McALLEN — The Rio Grande Valley is set to welcome its newest hometown team this fall, the Valley Horned Frogs.

The semi-professional men’s basketball squad enters its inaugural season aiming to provide visibility and opportunities for RGV hoops stars recently of high school and college trying to land professional contracts both at home and abroad.

“We’re bringing this organization from the ground up and we’re excited to be bringing to the Valley opportunities for men’s basketball players who have either finished high school and didn’t get offers to continue their career or college players that finished, came back home and still feel like they have gas in the tank and want to continue to compete and go higher with their careers,” Valley Horned Frogs head coach Ashleigh Lopez said. “We’re looking to get our men overseas contracts, professional contracts, FIBA contracts, anything to get them to continue to progress their game and get further noticed and recognized.”

“I think the biggest thing is that this opportunity is going to give guys the chance to be surrounded by men who have the same goal. Most of these men, I think, are going to be doing this so they can put food on the table for their families at home and help pay the bills. The younger guys are going to have older guys to look up to and they’ll have guidance, especially guys from the Valley,” she added.

Lopez, an RGV product and basketball lifer who was recently hired as the Valley Horned Frogs’ first head coach, knows firsthand the depth of college and high school basketball talent spread across the Rio Grande Valley after playing, coaching and officiating high school basketball in the RGV for years.

“It’s bringing a lot of diversity down here where these young guys will get a chance to experience playing with men who have already been through it, so I think the unity it’s going to show, getting to learn from each other and getting to do something that has never been done in the Valley before is going to show a lot of pride (in our community) and teach these guys everything they need to know,” she said. “Where we’re coming from is unique also. Not many people believe in the Valley, believe in Valley talent. A lot of people think once you’re done with high school, that’s as far as a Valley kid can go.”

The Horned Frogs, who are based in McAllen and will compete in the Evolution Basketball Association’s (EBA) South Division for their inaugural season, will hold open tryouts in the near future where some of the top young basketball players from across the RGV, as well as Austin, Laredo, San Antonio and other urban hubs across the Lone Star State.

The organization wanted to give a platform for these players to showcase and highlight the RGV’s thriving basketball scene by putting it on the map, so it picked a mascot that would double as quintessentially Texas and uniquely representative of the Rio Grande Valley.

Texas horned lizards (their scientific name) are a threatened species native to the American Southwest and Northern Mexico that thrive in the Rio Grande Valley. One of the region’s most resilient creatures, Texas horned lizards can shoot blood from their eyeballs to escape from predators when threatened and survive in some of the aridest, most difficult environments.

“(The decision) was basically based on it being a Texas reptile. I have had a lot of family members personally when I’m telling them about this and what we are, they jokingly say like, ‘Oh, you mean the TCU Horned Frogs?’ I’m glad they have something they could relate it to versus if we were just the Rattlers or something like that. For this to be a professional organization, we needed something higher up there that more people could relate to,” Lopez said.

“Unique is definitely the route that we were looking for because down here in the Valley, there’s all kinds of reptiles as mascots and ways people know of schools, so keeping it in the family to make it Valley-oriented but something that relates to (people) across the state of Texas, which essentially relates us to Texas in general.”

As is the case in every corner of the sports world, however, the Valley Horned Frogs have also faced some challenging hurdles to clear in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the Horned Frogs know their 55-65 game season will tip off in early November and run through August 2021, the organization is still looking to find the right time and location to host tryouts, while simultaneously scouting out options for a home gym to play in this season.

But despite those lingering questions, Lopez and the Valley Horned Frogs have already established a digital footprint that’s helping them connect with the local community and build their brand as the Valley’s semi-pro basketball team.

“The Valley is huge when it comes to basketball, so when anything basketball pops up on social media it blows up, especially levels of basketball where we know there’s potential down here,” she said. “I think social media is going to continue to be a big thing for us, especially because we are potentially going to have our games live-streamed so a lot of our stuff is going to be through video, online, social media and streaming.”


Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch