Now-and-then: Ex-Texico standout settling in at Sul Ross

Justin Stewart (left) helped Texico reach the state semifinals in 2000. Courtesy photo.

By Dave Wagner

Editor’s note: This is a perdiodic feature on former area athletes and where they are now.

Since helping the Texico boys basketball team reach the Class 2A state semifinals in 2000, Justin Steward has gone through some ups and downs.

The 6-foot-8, 245-pound post player may be starting to find himself, though, after a successful season at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas.

Steward averaged 12 points and seven rebounds for the Lobos, who went 21-9, won the American Southwest Conference West title, and earned an NCAA Division III tournament berth.

He was named the league’s newcomer of the year as SRSU set a school single-season record for wins.

“It was a fun season, and I learned a lot about what it takes to win,” Steward said. “I could’ve done more (statistically), but we have a lot of weapons here and we don’t really care who gets the glory.”

After graduating from Texico, Steward attended two junior colleges before landing in Alpine last fall.

“Justin was huge,” said Sul Ross coach Doug Davalos, a former Eastern New Mexico University assistant. “He was probably a little out of shape, but I could see he was a good athlete.”

Texico coach Rich Luscombe said Steward has matured physically and emotionally since high school.

“He did a great job at our level,” Luscombe said. “It seemed like he just wanted to go at people hard, and a lot of times he got into foul trouble. I think he’s probably a better player now than he was at that time for the simple fact that he’s matured quite a lot.”

Steward played at Clarendon (Texas) College in 2000-01, but didn’t stay there.

“Things didn’t work out,” he said. “I played for a year there, and I left school for a while and lived in Dallas.
“I just needed to take a break. But I realized I still loved playing basketball.”

This season, Steward broke his left pinkie finger during the first week of practice and later hurt his right wrist. But he played through it, Davalos said.

“He’s always had potential,” he said. “I didn’t know Justin’s work ethic, but he’s always wanted to be the best he can be. He’s got a coach that cares about him and loves him and teammates that care about him.”

Steward, who plans to graduate in May 2005 with a major in kinesiology, has a 20-month-old daughter who lives with her mother in Amarillo.

He said his daughter is perhaps the main reason he wanted to go back to college.

“It’s like doing a full-time job,” he said. “You have to have your priorities in order. She’s a big part of all the decisions I make, and she’s one of the principal reasons I wanted to go back to school.”