MISSION — When head coach Jose Ramos took over the Mission Veterans boys basketball team two years ago, he had a vision of what he wanted the Patriots hoops program to look like.
Enter the 2019-2020 season and his vision is beginning to materialize.
The Patriots have started flying around the court, playing an up tempo, unselfish, in-your-face style of basketball which has translated to a 5-1 record in District 31-5A.
“It’s my second year and it’s been a vision of mine to build a type of program that Los Fresnos has, like San Perlita has, like Laredo Nixon has, and I think this is a good stepping stone for us,” Ramos said.
The last two times it has taken the court, Mission Veterans has put up numbers straight out of a video game, like NBA 2K20, scoring 95 points against Roma and 90 points against Rio Grande City, both Patriots victories. According to Ramos, those offensive outputs wouldn’t have been possible without commitment from his players on the defensive end of the floor.
“Last year, I didn’t have the depth in a team that I wanted to have to be able to push the ball, to be able to put pressure on the other team,” Ramos admitted. “It’s been a vision of mine, I did it as a JV coach when I was at McHi and I wanted to bring that over and these guys are buying into it. They like playing defense, they want to play that way.”
A season ago, the Patriots were centered around standout senior guard Noe Cantu, one of the RGV’s top scorers. With Cantu gone to graduation, Ramos has turned the Mission Veterans offense into a unit that can hurt teams from anywhere on the court at positions 1 through 5.
“I think seeing numbers like that on the scoreboard defines us as a whole team, not just as a couple players who can do a lot, but as all five players on the court becoming one,” Mission Veterans junior power forward AJ Gonzaque said. “That’s what Coach Ramos has us doing. As soon as offseason started, we all just wanted to leave a mark. With a great player like Noe Cantu leaving, a lot of people had doubts on us, but now, those doubts are changing. Right now we’re second in district at 5-1 and it’s pretty exciting.”
Gonzaque is one of three Patriots averaging double figures for Mission Veterans at 10.4 points per game. Senior Jacob Marquez averages 13.6, while junior big man Jacob Arenas chips in 13 per.
Marquez runs the show from his point guard position. After a year in the shadows last year playing next to Cantu, he’s blossomed into a court leader.
“His vision is coming true,” Marquez said about Ramos’ coaching philosophy. “He wants to change the game, make it more fast-paced for us and it’s been working. Outlet passes, score real quick, get back on ‘D,’ full-court press, and that’s what we’re about. He wants to change the game and make us one of the top schools in the district and one of the top schools in the Valley.”
Anchoring the Patriots down on the low block are Arenas and Gonzaque, who have earned the nickname “Twin Towers” around campus.
Arenas, a 6-foot-5-inch center who transferred from McAllen Memorial, and Gonzaque, a two-sport athlete who stars as a wide receiver for the Patriots, combine to bring down over 15 rebounds per game.
“We just try to play with energy and excitement. They want us to be pushing the ball and have fun while doing it,” Arenas said.
The two even have their own pregame handshake.
“They’re tough together. They both hustle, they both play hard, and neither one of them is a selfish player,” Ramos said. “They both like to feed each other, they just play well together. They have fun, they don’t care about points, they don’t care about stats, so it’s fun to watch them play like that.”
While the Patriots are playing like one of the RGV’s top units, they’re chasing more.
“We can’t be satisfied. Right now, with these games, they’re just crumbs. I think we need a whole plate, we want a buffet, we need to be hungry,” Gonzaque said. “We haven’t done anything yet. We’re second place, I want to be first. I want to be district champs. I want to go win a bi-district championship, an area championship and regional championship. It’s nice to be 5-1, but our goal isn’t to win a couple district games, our goal is to win playoff games and go on a run with coach Ramos.”
Mission Veterans is slated to cap off round one of District 31-5A action at 7:30 p.m. when the Patriots face PSJA Southwest at Southwest High School.