Not only is he a threat under the basket, but he can easily hit an outside jumper, as well as an occasional 3-pointer. I remember seeing Avila play during middle school on his club team, and even then, this young man was stirring things up. With a 4.0 average, he is one of the top D-1 recruits in the RGV. Just last month, at an early pre-season scrimmage, he was already starting off the year with several steals, great rebounds, and power moves to the hoop. Once Avila gets the ball in his hands, be sure that he will find a way to score. As the leader in scoring, rebounds, and blocks for his team, J.J. will definitely be a huge reason the Bulldogs advance into the postseason.
Senior PF David Atkinson (6’6”). I was able to meet David this summer during a scrimmage with his club team/trainer and I was very impressed with his sportsmanship and well-mannered attitude. This same attitude can be seen transferred over into the court. Atkinson plays strong and can get to the hoop easily. Give him a little room and he will finish with a dunk.
Last, but certainly not least is PG Nevin Franks. He’s a kid who has great vision for his team and always looks for hussle plays. Whether he’s diving on the floor for a loose ball, playing ‘in your face’ defense, or sneaking by a big man for a quick layup, he will surely create for his team in various ways. At only 5’10”, Franks plays big. With the experience he received last year at the Regional Tournament vs. Converse Wagner, look for Franks to show up big for the Bulldogs this year and carry them deep into the playoffs again.

McAllen High is currently 7-1 with their loss being against Spring, Texas during the McDonald’s Texas Invitational. The Bulldogs also finished 2nd in the annual Dr. Keillor Classic Tournament over Thanksgiving break with a close championship game vs. Laredo United Longhorns (47-41). Next game for McAllen is December 8 against Corpus Christi John Paul II who is quickly becoming a well-known basketball powerhouse in the Corpus Christi area.

Good Luck to Coach Roy Swift and the McAllen Bulldogs as they make their run this season in District 30-5A!