Local squad going for AAU boys crown

By Dave Wagner

Last weekend, two Clovis-based teams captured AAU girls state basketball championships in competition here.
This weekend, the New Mexico Wildcats, a team made up mostly of up-and-coming Clovis High talent, will try to pick up a boys title when they travel to Manzano High School in Albuquerque for the state AAU 16-and-under boys tournament.
The three-day, double-elimination event, expected to include 15 to 20 teams, opens on Friday. Clovis will meet a team from Santa Fe at 6 p.m. and a squad from Carlsbad at 8 p.m. on the opening night.
“These kids have been together since they were about 7 years old,” Clovis coach Jerry Loya said. “We go all over the place. This year, we’ve been to El Paso and Lubbock for tournaments.”
The team’s roster includes players who are already familiar to Clovis High basketball fans, or soon will be — Tig Bunton, Justin Pinckney, Dominique Easterlin, Elliott Hita, Tizrick Phillips, Ed Perales, Tim Perkins and David Jouett.
“Most of the people on the varsity team are on this team,” said Bunton, a 6-foot-7 post who will be a junior at CHS. “It’s the same people we’ve had for the last few years.”
Except for Bunton and Pinckney, who played key roles last season on the varsity, the others made up the heart of the CHS junior varsity last season.
Rounding out the squad is Chris Carter from Portales.
“I feel confident,” said Pinckney, a guard/forward on the high school team who will be a senior this fall. “We all play hard and play together real well. I feel good about our chances this weekend.”
He said the other players moving up to the varsity level next year shouldn’t have a hard transition.
“Playing with Dominique and Tizrick before, it won’t be too big of a difference,” Pinckney said. “I’ve gotten kind of used to playing with those guys.”
Loya said the team won the 1999 Basketball Congress International (BCI) 12-and-under championship in Dallas in a field of around 60 teams.
“These kids are well-traveled,” Loya said. “This team has had a special bond, and they really love the game.”
Loya said that by virtue of winning the 15-and-under state title last year, the New Mexico Wildcats are already assured of going to national AAU competition at the end of July in Orlando, Fla.