McALLEN — While dunks, flashy layups, and 3-point bombs routinely fill the highlight reels, defense is what changes games.
“We always have defense on our mind,” McAllen Rowe junior forward Louie Yebra said. “We all know we can score and what we can do on offense, so we try to prioritize defense. The coaching staff just put it into our minds that if we’re going to win games, we have to play defense, we have to hustle, and we have to work hard.”
Rowe has had that winning recipe for the past four years as the Warriors captured their fourth straight District 30-6A championship during the 2019-20 season.
For Rowe senior Darrin Everage Jr., he finished his high school career with four district titles. He credits what the Warriors have been able to do on the defensive end of the floor for the program’s winning ways.
“For us to be able to be a powerhouse like we were the past four years, we really honed in on our defensive skills, not just as individuals, but as a team. That’s something we work on a lot at practice and it just reflects on the court,” Everage said.
Their journey as teammates began in the sixth grade while playing for the same traveling squad, their mindset, lockdown play, and Rowe’s success spearheaded by Everage and Yebra is why the pair of Warriors are The Monitor’s 2019-20 All-Area Boys Basketball Defensive Players of the Year.
“We’ve become brothers. We’ve grown up together, we’ve seen each other’s game grow, and for both of us to have this award and share it, it’s surreal because we’ve worked hard together and on this team, and before on travel teams,” Everage said. “We’ve been able to see each other come together as complete players, so to be recognized for that, it’s a great honor.”
From wreaking havoc in passing lanes to erasing opponents’ shots out of the air, Everage and Yebra did it on a nightly basis. With the ability to guard positions one through five, they each took turns guarding the opposing teams’ top scoring threats.
The 6-feet-3 Everage, who was also the 2018-19 Defensive Player of the Year, ranked second in the Rio Grande Valley in steals with an average of 4.2 thefts per game, and top 10 in blocks at 1.7. He also posted an offensive stat line of 14.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
Yebra, who stands at 6-feet-5-inches, led the RGV in blocks at 4 per game, and ranked sixth in steals with 3.5. Offensively, Yebra averaged 18.3 points (fifth in RGV), 8.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
They both ranked in the top 10 in rebounding, and produced close to 13 blocks and steals combined per game.
The Warriors finished the year with a 29-8 overall record, and won the 30-6A crown with a 13-1 record. In 12 of their 14 district games, Rowe held its opponent to fewer than 50 points.
What sparked the Warriors championship run was an early district loss to PSJA North at home. It was Rowe’s first district loss since the 2016-17 campaign. But, with a chance to avenge the loss, the Warriors made the most of their opportunity by defeating PSJA North on the Raiders home court the second time, 64-49.
“For us, that loss made us flip the switch and made us realize that we needed to step things up defensively and that’s how we finished it off, with a 12-0 run in district,” Everage said.
The Warriors then went on to hold their first two playoff opponents to under 50 points with wins over Laredo United South and Weslaco High at Bert Ogden Arena.
For the past three years, Everage and Yebra have combined to be one of the RGV’s top defensive duos. But how would they guard each other on the court if given the task?
“At open gym last year, we would get gritty. Darrin is a really, really hard person to guard, especially when he gets going downhill, he’s hard to stop,” Yebra said. “The way I would play defense is just trying to pick at the ball. He uses his body a lot, so I have to use my long arms to hit the ball out before he picks it up for a layup to try and block his shot. It’s just really hard when he’s driving to stay in front and play defense because you’re going to bounce off him if you’re not playing defense right.”
“Louie’s a tough guard, you can ask anyone in the Valley, anyone in the state,” Everage said. “There are a few things I could do to get under his skin, but honestly, he’s a tough guard and the only thing you can do is get a hand in his face and hope he misses.”
While their days as teammates are over with Everage set for graduation and Yebra getting ready for his senior season, the two built an unbreakable bond.
“It was a great three years, we were always so close, so it’s a great thing to end on a good note,” Yebra said. “Me and Darrin have never been the jealous type, so it’s great that we both get to share this accomplishment and share this moment.”