By Dave Wagner
CLOVIS — Clovis High boys basketball coach J.D. Isler knows his team has a lot of holes to fill going into next season, but he’s encouraged by the Wildcats’ progress during the summer.
The Class 5A Cats hosted Portales and Roswell High in a double-round-robin “shootout” on Saturday at Rock Staubus Gym, winning three games before losing to the feisty Class 3A Rams 33-27 in the day’s finale. Games were played with eight-minute quarters and a running clock.
Isler, who sponsored a four-week summer league from mid-May through early June and has had his team busy in the interim, said the pieces are starting to fall into place as the summer season winds down.
“Everybody’s getting comfortable in their roles,” said Isler, whose team went 22-6 in 2004-05 but returns only two players who saw much playing time. “Throughout summer league, we just got better and better.”
Senior forward Jon Sweet said he’s noticed improvement as well, even though it’s hard to get everybody together on a regular basis.
“At the beginning of the summer we had a lot of individual play, but we’ve all come together and found our roles,” he said. “Once we get our whole team here, I think we’ll be all right.”
Despite the absence for much of the summer of big men Devin Sweet and Chris Finch, Isler thinks his team has improved its work on the boards.
“I feel a lot better about our rebounding than I did at the start of the summer,” he said. “And I’m extremely pleased with how unselfish our team plays. I think we’re going to be a fun team to watch.”
Still, the Cats are going through some growing pains.
They were held scoreless for the entire third quarter in Saturday’s finale against Portales, and the Rams broke away from a halftime tie to open a 10-point lead.
“They’re a good team,” Rams senior guard Josh Gonzales said. “But we came out and showed them today it’s going to be hard to stop us.”
Portales coach Mark Gallegos, whose team is also in a rebuilding mode after finishing second in the 3A state tournament in March, doesn’t mind having his team play “up” and take on larger schools.
“We’re just trying to find a combination of kids that’s going to be able to play in certain situations,” he said. “I liked our effort today. I thought we played pretty hard.”
Both Roswell, a Class 4A school, and Portales were coming off the four-day Eastern New Mexico University camp earlier in the week. The Coyotes went 14-2, coach Britt Cooper said, while the Rams posted a 12-4 mark.
Cooper said his team was feeling the fatigue, and had only seven players available for Saturday’s scrimmages. The Coyotes also had to deal with an early-morning bus trip from Roswell.
“We just want to get some experience and get better,” Cooper said. “I thought we played better this afternoon.”
The three teams certainly see a lot of each other — they will be at Roswell High’s summer shootout on Friday, and each team meets the other two at least once during the regular season.
“I think we’ve played like 100 games this summer,” said Gonzales, who like Sweet saw most of his action on the junior varsity level last season. “I’m just trying to get better and do my role for the team.”