Sssssh. Don’t tell anybody, but Cleveland High has a really damned good basketball team.
While much of the off-season chatter was whether arch-rival Rio Rancho could repeat as state champs, or could big men in Carlsbad and Albuquerque High lead their teams to the title, the Storm changed head coaches and went about their business.
The result? To paraphrase from former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson and make the time adjustment from the college to the high school game: 32 minutes of hell.
How good is Cleveland? Consider some number’s from Friday’s 105-55 massacre of El Paso Irvine on the second day of the round-robin Cleveland Storm tournament:
*A 43-point third quarter, a quarter in which the Rockets had 15 points and 13 turnovers.
*Hitting triple digits despite playing 28 percent of the game (nine of 32 minutes) with a running clock.
*Making 2.5 times the total field (42, including six three-pointers and four dunks by senior Tyrique Weaver) as their opponent did.
*And posting a 50-point final margin after leading by just 10 early in the third quarter.
At one point, Cleveland didn’t let the Rockets get past half court on seven of eight possessions. That statistic is unofficial; things were happening so fast and furious it was difficult for people taking notes to keep track.
It brought to mind another H word – the all-time great Hobbs teams of the 1970s and 80s. Not just to sportswriters on the sideline, but Cleveland coach Sean Jimenez.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but my father was the only Hispanic starter for (legendary Hobbs coach) Ralph Tasker back in the60s,” Jimenez said. “And obviously (Cleveland assistant) Coach (Wallace) Williams played for Coach Tasker.
“I grew up around the press and with my dad telling us all about it. I know I’m the coach of this team, but I haven’t seen teams press like this since Hobbs.”
Neither has anybody else.
And all of this was done with 11 of 13 players scoring (four in double figures), with Marcus Hill leading the way with 19. By contrast, Irvin had just one player score more than 10 — Meshach Thorton (18, including eight-of-eight at the free throw line.)
This is one case you can’t blame the boss for coach-speak of “I want to watch the film,” becuase you can slow that down to make sure of what you saw.
“When I watch the film, I wantto see how any possessions in a row they didn’t even get it past our free throw line,” Jimenez said. “When you have Tyrique up there, I’ll tell you there were times they had guys open but he was traooubg abd they couldnt throw the ball out of it. You can’t be more pleased than the effort in the third quarter.”
After halftime the Storm adjusted its press, putting the 6-7 Weaver on the man guarding the ball out of bounds.and/or the Rocket who caught the inbounds pass. The result was the shorter Irvin players couldn’s see around or over Weaver, and the turnover fest was on.
Irvin coach Anthony Sanchez agreed that Weaver’s defense in the third quarter was the difference.
“We knew it was coming,” Irvin coacg Abtgibt Sanchez said. “And the big guy really turned it up. He started getting his hands on everything. He’s a great athlete. We haven’t played against someone like him this year.”
Early on, Irvin seemed to be able to able to handle the Cleveland pressure well enough, and make enough shots, to hang in the game. The Storm gradually pulled away and got a 19 point lead in the second quarter, but the Rockets narrowed it down to 46-33 at halftime.
Irvin cut the margin to 10 at the start of the half before, going back to Coach Richardson, all hell broke loose.
“In the first half we were down 19 and the reason we came back is we were able to slow the game down,” Sanchez said. “We just cleared the court and let our guards handle it, and if the trap came we hit the open guy. In the second half we didn’t handle the trap . We put our heads down and wanted to dribble through it.
“The first half we passed through it; the second half we tried to dribble through it.”
The Rockets had a couple of opportunities to perhaps get closer, but turnovers and/or missed shots led to Storm and-one baskets that gave Cleveland about a net 12-point swing that started the third-quarter avalache. All in all it was quite a lernijng experience for the young Rocckets, who have some athletic talent, especially among six underclassmen.
“It’s on the job training,” Sanchez said.
But it was job well done by the Storm, especially after intermissiohn.
So what magic words did Jimenez offer to inspire such an effort?
“I said, ‘Quit fouling, andfor every point they get over 50 we’ll be running.
“So we’ve got five sprints to do.”
In six victories this season, Cleveland has outscored its opponents 463-293, an average of 77.8 to 48.8 points per game. That’s a difference of 29 points per game.
The 55 Cleveland gave up to Irvin is the most points its surrendered all year. No wonder Jimenez is making his team run sprints for poor defense.
But any extra running the Storm mayhave done has been well worth it. To get such an effort inthe second of back-to-back nights was a good sign for what this team hopes to accomplish.
“We’re really well conditioned. We do have toughness, plus we’ve got 13 kids. And all 13 kids that got in there did something good, and that’s just unbelievable,” Jimenez said. “If somebody can show me a deeper team in the state, I’d like to see it. I’m not saying better, but deeper. It doesnt matter who I call off the bench, they’re just ready to play.”
One might think that could get to be a dilemna, having too much talent. Many have suggested former coach Brian Smith, who also had great success with the Storm, left in part because some parents objected when their sons didn’t get as much playing time in favor of a deeper bench.
Its a situation that Jimenez is willing to face.
“It’s betterto have that problem than nothave enough athletes,” he said. “There are duffeebt nights when we call different numbers off the bench, and the guys have just got to be ready to play our style of basketball. It could be Justin Ainsworth, Josh Terry, Isiah Molina, Jacob Medina — it really doesn’t matter. When we come off the bench, we really don’t drop off a level.
“These boys — when they put their minds toit, they are a pretty tough group.”
The tournament concludes today with West Mesa (1-4) playing Irvin (2-8) at 3 p.m. before the Storm takes on another another undefeated team, Los Lunas (4-0), at 3 p.m. The Tigers knocked off West Mesa 45-35 on Friday.
“They want to keep the game in the 40s. They’re going to try to slow our pace down,” Jimenez said. “It’s very hard to slow us down when we get into full-court pressure, but they are going to be tough. Travis Julian is a really good coach, and they’re well-coached and well-disciplined.
“We’ll see if they can run with us for four quarters. If they can, more power to them.”