Portales being considered an underdog in boys basketball might cause a righteous protest among District 4-3A rivals. After all, the Rams have won the district crown for the last five years.
But graduation losses, other departures and a lack of height in the paint make the 2009-10 campaign a rebuilding one for Portales.
The underdog role, however, is one that doesn’t bother Rams coach Mark Gallegos one iota.
“That’s the nice part. We’re not going to have the target on our back. Yeah, we will per se, but I think a lot of people are going to look past us and say, ‘Hey, this is the year we get past Portales,’” Gallegos said. “But that’s a nice little motivation for us. We’re not going to roll over.
“I still think that, if we can keep improving, we’ve got a real good shot at winning a district championship,” added Gallegos, whose team lost to St. Michael’s in the Class 3A state semifinals a year ago.
Although Portales returns players with varsity experience, such as senior Zach Terry, the only returning starter is senior Shawn Carrasco.
The likes of Nick Bliss (now at ENMU), Billy Good and Walker Partin all graduated just before the Rams learned of other critical losses for players they thought would be back. Senior 6-2 swingman Marcus Slocum transferred to Clovis while key reserve Jesus Davalos decided not to play basketball this season.
One of Portales’ biggest players in the post, 6-1 senior Isidro Duran hurt his knee and won’t be on the court — at least for the start of the season.
“We’re hoping to get Sid back after Christmas, maybe close to district time. That’d be like a Christmas present for me,” Gallegos said.
For now, Carrasco and Terry will be depended to play many roles all over the court. Others, such as forward Jesse Blue, post Garrett Hancock, guard Andrew Villanueva, guard Stephen Shields and 6-3 post Trent Johnson- all juniors — are in the process of molding with the returnees to form a new nucleus.
“We’ve got good young talent, so we’ll be looking for them to keep improving every game,” Terry said. “They’re still learning, so we’re kind of taking it slow sometimes.”
“We lost a lot of people, but they’ve played a lot of JV,” said Carrasco, who averaged nine points a game last season. “What the JV does, we also do, so they’re going to be fine.”
Gallegos rates defending state champ Hope Christian and fellow Albuquerque school Sandia Prep as the favorites in Class 3A while also viewing St. Michael’s and Lovington favorably.
To battle with taller foes, the Portales coach said he’ll have to use his team’s assets where he can.
“I think we’re probably going to have to play more zone this year, because we’re not big enough,” Gallegos said. “We can use our quickness and press some, but we’ve got to be able to get back in the zone and give us a better chance to block out.”
Portales opens Frdiay at home against Clovis and then hosts defending Class 4A champion Roswell on Tuesday.
“We’ve got a tough start with Clovis and Roswell, one of best teams in 5A and the best team in 4A. There’s some games there where we’ll have a good shot,” he said.
2008-09 Record: 21-9, 8-0 in 4-3A; reached state semifinals
Coach: Mark Gallegos
2 Kiesto Ontiveros Jr./5-7
3 Andrew Villanueva Jr./5-9
4 Eddie Martinez Sr./5-8
5 Shawn Carrasco Sr./5-8
10 Zach Terry Sr./5-9
12 Stephen Shields Jr./5-10
14 Miguel Vasquez Jr./5-9
20 Kevin King Sr./5-10
23 Trent Johnson Jr./6-3
24 Jesse Blue Jr./6-1
32 Clay Bonner Jr./6-1
33 Garrett Hancock Jr./6-1
40 Isidro Duran Sr./6-1
Dec. 4 Clovis 7 p.m.
Dec. 8 Roswell 7 p.m.
Dec. 11 Mesilla Valley 6 p.m.
Dec. 18 at Muleshoe 6:30 p.m.
Dec. 21 at Friona 5 p.m.
Dec. 28-30 Stu Clark Tourn. (Las Vegas)
Jan. 5 at Artesia 7 p.m.
Jan. 8-9 Portales Shootout
Jan. 11 Tucumcari 7 p.m.
Jan. 14-16 Hope Christian Tny
Jan. 19 at NMMI 7 p.m.
Jan. 22 Ruidoso 7 p.m.
Jan. 26 Lovington 7 p.m.
Jan. 29 at Roswell 7 p.m.
Feb. 2 at Dexter 7 p.m.
Feb. 6 NMMI 7 p.m.
Feb. 9 at Ruidoso 7 p.m.
Feb. 12 at Lovington 7 p.m.
Feb. 16 Texico 7 p.m.
Feb. 19 Dexter 7 p.m.