EDINBURG — The school day started just like any other for Ray De Leon, but this one felt different.
De Leon journeyed from class to class throughout the day at Edinburg Economedes High School, and once the final bell sounded, it was time — the first varsity ball game of the sophomore’s hoops career.
Nerves came and went, but when it came time to step onto the court, it was pure focus. He was locked in and ready.
“I was kind of nervous going through the day. I had classes and stuff and it was on my mind. When it came down to getting dressed in the locker room, I was just focused, I was ready. I was just telling myself I was ready, I have to play great,” he said.
After being held to 1 point during the opening quarter, De Leon flipped a switch. The sophomore went on to make his presence known over the final three quarters as he finished with a game-high 21 points in his varsity debut.
“It was kind of scary at first because everybody was really fast,” he said. “I got mad because I had a bad start, then I started telling myself my shots were going to fall, I can’t be nervous. I just have to play my game, and it turned out pretty good.”
So did his season. De Leon put together a sensational sophomore campaign by averaging 14.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 3.1 steals and 2.9 blocks, leading to his bid to become The Monitor’s 2019-20 All-Area Boys Basketball Newcomer of the Year.
While a newcomer to the varsity level, playing against older, tougher competition was nothing new for the sophomore. De Leon grew up with two older brothers, Robby and Roel, who never let up when playing against their younger brother.
“It was tough because they never took it easy on me. They made me who I am today. They never gave me any chances, I always had to play hard,” De Leon said.
The competitive nature and hard-nosed style of De Leon was clear to see from his first game of the season to his last. But, most importantly, he never stopped growing his game. Whether it was fighting through contact to finish strong at the basket, or making a momentum-swinging play on the defensive end with a devastating block or theft, De Leon did it all for the Jaguars.
“Midway through the season, I figured out what I was best at and what I could get better at. I started working at it and it really opened my game up and helped me become a better player,” he said. “I learned to respect everybody but fear nobody.”
The sophomore’s play matched his words: fear no one. De Leon scored 20 or more points six different times with a 53% shooting clip. He also finished ranked 10th in the Rio Grande Valley in assists, eighth in steals and second in blocks.
Just a couple games into the season, opposing coaches were already building their game plans around stopping the Edinburg Economedes sophomore. That mattered none to De Leon, however. When faced with double teams and box-and-one defensive schemes, he simply reacted accordingly and made the right plays, finding open teammates, scoring when he could. But his impact was consistently felt on both ends of the floor.
De Leon is determined to build on his accomplishments over the next two seasons and lead the Jaguars to a district championship.
“It means a lot to win this award. This is what I was going for, but obviously next year, I want to be way better than I was this year,” he said. “I’m working for next year so I can win more awards, so we can win more games, and win that district title.”