Atomic City Update: Plenty of blame to go around for disappointing basketball season at LAHS

-A A +A
By Phil Scherer

The end of any season is tough for players, fans and coaches. But the end of this basketball season is tougher than usual for everyone surrounding the Los Alamos High School basketball program.

Combined, the boys’ and girls’ teams went 1-15 in District 2-5A play, with the only win coming in the girls’ final home game of the season against Capital High School.

The frustrating thing is, with the talent on these rosters, there was no reason for the Hilltoppers to struggle as much as they did.

The boys had six seniors that played big roles this season. As a basketball team, you can’t ask for any more experience than that. And these weren’t just average seniors, for the most part.

Antonio Trujillo proved to be one of the most creative ball-handlers in the state, with the ability to make a highlight-reel worthy play every time he has the ball in his hands.

Ramon Roybal is among the most deadly 3-point shooters, with seemingly limitless range, as he proved with a nearly half-court buzzer beater in the district tournament.

The inside presences of Troy Hammock, Ivan Balakirev and Michael Naranjo proved capable of matching up with anyone, and Naranjo’s ability to drive toward the basket was an impressive sight to see on a nightly basis.

Despite the wealth of talent, it just never clicked. Honestly, it was shocking. When the team stepped on the floor every night, the collection of talent seemed capable of taking down any team in the state.

And early in the season, you could see the potential.

It was especially obvious in key non-district wins over St. Pius, St. Michael’s, Taos, Farmington and Artesia.

When the Hilltoppers got on a real roll offensively, they were tough to beat.

Unfortunately, that killer instinct seemed to disappear the second district play started, and never returned. The team routinely dug big holes for itself, rushed shots, struggled against pressure and failed to hold onto the ball well enough to win.

And though some of the blame for that lies with the coaching staff, ultimately it is the kids’ job to execute. The coach doesn’t tell the players to make no-look passes, dribble into the corners or take contested 3-pointers. He can put his most talented group of players on the floor, and sometimes it just doesn’t work.

The group didn’t gel, and there is plenty of blame to go around.

It’s a little more complicated with the girls’ team.

Sure, there was a lot of talent on this year’s team, but they were extremely young.

Many of the team’s top contributors were only freshmen and sophomores, including Jenna Harris, Becca Green, Natalie Gallegos, Jenee Montoya and Hannah Sanchez.

Another rebuilding year was expected, but so was progress. And while there were flashes of excitement, progress was hard to find.

On paper, the obvious strength of the team was its size under the basket. Green and Gallegos both stood above anyone they faced throughout the season, yet an inability to post up and score neutralized any advantage the Hilltoppers had.

That, combined with a lack of effective offensive setup and leadership, led to long scoring droughts.

Nobody expected things to be smooth for the girls. A big learning curve was expected, especially for a team with only three seniors, none of which were being counted on to score.

However, I couldn’t tell a noticeable difference, or improvement, from the beginning of the season to now. And that’s a serious problem, one that must be fixed before next basketball season.

Everyone on the team will be a year older, and will have that much more experience at the varsity level.

Next year, 6-21 will not be an acceptable record.

For everyone on both rosters that is graduating, this is a tough way to go out. For the boys, this was supposed to be the year they made an impact on the state level.

Instead, it will always be a question of what could have, and should have, been. For the girls, similar frustration surely exists. Many of them were so optimistic that this year would be different.

Instead, it was more of the same.