RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – Can the Cleveland basketball team weather the storm of losing its top players from the 2020-2021 season? As the Rio Rancho athletic powerhouse tries to carry the momentum of the football championship into basketball season and repeat as state champion, the Storm is looking for new players to provide a spark.
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It’s a reality that every school must face — players graduate. It’s not a new concept, but Cleveland head coach, Sean Jimenez, knows the challenge this year’s squad faces following a state championship last season. During the 2020-2021 season, the Storm had three players average over ten points — all of them graduated. Cleveland also lost its top two rebounders and top three players in assists. Those key seniors from last season — Clayton Watson III, Evan Gonzales, and Nate Hasberry — were also major contributors as juniors, combining for over 60% of the team’s total points. As for last year’s juniors, Antonio Avila, Diego Sharp, and Cole Savage averaged 6.5, 6.1, and 4.3 points per game respectively.
Coach Jimenez is expecting major contributions from some of the younger guys on his squad. He actually believes that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the underclassmen are ready to play at the varsity level sooner than they normally would have. “Fortunately for us, we had 14 guys on varsity last year because of COVID, so I didn’t want to put them on J.V. to float them back and forth,” said Jimenez. “So these guys that are going to be playing played against [varsity level players] every single day. They know what it’s like to play against tough competition which is good for us.”
Two sophomores, in particular, are expected to play a major part in the Storm’s 2022 campaign. Daniel Steverson is expected to be the starting point guard for Cleveland, which coach Jimenez describes as the most important position on the court. Fellow sophomore and safety on the football team, Elijah Brody, is also due to have a larger role on the hardwood. Brody started the first four games for the Storm last season. “Those two are sophomores that are going to be really tough,” said Jimenez. “If they get it together on the defensive end and they grind things out, man those two are going to be something to watch.”
As for goals this season, Jimenez says nothing changes. In the short life of Cleveland athletics, the school has won multiple state championships across various sports, and hoisting a blue trophy at the end of a season is an expectation for the Storm. The 2020-2021 season was the first time the boy’s basketball team has accomplished that feat, and Jimenez says the team is not trying to defend the title, but rather go win another one.