EDINBURG —Hidalgo’s season hung in the balance during the team’s first district game, against Rio Hondo on Dec. 19.
Junior shooting guard Andy Flores suffered a season-ending knee injury, meaning the Pirates had lost a 20-points-per-game starter for the remainder of the district year.
Sophomore Gus Sanchez made his first start the next game, and Hidalgo never missed a beat.
The Pirates (25-11, 13-1) played near perfect for the entire district season and earned a district title. Hidalgo’s season came to a close in the bi-district round against Rockport-Fulton with a heartbreaking 44-41 loss.
Sanchez scored 13 points with 5.1 assists and 3.9 steals per game on the way to earning the District 32-4A MVP award.
For his play on the court and his effort to keep Hidalgo on track despite a devastating injury, Gus Sanchez is The Monitor’s 2018 All-Area Newcomer of the Year.
“It means a lot to me,” Sanchez said. “I developed a lot as a player this year. It means a lot, because most of my cousins are well known (in Hidalgo). My dad has a reputation for basketball, so it is good to honor that No. 20.”
Gus, short for Gustavo, is coached by his father, who also goes by Gus although his birth name is Guadalupe. The elder Sanchez said the decision on when to start his son was tough.
“I didn’t want to push the process,” he said. “But, being around me for the longest time, sometimes you kind of step back and look at what he did. I am just proud of what he has done so far. Now, it’s his time. It’s not only this year, but the next two years, is his time to take our team to the next level.”
Most of Gus’ relatives have worn the No. 20 jersey, including his father, his aunt, and his cousins Frankie Sanchez and Savannah Sanchez. This season was Gus’ first year wearing 20.
Gus stands just 5-foot-7, but he uses his size to his advantage.
He slips between defenders in the lane, and he is a magician when it comes to taking the ball from his opponents.
“I have always had a knack for the ball,” he said. “I have always liked defense. So I am always jumping those lanes, taking that extra risk. I know coach gets mad at me all the time for jumping some balls that are iffy, but I love taking that 50-50 chance of getting the ball.”
Gus said his love for defense developed from the chip on his shoulder as a result of being one of the smaller players on the court.
“I always have to play at a higher level, because you are always overlooked,” he said. “They say, ‘That guy is too small to be playing basketball.’ So, you always have to play harder. You always have to have more intensity, and you always have to be great at defense.”
Senior point guard Aaron Anaya helped Gus along this year. Gus knows he will be playing point guard next year, so he soaked up Anaya’s advice like a sponge.
“He has taught me how to distribute,” Sanchez said. “He was very good at moving the ball around. He was an all-around leader. He had a great voice. You knew his presence was there when he was on the court.”
Sanchez said he can’t wait for next year.
“We have a lot of the team coming back,” he said. “We lost two big starters, but we have Andy Flores coming back — 20 points. So, we are excited for this year, and we have a lot of experience now, so I think we will have a good year this year.”