McALLEN — While PSJA North was in the playoff chase midway through its District 31-6A schedule, senior point guard Elijah De La Garza suffered a broken right thumb during practice.
In an instant, the Raiders lost their team captain, 26.2 points per game and four years of starting experience from their lineup possibly for the season, after a doctor examined his X-rays.
“I was just really down, wondering if there was anything I could do to play. The doctor told me to come back in two weeks and we’ll see how it’s healing,” De La Garza said. “I thought my senior year was over, but at the same time I had hope I would be able to play again.”
Luckily for the lefty, the injury was to his non-shooting hand and he was finally cleared to play with a cast.
De La Garza, The Monitor’s 2020-21 All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year, made his return in spectacular fashion with back-to-back 30-point performances in must-win games to lock up a playoff spot for the Raiders.
“It was something I wanted so bad. The game I came back we needed to win to get in the playoffs,” he said. “A couple days before the game, the doctor told me I was able to play. I got in the gym, worked with it on for about two days and went into that game and won by about 15. It was just something I wanted really badly, so to be able to do that was just special.”
De La Garza averaged a career-high 26.2 points this season while also posting 4.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game.
He consistently came through in clutch moments for the Raiders, highlighted by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from near half court against La Joya High, which lifted his team over the District 31-6A champions.
“Ever since I was young, I’d watch my favorite players get the ball in those moments, so I always worked to be one of the better players on the court. To be able to have your coaches trust you in that moment, and you get that moment and show how all the hard work paid off feels great,” he said.
Earlier this season, De La Garza eclipsed the 2,000-point mark for his career, which was spent as a freshman at Mission Veterans before playing the next three years at PSJA North.
All four years were spent with his father, Romeo De La Garza, coaching him from the sideline as his head coach and assistant coach. It wasn’t much of a change for the younger De La Garza.
Growing up, the two have been inseparable, always focused on improving at the game they both love.
“I’m with him 24/7. He’s my best friend,” De La Garza said. “We’ve put in countless hours together and everything I’ve achieved is from all the hard work that we’ve put in. In the summers, we go extremely hard. … It’s just crazy how I was able to do this stuff with the help of him. I’m forever grateful for what he’s done for me.”
Now that his high school hoops career is over, De La Garza’s basketball days aren’t. He recently signed a national letter of intent to play college basketball at Trinity University in San Antonio.
Looking back on his four-year varsity career, De La Garza said one word could sum it up — special.
“Coming in as a freshman to start on varsity, there were a lot of people saying I wouldn’t be able to do what I was doing as a freshman, but I came in and showed them that I could do it,” De La Garza said. “Having my dad surrounding me and my other family members pushing me, high school was special and I’m looking forward to college.”