Falcons, Tarpons players to compete in San Antonio

Basketball teams are facing some new challenges ahead of their 2020-21 seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the student-athletes are finding ways to get on the court and compete.

East Valley boys basketball players are turning to local organizations and finding alternate ways to train and compete. Players from Los Fresnos and Port Isabel will be heading to San Antonio to participate Sept. 19 in the Alamo City Hoops I-35 High School Showdown.

Los Fresnos basketball coach Marco Hinojosa said a group of Falcons competed in the showcase tournament last year as well. But with a young varsity squad returning, this year’s event will be a good start to team bonding and development that may be lacking since they haven’t worked as a program in a while.

“These tournaments help you prepare, especially since we haven’t had a summer, really. We missed out on summer leagues and fall leagues, so this tournament is just to get them going into the start of our year,” Hinojosa said. “We graduated a senior ballclub last year, so we have one returning starter and a couple kids off the bench, so we need to build chemistry and we’re hoping that this tournament can help build camaraderie, team, family.”

Teams are guaranteed three games to be played at the Alamo City Allstars Sportsplex and the George Gervin Center. With the help of player parents, Los Fresnos is sending a 10-man roster of all varsity athletes to the showcase. Port Isabel will be represented by way of the Brownsville Outlawz basketball organization. Ray Rodela and Jaime Gutierrez will be coaching a 12-man roster of returning varsity Tarpons and some younger varsity hopefuls.

Rodela, a Port Isabel alumnus, has been working with some Tarpons players while they’re unable to practice as a team. He said one of the main goals of competing in the I-35 Showdown and other tournaments the group has and will be attending is trying to keep the athletes from falling too far behind other parts of the state that haven’t been as affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“If we don’t do something to help our kids out, we’re going to fall way behind and it will be a disadvantage for our senior kids,” Rodela said. “The kids are working hard. They’re all in, and they want to work until the first day of school practice in October. We’re just trying to compete and get ready. The field is crazy, I think we’re the smallest school going. They’re excited, and they’re ready to go and face the challenge.”

Alamo City Hoops had players from 31 high schools committed as of Thursday, primarily from the San Antonio area. Eight of the schools, including Los Fresnos, were ranked in the top 25 of their respective classification in the final regular season polls from  the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches.

Tarpons coach Mike Hazelton said the showcase tournament will offer good competition for the boys as they prepare for their season. Santa Maria coach Albert Briones is trying to get a team registered before today’s deadline. Briones said his players want to compete, but there’s some hesitation among parents about traveling amid the pandemic.

Hinojosa will be making the trip to watch his Falcons in the showcase event, and he said the loaded field will present a good opportunity to see the team against top competition and get a feel for what work needs to be done when the players are cleared to begin practicing together.

“Every time my kids play, I go watch them. I use that as an opportunity to get them better after the fact when we meet at school and talk about things they did well and did not do well,” Hinojosa said. “It’ll be a high-level caliber of play. My guys haven’t been together all summer, and teams up in San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, they’ve all been playing. For right now, it’s just to figure out teammates and figure out pieces.”