Ignacio boys are off and running

By Dale Strode Herald staff writer

An accelerated preseason schedule forced Ignacio High School boys basketball coach Chris Valdez to compress the Bobcats’ preparation for the season.

“That meant some 5 a.m. practices,” Valdez said. “The tournament (in Kirtland, N.M.) came up so quick. We had to focus on our varsity guys.”

With the Webb Toyota Basin Tournament scheduled a week earlier this season, Valdez and the Bobcats rushed to get ready.

“I just wanted to compete. I didn’t know if we could win the thing,” Valdez said after the Ignacio boys won three consecutive games in three nights to take the Basin Tournament title last weekend.

“We’ve got talent, but it’s young talent,” Valdez said, adding that the young Bobcats rebounded after a sub-par second game to beat Shiprock 58-57 in Saturday night’s pressure-packed championship game.

The Bobcats had opened the tournament with a 57-49 win over host Kirtland Central before beating Whitehorse (Montezuma Creek, Utah) 58-30.

Senior Kelton Richmond hit a game-winning bank shot to give the Bobcats the victory over Shiprock and stake Ignacio to its first Kirtland Central tournament title since the 1980s.

“Kelton ... started as a freshman remember. Adison Jones started all last year as a freshman. Clayton Jefferson started some as a freshman,” Valdez said.

“There is some experience here. Justin Carver was our sixth man last year until his broken leg.”

Freshman Wyatt Hayes, coming out of an undefeated middle school career, is fitting right in, Valdez said. Hayes led the Bobcats with 15 points in the championship victory Saturday night.

Richmond and Jefferson added 12 points each in an Ignacio offense that’s been balanced through all three wins thus far.

Jefferson, a senior. was voted the tournament MVP in Kirtland. Wyatt also was voted to the all-tournament team last weekend.

“This team has some great assets ... this is a team that will have more people scoring,” Valdez said.

A year ago, then-senior Shane Richmond led the Bobcats (and Class 2A) with his 26-point per game average. Their 18-5 record left the Ignacio boys one game short of the state tournament, ending a run of four consectutive trips to the elite eight of Class 2A basketball.

“We’ve got to make up those points ... and we can,” Valdez said. “We can be a better ballhanding team ... a better balanced team.”

He said this particular group of Bobcats is very supportive of each other.

“We were down by 12 (against Shiprock), and there was no yelling ... no pointing of fingers,” Valdez said. “They went out and continued to play together.”

The Ignacio boys (3-0) will open the home season at 7 p.m. today against Bloomfield (1-2).

“It’s awesome to start with a new group of kids each year,” said Valdez, entering his 13th season as the Bobcats’ coach.

“I told the kids (at Kirtland), you are going to create your own identity. You are going to decide who you are going to be,” Valdez said.

dstrode@durangoherald.com

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