The Monitor and RGVSports.com are bringing back our ‘Where Are They Now?’ series, which revisits some of the top high school athletes in a variety of sports from throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
Isaiah Garcia, a UTRGV freshman, was one of the top high school hoops players in the Valley as recently as last year at Weslaco High before taking his talents to Edinburg.
He starred as an elite guard for the playoff-bound Panthers for three seasons. But Garcia, the son of a coach, got an untraditionally late start to his playing career.
“I didn’t start playing basketball until seventh grade. My parents got divorced and I went to live with my dad, and he told me I had to pick a sport. He wanted me to dedicate my time to something,” Garcia said. “Monday through Thursday from 6 to 8 (p.m.), we’d have small workouts. That’s how it started.”
Garcia continued to play basketball throughout middle school before earning a rotation spot as a guard on the Weslaco High freshman squad. He quickly found his groove and earned a call up to the varsity squad as a sophomore when he helped the Panthers on their run to the regional tournament.
“I played half the season with them and that year, we went to the Sweet 16, but the workouts only increased. Since my dad used to be a coach, he knew the work and effort it takes to be successful,” he said. “I have every film from Little League and middle school until the end of high school, every film. My dad would record every game and every time I was in, he would fast forward and tell me, ‘You need to be here, you need to go here and this is how you need to move on the court.’ He would teach me ways to beat a defensive zone or if they were pressing what guy was going to be open and different things to beat other coaches.”
That home training proved invaluable for Garcia, who helped the Panthers tally a 75-24 record during his three seasons on the varsity squad and earned a District 31-6A First Team All-District nod as a senior. But in addition to overcoming his late introduction to the game, the Weslaco product had to scrap for college opportunities in lieu of the prep basketball world.
“I didn’t have any scholarships or anything because I didn’t go to any camps in the summer because I didn’t have the funds, so I worked out from home,” Garcia said. “One of my friends has a full court and he lets me go workout over there. I’ve been doing that forever.”
Without any official offers, Garcia enrolled at UTRGV as a student with no immediate plans to continue his playing career.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to walk on yet or not because college is so different and it’s DI, so you don’t know how things are going to be,” he said. “I wasn’t going to try out for the team. Then something, I don’t know what, just told me to do it. I worked out the whole summer like I was actually going to try out just to put myself in position just in case.”
Garcia fought his way onto the Vaqueros’ roster as a freshman walk-on and quickly developed a reputation as a knockdown 3-point specialist and hometown favorite. The freshman appeared in seven games for UTRGV and shot 50% from the field before the team’s season was cut short on the eve of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“Honestly it was just shocking. We really didn’t know what was going to happen at all,” he said. “I feel we could have definitely made a run going into March Madness because Lesley Varner and Javon Levi were just playing on another level and defensively, the whole team just really locked in.”
Now with his basketball and school routines suspended for the time being, Garcia is falling back on old habits by training at home and preparing for his next opportunity, just in case.
“I’ve been shooting to stay loose and get some sweat,” he said. “Then I have a weight set at home, so I can just do my own workouts like I’m still trying out for the team.”