By Eric Butler
Starting district play three days later than everybody else, Clovis boys basketball coach J.D. Isler already has a slight head start in evaluating how the District 4-5A race might shape up.
But one night of play among the other four teams hasn’t changed one of Isler’s basic premises: The district is still up for grabs.
“It’s just a situation where you’ve got to come play every night and the team that puts eight good games together will probably be the district champion,” said Isler, whose Wildcats open tonight at Manzano and play at Eldorado on Saturday.
Clovis, Eldorado and Hobbs all sport good records and impressive wins in pre-district play.
Clovis (15-3) is led by senior Justin Pinckney’s 18.6 points per game, while junior Dominique Easterlin is contributing 15 points and 8.5 rebounds a contest. Running the point guard position for the Cats is senior Bud Willis, who averages five assists and nine points a game.
“I always pick Clovis right up there because, athletically, they’re one of the best,” said Hobbs coach Russ Gilmore, whose squad clubbed Carlsbad 102-67 in its district opener on Tuesday. “And their winning tradition always means they’re going to be right there.”
The Eagles, after four straight state titles, were toppled in a regional contest by Sandia a year ago.
This year, Hobbs (16-3) has relied on a group of perimeter players led by senior Ervin Youmans, who averages 26.8 points per contest. Fellow senior guards Bennie Baeza and Mike Floyd add 12 and 10 points a game, respectively.
Currently on a nine-game winning streak, including a decisive win over Alamogordo, one of Hobbs’ three losses was against Canyon, Texas, in an Amarillo tournament that Clovis won.
Hobbs fans, though, can take some optimism from Alamogordo’s recent win over Clovis.
“But Alamogordo also beat Las Cruces High, so you never can tell,” said Gilmore, whose team also lost to Las Cruces this season.
Eldorado (10-5), a 59-38 winner over Manzano on Tuesday, has some impressive credentials of its own.
Daniel Faris, a 6-foot-8 junior, has emerged as a scoring leader (17.5 points) and a major problem for smaller teams — as seven blocks against the Monarchs on Tuesday will attest. Eldorado, in general, is taller than most and tenacious rebounding by players like 6-3 Andrew Kadlec and 6-2 Bryce Burkholder make the Eagles a force in the paint.
“We have pretty good quickness out front, too,” Eldorado coach Roy Sanchez said. “Our guards are doing a good job. Tyrone Crawford and Derek McDonald are handling the pressure pretty good now.”
According to Isler, Clovis plans on being prepared to play the polar-opposite strengths of the two Eagles teams in District 4-5A.
“Hobbs has been shooting a lot of 3s and getting up and down the court,” he said. “Eldorado will use their size — they run a lot of high-low stuff where they dump the ball in.”
Manzano (8-6) is a capable of hauling in several victories, according to 4-5A coaches. The Monarchs are led by long-distance sharpshooter Paul Gabaldon and, down low, by Rodney Ferguson.
As for Carlsbad (6-10), half of its losses came by margins in single digits. The Cavemen will rely on the outside shooting of senior Matt Galindo and sophomore Alex Bustos in hopes of springing an upset during the district season.