MISSION — Since opening its doors six years ago, Rene Gonzalez has been the only head coach the Sharyland Pioneer boys basketball program has ever known.
Roaming the sidelines with an intense demeanor, Gonzalez is strict and demands discipline from his players. It’s part of the reason why the Diamondbacks have qualified for the playoffs in four of the school’s first six seasons.
But the 2019-20 Diamondbacks weren’t just searching for a playoff berth, or simply competing for a district title.
Pioneer was playing for perfection in District 31-5A, and in pursuit of a playoff run never seen before by the Diamondbacks.
When it was all said and done, Gonzalez and his group of Diamondbacks accomplished both of those feats by winning a second straight District 31-5A championship with a 14-0 record, and reaching the UIL Class 5A-Region IV tournament in San Antonio. After compiling a 28-7 overall mark and reaching the fourth round of the playoffs, Gonzalez is The Monitor’s 2019-20 All-Area Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
While strictly business on the basketball court, Gonzalez had fun with this year’s group. He said coaching the team was like having 15 sons.
“They made my coaches and I act like kids,” Gonzalez said with a laugh. “You have to let them be kids. You’re looking at 15-18 year olds, you have to let them be who they want to be. I listen to their type of music, I dance with them, did a lot of different things with them. It was a lot of fun.
“They have to know the other side of their coaches because when they see the coaches, the first thing they think of is strict and discipline. That’s one thing we stress about, but on the other side, they wanted to hear a certain type of music, I’d put that type of music on. High school kids, they keep you young. They’re going to joke around, but they know that on the court, it’s business.”
And the Diamondbacks were all about it in practice and on game days. With everybody aiming to take Pioneer down off of their perch atop District 31-5A as defending district champions, they had to be ready each and every night.
“Every day in practice, we would not let down at all. Our practices were high-energy, intense, we scrimmaged every single day against each other. We were ready to go,” Gonzalez said. “I told them at the beginning of the season, ‘You’re going to have a target on your back. The way you practice is the way you play. If you practice lazy, you’re going to play lazy.’ So everything started in practice for us.”
Those competitive practices and scrimmages against each other paid off when it mattered most for Pioneer. The Diamondbacks were victorious in all 14 of their District 31-5A games by 10 or more points. In the playoffs, they won by 28 in round one against Mercedes, by 31 in round two against Corpus Christi Miller, and by 13 in round three against Corpus Christi Veterans.
Each time the Diamondbacks took the floor, it was like watching poetry in motion. It wasn’t chemistry class but it was always there. No look passes for alley-oops, fast breaks without the ball touching the floor, defensive help arriving at just the right moment, the Diamondbacks did it all together, as a team.
Whether it was four-year lettermen like Lavar Lindo and Luke Padilla, senior Derek Luna who transferred into Pioneer at the beginning of the year, or underclassmen in their first year of varsity ball, Gonzalez was able to get each player to buy in.
While he’s the one who earned the title of Coach of the Year, Gonzalez says none of the success would be possible without his assistant coaches, who from the varsity to freshman level, have helped turn the Sharyland Pioneer basketball program into a well-oiled machine.
“My four coaches, Fernando Rodriguez, Jr., Alexis Peña, Bobby Olvera and Jordan Lee, bar none, the best coaches that I could ask for. I love them with all of my heart,” Gonzalez said. “They go to work. They’re great individuals that are committed to the program. Without them, our program would not work. They have all stepped up to the plate more than I could ask for. I am blessed.”
From players 1-15 on Pioneer’s roster to team managers and coaching staff, Gonzalez will forever cherish the memories built with the 2019-20 Diamondbacks.
“They mean a lot. They’re special to me. Every player that’s been through my program and ex-players, they’re all special, but this group is a special group,” he said. “Some of these kids have been starting since their freshman or sophomore year, and they built it up. One of the things we wanted to do here at Pioneer was build the program up, and they’ve done a fantastic job.”