Prep basketball is again being played in gyms around the state, like Albuquerque High, but make sure to check ahead of time to find out if fans are allowed at your school. Visit New Mexico Activities Association at this link for updates (Russell Gurule/For Enchantment Sports).
By Russell Gurule
For Enchantment Sports Fan-Demonium
It is March Madness, indeed.
And does it ever take on a different meaning this year — especially in New Mexico.
While the college basketball season ends next week with the crowning of a national champion, the high school basketball season is just getting underway in the Land of Enchantment.
Instead of practices starting in October, high school basketball in New Mexico had to wait until March to begin. And without peaceful protests and threats of lawsuits, it may never have happened.
Still, much has happened since last March, when Las Cruces High and Valley were crowned as state champions on The Pit floor with no audience as the COVID-19 shutdowns started during the week of the state tournament.
There was last summer’s tragedy of Santa Fe High’s JB White being shot and killed at a house party in the wee hours. White, a junior last year, was leaving high school a year earlier and committed to play for the University of New Mexico.
He will be missed and his memory lives on throughout the basketball community.
The year also brought notable coaching changes. La Cueva’s Frank Castillo retired after leading the Bears for 34 years. He was a head coach for 42 years, having coached at Cibola before taking over as La Cueva’s first coach.
Castillo won 739 games in his career with 11 trips to the state title championship game and five state championships.
Brian Joyce, who played for Castillo at La Cueva, and who brings NCAA D-1 and junior college coaching experience, takes over at his alma mater.
Albuquerque High’s Ron Garcia was ousted after being investigated for embezzlement. He had been the Bulldogs’ head coach since 2005.
Garcia announced his retirement after 40 years of coaching on various levels, from UNM to high school.
In steps former Lobo and AHS superstar Greg Brown as head coach of the Bulldogs. Brown’s son,
Amari Brown, started the school year as a freshman at Cibola and has already received an offer from Western Illinois.
There has been much speculation about Amari transferring to AHS, but he is currently playing in Atlanta.
Greg told Enchantment Sports that Amari won’t be playing in Albuquerque this season.
Valley’s Joe Coleman also retired after coaching the Vikings for 23 seasons. He finished his run with back-to-back state championships.
While Maxpreps lists John Kroesen as head coach at Cibola, that’s not so. Ray Rodriguez is still the head man there.
I mistakenly fell for that and thought Rodriguez had also retired.
I imagine he was surprised to read that. Now correct your Maxpreps roster, coach.
Four New Mexicans went to NCAA D-1 schools this year. West Mesa’s Eloy Medina at UNM, Eldorado’s Deraje Agbaosi at the University of New Orleans, La Cueva’s Tristan Moore at Houston Baptist and Volcano Vista’s Terrin Dickey at Wyoming.
With so few summer tournaments and very little camps to watch. It can be difficult to determine what to expect this season. But there are a few players ready to shine.
Eldorado’s Deraje Agbaosi (left) and Volcano Vista’s Terrin Dickey (right) were two of this year’s best players, but are off to college ball (Russell Gurule/For Enchantment Sports).
This could be the year of the big man in high school hoops. Highland’s Jose Murillo stands at 6-9 ready to make his presence known — if and when he returns to Highland this season.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” he told me.
Las Cruces High’s 6-11 Isaiah Carr has received interest from Virginia Tech and San Jose State. Cibola’s 6-6 Brady Arrenius looks to improve on a stellar sophomore year.
You will be hearing those names a lot this season.
There are also three super duo’s to watch this season:
Cleveland’s Tre Watson (Fresno State football commit) and Nate Hasberry will try to lead the Storm into title contention again.
Las Cruces High’s Isaiah Carr and William Benjamin II, who has received
interest from PAC-12 Colorado, will go for back-to-back state titles.
Sandia’s Sean Johnson and Ely Lovato look to make a splash.
Some guards to keep an eye on include Volcano Vista’s Ja’Kwon Hill, Del Norte’s
Shane Douma-Sanchez, Rio Rancho’s Junior Hodnett (ENMU commit) and Hobbs Jalen Goar.
Valley’s Derick Chavez and Atrisco’s Isaiah Brooks could be the state’s best shooters.
The 2020-21 high school basketball season started with Cleveland beating Hope Christian 90-72 at Cleveland.
It was a surreal setting as no fans were allowed. Because Cleveland is in Sandoval County, which is “yellow” per the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, fans aren’t allowed indoors.
For games in “green” or “turquoise” counties, there is limited seating allowed.
Please check the New Mexico Activities Association website for updated information at this link.
Something else coming into play this season, is several different sports seasons overlapping. Thus, student-athletes have to choose which sport becomes their priority.
But at least they now have a choice.
And come May Madness, those choosing basketball hope to still be playing.
The regular season is scheduled to end on April 30 with the New Mexico Activities Association planning the state tournament in early May.
There will be no district tournaments.
Eight teams will qualify for state in each class. District champs get automatic spot in state, with the other teams being chosen on the day seeds are determined.
The first two rounds of state (quarterfinals and semifinals) will be at home or neutral sites, with the finals being planned for the Pit.
Russell Gurule was born and raised in Albuquerque and is a long-time resident. He graduated from Highland High and also attended Hope Christian. Russell is a long-time observer of New Mexico Lobo and high school athletics. Logistics is his day job. Basketball and politics are his passions. To contact Russell with comments of tips, please email EnchantmentSportsNM@gmail.com