Depleted Lions looking to be whole soon￼
By Kyle Mooty
After a memorable 2021–22 season on the hardwood, a winless season thus far for the 2022–23 campaign at Lockhart would normally signal gloom and doom at the Lions.
However, LHS Head Coach Javier Torres remains optimistic, enjoying the effort of what has basically been a junior varsity team with sophomores and two freshmen, including the starting point guard, for much of the season. All of this due to a run into the second round of the state playoffs by the Lions’ football team, keeping many of the basketball players off the hardwood until recently.
On top of everything else, quarterback Ashton Dickens, projected to also be a star in basketball, played two games before coming down with the flu and was forced to muss several games.
Torres was expecting a rebuilding year even before the dual-sport players were forced to miss games, losing the likes of stars Jah Gulley, Major New and Tay Andrews.
“We lost about three weeks, but that’s OK,” said Torres, now in his fifth year at the helm of LHS basketball. “I hope they bring that winning attitude to us and that moxie to us. We’re going through tough times, but we’re still working, we’re still developing.
“I’m a huge supporter of Coach Moebes and the football program and he’s a big supporter of us, too.”
The Lions were 0-11 heading into Tuesday night’s game at Floresville and will open District 25 action at Cedar Park.
Torres said he hopes to be hitting on all cylinders in time for district play.
“We’re 0-for right now and I still believe we can make the playoffs,” Torres said. “I still believe we can win a district championship. If not, why even play? People think I’m nuts, but I’m gonna work like we’re gonna win a district championship. The kids believe, too.
“We’re gonna be fine. We just need some practice under our belts, some of those grind sessions. They just need reps. These sophomore kids have been playing together since the 7th grade. It’s a learning process.”
Torres said he doesn’t prepare for a team’s strengths in non-district action but said that will change in district games — “money games.” It has certainly worked lately with Lockhart going 11-3 in the second half of the district seasons over the previous two years.
“We haven’t played any slouches either,” Torres said. “We’ve played Brenham, Santa Fe beat Brenham and we lose to Santa Fe by 9,” he said. “We just ran out of time. That was probably our best game. We go to Marble Falls and we’re up 10 the whole time. Until the end We’re shooting threes, and the game is just so fast for them. But the game is slowing down. One thing these guys do is we practice well.
“When district comes around, we’re gonna know sets and we’re gonna know other teams’ personnel. We’re just worried about us right now.”
The football players have worked their way back into basketball form, and Torres said their toughness is having a positive effect in the other players.
“There’s more intensity and more toughness with guys like Treveon (Hopkins), Ashton, and Brady Stephenson),” Torres said.
“I’ve never really been 0-11. These kids aren’t trying to make mistakes, but they’re young. They know that. We always correct, but we always end with a positive. You’ve got to do this with them. You can’t lose confidence in them. One thing they have is a little swag to them. They need to tame that. They’ve got to be in control and their shot selection has got to get better. It’ll come when the game slows down for ‘em. We’re still small and young at the guard position and we don’t have a lot of resistance when we play defense. They’re getting too deep on us in the paint.”
Torres has been extremely proud of freshman point guard Jay Villalobos.
“He played 8th grade ball last year and now is playing against 5A competition,” Torres said. “That’s how thin we are at the guard position. But, our guards are getting better every day.
“Gotta give it to Jay. I’ve thrown that kid into a fire, and he hasn’t budged one time. He’s about 5-7 and quick as lightening. He’s our best 3-point shooter right now, too. It’s slowing down for him. It’s tough to play the point guard even when you’re a senior. He doesn’t shy down from anybody. That’s what I like about him. He’ll make a mistake and he’ll own up to it and go to the next play.”
Sophomore Elijah Santana (5-10) has started and with his ball-handling ability can play the 1, 2, or 3 positions, and Torres noted he can also guard multiple positions.
“(Santana) is defensive minded, gets 50-50 balls,” Torres said. “He’s just tough. He’s come a long way.”
Another sophomore, 5-9 Chris Martinez, has also started, as has 5-10 sophomore Dareon Loggins.
“These guys just put the time in over the summer.” Torres said. “These guys are very skilled. They’ve just gotta get stronger. That’s gonna come with age and lifting.
“Chris is a great leader for us. He’s just tough. He fits that Lockhart mold. He’s all ‘Yes sir, no sir.’ And that all starts at home with his family. He’s just solid.”
Loggins has led the Lions in. scoring much of the early season.
“He has that scorer’s mentality,” Torres said of Loggins. “He can get to the hole whenever he wants. He keeps his shoulders low.”
Hopkins and Dickens started on last season’s squad made it to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 1960-61 seasons. In all, there were six seniors on the LH squad a year ago.
Torres calls Dickens a special individual.
“Ashton will work his way back in,” Torres said. “He’s a special type of athlete. On top of that, he’s a good kid. Very coachable. Ashton is so talented he can play inside or guard a point guard if we want him to.
“Ashton is a 4, our decision maker. In our game, a 4 is just as important as a point guard. He takes the ball out and he’ll make decisions on a press to reverse it. That’s Ashton. Being a quarterback, he has that vision. We like to keep Ashton around the rim because he can hop. He’s 6-3 but plays like he’s 6-6.”
Hopkins will play a 3.
“He’s quick and can guard a guard,” Torres said. “He’s a spot shooter. He’s getting back in basketball shape. He’s finally getting his rhythm back. He’s a rhythm guy. He’s also very coachable.”
Stephenson, a 6-6 junior, learned valuable lessons last season going up against New in practice.
“One thing about Brady is he’s smart,” Torres said. “I’ve been so impressed with his foot work in the post area. Brady loves basketball. He’s very, very vocal. He’s talking on defense.
“Look at Ashton, Brady and Traveon; they’re good in the classroom, but off the court they act right. They just know how to be a varsity player. It takes maturity. These guys set a good tone and example for these young cats. You tell them to do one thing and they’ll do it to the best of their ability. There’s no ‘why?’ They just trust the system.”
Seniors Josh Ramos, Nate Key, and Blake Herzog have also joined the basketball team, as have juniors Trey Brown and Zakaya Gathings, after a great season on the football field.
Torres called Ramos and Gathings “raw athletes” and that both are able to hustle for 50-50 balls. “When I saw Zakaya guard Brady and Brady couldn’t move him I thought, this kid has a lot of resistance, which we need down low. Against Santa Fe, he was all over the floor. He has one speed, and it’s full speed. He has a motor on him and that motor is always good.”
Torres also said Brown brings a special toughness on defense.
“If these guys don’t play defense we’re not gonna win,” Torres said. “That is the most important session of our practice. It’s coached for about 40 minutes… transition defense, working on our screens. Just don’t let them score. We’ve got to own the paint.”
Torres is especially pleased with the work put in by his assistants, Levi Hays and Rudy Ortiz.
As for the district, Torres said it will be very tough with Rouse, Leander, Cedar Park and Liberty Hill in the top four.
“We’ve got to rebound,” Torres said. “If you limit them to one shot you’ve got a chance.”