SOPHOMORE GUARD SPARKS WARRIORS’ PLAY
|Rowe sophomore Derek Luna is among the RGV’s best. The combo guard has helped lead Rowe to 17-6 record and a five-game winning streak to begin District 30-6A play undefeated. Rowe faces Memorial on Friday. Photo by TJ Garcia.
BY TJ GARCIA
McALLEN – There’s no doubt that McAllen Rowe’s boys basketball program has been one of the RGV’s most consistent winners over the last decade. The Warriors have more than their share of tournament championships and playoff wins.
Four years ago, the Warriors assembled perhaps the most talented squad in school history. The 2013-14 team went 31-2 with the likes of Chris Gatling, Alan Martinez and Rudy Campos leading the way.
Every Rowe fan, including current Rowe guard Derek Luna, knows that team. The group is Rowe royalty. The sophomore Luna said he puts that team on a pedestal – but the competitor in him wishes he could roll out the ball and play a pick-up game against that group with his current teammates.
“When they had the full-senior squad with Chris, and Alan and Rudy, that lost in the second round of of playoffs (to Sharyland), I just look at that team and think how much better we can be,” Luna said of his 2017-18 version of the Warriors. “When I compare our team this year to their team, if we would have played against them, I think we could compete.”
That’s flat out confidence right there. But Luna’s not bragging.He believes in his coaches, his team and in himself. He’s big for a sophomore, plays point or shooting guard, has a quick first step and doesn’t get rattled.
Luna has been grooming to be play varsity basketball since he was in second grade. For years, he played youth club basketball with the STX Hoopsters. In middle school, he shot up and grew several inches.
By the time he enrolled at Rowe as a freshman in the fall of 2016, he was nearly six feet tall. Slowly things were coming together for Luna: fundamentals, experience, work ethic and an appreciation of the game, meanwhile, his confidence was really beginning to show.
And in the third game of his freshman season, Luna exploded onto the scene. His high-arching three-pointer from the right corner ripped through the net as the game-ending buzzer sounded handing the Warriors a 67-66 win over a highly touted Los Fresnos team.
He shot the ball with ice in his veins, and he did it with that Luna confidence. He went on to score 15 points per game last season on his way to winning the District 30-6A MVP award and helping lead Rowe to a 25-8 record. Luna had a lot of help. Last year’s Warriors’ squad was hardly a one-man show under coach Jose Luis Yebra.
But Luna established himself as a leader and go-to player even if he was just a freshman. What sets the 6-foot-1 combo guard apart is his work ethic and a knowledge of the game that belies his age. He wants to work to get better in-season and over the summer.
As soon as the school basketball season is over, he moves right into club ball. He likely plays over a hundred games in the “off season” and goes to as many practices and skills sessions with personal trainer Nathan Gonzalez, who’s based at Cavazos Sports Institute in McAllen.
“I just have to stay ready for whenever the season comes, and we just have to work every day in the off season. There’s no days off in the off season,” said Luna, who lifts weights, works on conditioning and basketball skills in the summer and played with the RGV Vipers’ U-17 team. “From that moment (vs. Los Fresnos), I just knew that all the hard work was paying off.”
This year Luna is averaging 22.5 points and 5.2 assists per per game as the team’s clear leader. But that doesn’t mean he’s not getting help. The Warriors call on sophomore Darrin Everage, a 6-foot-2 forward, experienced point guard Adrian Bernal and Warriors’ Coach Yebra’s son Luis Yebra, a 6-foot-2 freshman and other players – some of which can take over games on their own.
But with Luna playing all over the court – he has the range to drain threes, or he can post up smaller guards and pass out of doubles – and the Warriors playing solid defense, Rowe has gotten on hot streak. The Warriors (5-0, 17-8) have won seven games in a row.
Friday, they play in perhaps their biggest game so far this year. They travel to rival McAllen Memorial (4-1, 19-7), a dangerous opponent with excellent players.
A win over Memorial would solidify their claim to first place in District 30-6A with just five more games to play after that. The last game of the district season, appropriately, has Memorial visiting Rowe.
Luna said Rowe will have to work hard to be ready to get a victory over Memorial, or any other team they face in district. He said the Warriors will rely on Bernal’s leadership, Everage’s defense and playing team basketball to win the game.
They’ll also rely on Luna, who says he plays basketball to get better every day.
“I always feel like I have to do more (practice and workouts) just because of the way other teams play me,” said Luna. “I feel like I have to do more. I have to put in the work to be ready.”
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