Rio Grande City’s Nunez earns Defensive Player of the Year honors

EDINBURG — Rio Grande City senior Rodrigo Nunez had to wait a long time to finally make the playoffs.

He played on the varsity team as a freshman, and for his first three years, the playoffs were never in the cards for the Rattlers.

During his senior year, RGC finally hit the that next level and earned a playoff berth.

Nunez responded with two outstanding games, fighting to keep his team alive.

“It was definitely a new gear,” Nunez said. “I had to come out and play as hard as I could. Try my best. Help my teammates out. Help them get a better shot. Help them with drives, screens. I helped them out a lot.”

For Nunez’s senior year on the court, and his efforts in the postseason, he is The Monitor’s 2018 All-Area Defensive Player of the Year.

Nunez made several standout blocks in the playoffs. He even had a dunk or two that sent the crowd into a tizzy. But what really defined him as a defensive weapon was his rim protection.

“That is just what I do,” Nunez said. “It’s a natural instinct to protect the rim. I have been playing that role since middle school, and I guess I just mastered protecting my rim.”

When opponents drove and tried to finish in the lane, Nunez was always there to alter the shot. He played almost every minute of most games for the Rattlers, and yet his defense rarely fell off.

“At the end of the season, I wasn’t that tired,” Nunez said. “I was tired at the beginning of the season, when I had to get back into basketball season mode, playing a lot of minutes.”

Nunez works just as hard on basketball during the offseason as he does during the season. In the summer, he works with the Vipers Jr. Academy.

“I get a lot better playing against better teams, better players at my position,” Nunez said. “Sometimes, I even guard players that are faster than me, or players stronger than me. It helps me a lot. I get better every time I go against them.”

That was never more evident than when the Rattlers faced San Antonio Harlandale in the area round of the playoffs.

Harlandale boasts a 6-foot-3 center, Bryce Carter. Carter is very athletic and quick, but his post moves are still raw. Nunez held Carter in check during the game, getting the better of the matchup. The Rattlers led for a decent amount of the night, but Harlandale pulled away in the end for the 62-50 win.

“We were all bummed out. We didn’t want to see our season end like that,” Nunez said. “We weren’t expecting that game to go the way it did in the last few minutes.”

Nunez is poised to play at the next level, but he’s not sure where yet. As he prepares for the next chapter, he looked back on what got him into basketball.

Nunez said he started late. He didn’t even know he would play basketball as a child.

“My friend, his name is Richard, he was like, ‘Hey, my brother is making a city team. You want to go play?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ I wasn’t as good then. I couldn’t finish my layups or shoot, but if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here.”

Nunez and Richard played together through eighth grade. Entering Nunez’s ninth-grade year, he was already taller than 6-foot-3, so he was sent right to the varsity squad. Richard, meanwhile, stayed on the freshman team, and the two never got to play together for their school again.

“Unfortunately, he stopped playing,” Nunez said. “He started getting into track and football.”

Still, Nunez shows immense gratitude toward the friend who pushed him into the game that changed his life forever.

“I started to play more because of him. He encouraged me a lot to play,” Nunez said. “I started loving it. Making new friendships and bonds with the players. I really liked it. I’ve had a lot of good experiences through this game. Basketball has motivated me a lot. Coaches, players, family — they told me never to give up. They gave me wisdom: ‘Keep working hard. You will get there.’ Put your heart and mind into it.’”