Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Changing Perceptions and Inspiring At The Same Time

Texas Hoops message board used to have passionate threads about girls basketball years ago. I recalled reading a thread about the emergence of San Antonio basketball around the time that Meighan Simmons was making the state and the nation pay attention to the Alamo City. Being a new comer to the city at that time, anything written about girls basketball in the city caught my attention. This particular discussion talked about how San Antonio was garnering respect but still lagged far behind Dallas and Houston. Then, someone chimed in on a so-called fact, knowing the anonymous nature of message boards  allows posters to not worry about being politically correct. The message board poster stated " San Antonio does not have the population to produce a large number of college prospects due to the majority of the city being Hispanic." Ouch! Being a club coach with a good number of Hispanic players, that stung. Why? Was it the truth, and as the saying goes, does the truth hurt?

I started taking inventory of the Hispanic D1 basketball players in the city at that time and came up with one, Christina Flores. The 6'4 post for Churchill went on to a very accomplished career at the University of Missouri. However I could not find any guards that had went on to the D1 ranks in recent history(at that time) on full scholarship. It's tough to touch a touchy topic without going too in-depth about race, social norms, stereo types and things that I am not smart enough to fully comprehend.  But, the insinuations were obvious, the Hispanic population of female basketball players were short and not considered terrific  athletes. These two things supposedly prohibited them from excelling in women's basketball.

It is a good thing Mikki Flores and Amber Vidal didn't buy into those negative  perceptions. This blog has been months in the works, since Flores committed to Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Vidal committed to the University of Nebraska- Omaha over the summer. Both of these vertically challenged lead guards not only beat the odds of making it to the D1 ranks(some say around 1%) but overcame the odds of making it to that level being shorter than  5'6.  A quick look into the rosters of Conference USA and Southland Conference shows an unofficial count of eight Latina players out of a possible two hundred fifty-five. Of the eight, three of the players are 5'8 or shorter ; Jazz Oconas, Janelle Perez, and Joanee Lira.

Amber Vidal and Mikki Flores are role models. Hyperbole? Maybe, maybe not. What is a role model? What's the definition of a trail blazer? If a person inspires another to do good, especially a kid(s), are they worthy of these lofty titles? However you define it, Flores and Vidal are giving up close examples of success to so many young Latinas in a city full of Latina basketball players.

Watching Flores shoot bomb after bomb from 25 feet, while leading  a team with composure and discipline was impressive. As an evaluator, I wondered if Flores had learned to play under more control? Could she stop penetrating with such fearlessness that exposed her body to unnecessary contact. She not only played under control but also with a headiness that signaled her growth as an elite floor general in the city.  She hit numerous runners and floaters in traffic at crucial times in the game. She was already good but has gotten much better. She showed that she is better that I "ranked" her in the city for 2015 players. Her understanding of the game has grown, calling out loudly "America" to her teammates as the opposition tried to run the much used "Americas Play". She is fortunate to play for a coach, like his predecessor, that runs his entire offense through her abilities. Some may say that she should shine with that type of offensive leeway from a coach, to which I say, heavy is the head that wears the crown. It is easy for detractors to claim they want the rock in their hands all the time but those lights get very hot when they are shining on you! Flores shined bright last night versus what many consider a Top 10 team in the city.

Vidal was just as impressive. My initial mention of her on this blog when she was a freshman spoke of her being a "Baller". She is more than that now. Facing a BCS defender last night, Vidal got what she wanted, when she wanted it. Catch and Shoot 3Ball, no problem! Mid-Range 1-2 Pull Up, splash! Attack combos to the rack, And 1!  Vidal gave a quietly loud 24 points to Johnson while still getting her teammates involved. Seemingly always making the right plays. When Johnson tied the game late she punished their 3 consecutive turnovers with buckets and assists like a seasoned high school D1 bound lead guard should. Vidal will never be a rah rah player but showed that she is now more vocal as a leader. She has learned to use her HS system to accentuate her strengths and make her teammates better.

Visit Factory of Champions, George Gervin Center or Mission Conception on any given weekend and you will see a large number of Hispanic ballers, male and female. I presume this has been the case long before I got here. What has changed is that the grassroots basketball community are sowing seeds in fertile ground now, having numerous current examples of growth to show the youngsters. For every Erica Hernandez, Destiny Amezquita, and Michelle Rodriguez that goes on to play big time college basketball, the next Amber Ramirez does not have to face the same type of stereotypes. Whenever Mikki Flores and her SYE team played at the 2014 SB Extravaganza,  the crowd filled with young Latinas from the SA Fusion basketball team loudly cheering on her every move. Their coach Mike Navarro can point to her and say, "if Mikki can do it, so can you".  When Amber Vidal has multiple D1 intuitions hoping that she changes her mind and joins them, local freshmen named Cuellar, Tamez, Ramos, Vera,  etc.  have a tangible example that passionate perseverance is more powerful than people's negative perceptions. These young women may not be defined as such but they sound like role models to me.