Tucumcari boys shoring up weaknesses


November 27, 2019

Ron Warnick

Tucumcari boys basketball coach John Span talks to his players during the first official day of practice last week. The Rattlers' first home game is against Mora on Dec. 10.

Longtime Tucumcari boys basketball coach John Span has taken steps to shore up a major weakness that surfaced on last season's team - free-throw shooting.

The Rattlers struggled to a 5-20 record in the 2018-2019 season, but they arguably could have doubled their wins total had they simply shot 60% from the foul line. Instead, Tucumcari suffered through several sub-50% foul-shooting games, and it lost nine contests by six-point margins or less.

Midway through last season, Span changed his practice regimen with free throws, and he carried that through this season's first practices.

"What we used to do before was we shot our free throws before we did our conditioning and running," he explained. "Now we do it after we do those things. Now we're shooting when we're tired more than when we're fresh. It's a whole different deal. Toward the fourth quarter or late in the game, when you're a little tired, what kind of discipline are you going to have at that line? That's the one thing that I've changed."

Span and his team were scheduled to test the effectiveness of that change during a season-opening road game Tuesday at Laguna Acoma. The game's result wasn't available before press start.

The Rattlers' first home game isn't until the Mora matchup, which begins after the junior-varsity matchup set for 5 p.m. Dec. 10.

Span, in his 18th season coaching the Rattlers, said he liked what he saw during the first official days of practice last week.

"We've seen a lot of effort, and that's what we're going to need - effort in every game," he said. "That's one of the things I've been stressing: We have to outwork our opponent or at least match the intensity."

Because of the Rattlers' relatively small size, Span said he also has been stressing rebounds.

"One of the things I've been harping on is when the shot goes up, we're not watching the flight of the ball; we're establishing position right now, find the ball and go get it, in that order," he said. "I think if we can do that and be consistent in it, we have a good shot. If a kid is not boxing out, he's not going to be on the floor. We can't be afraid to bang and get after it."

Key returning players for the Rattlers are 6-foot-1 sophomore guard Jesus Ramos, who averaged a team-leading 14.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game last season; 5-foot-10 senior guard TJ Lampkin (8.9 points, 3.2 rebounds) and 5-foot-10 senior forward Robbie Hartmann (7.6 points, 3.4 rebounds). Hartmann suffered an ankle injury during football season but recently was cleared to practice.

Other players Span anticipates seeing time in the varsity lineup are freshman guard Curtis Gonzales, junior forward Nathaniel Mardo and senior wing Alex Lujan, who was required to sit out last season after transferring from San Jon.

As for District 4 in Class 3A, Span said he sees his team as a contender. None of the other teams - Dexter, Tularosa and New Mexico Military Institute - can be counted out for capturing a district crown, he said.

"I think it's going to be a dogfight," Span said. "The big thing is you're going to have to take care of home (games). If you can get a win on the road, that's great."


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