VMS All-STAR Boys Basketball: Santa Rosa’s Bazaldua named most valuable player

The Santa Rosa Warriors have a deeply talented roster, and on any given night a different player can be the star.

David Bazaldua was one of the best. Bazaldua averaged 15.2 points per game and recorded 161 rebounds, 51 steals and seven blocks. The junior was especially impactful in Santa Rosa’s playoff run to the Class 3A Region IV final, and for his efforts as a consistent contributor on offense and defense, Bazaldua is the Valley Morning Star’s All-STAR most valuable player.

“It feels good knowing all the hard work and time I put into the game of basketball paid off,” Bazaldua said. “(This season) meant a lot to me. I think I stepped up rebounding and playing defense, and that’s a big part of the game. Definitely (thanks to) my parents, my sister, coach (Adrian) Trevino and my old coach, Johnny Cipriano, and all of my teammates.”

Bazaldua said he and his dad “put in work non-stop” the minute the previous season ended to get better for this year. Trevino said that extra effort really showed and made him a standout on a strong team.

“He works really, really hard. He has goals for himself, but he also wants to do better for his team and for his coach,” Trevino said. “He was averaging a double-double for a while because he was getting so many defensive rebounds. He really came alive during the playoffs.”

Santa Rosa’s final game against eventual state champion San Antonio Cole was one in which Bazaldua felt his potential really showed. He scored 32 points, knocked down two 3-pointers and came up big on defense. He said that game and the way this season went motivates him to help his team go even further in his senior season.

“It makes all of us hungry. We’re going to work hard, and we’re going to get that state championship and make our town proud,” Bazaldua said.

Trevino said Bazaldua already has expressed his goals for next season, like being a better 3-point shooter, getting faster and being able to dunk. He praised the junior’s work ethic and believes the best is yet to come for Bazaldua.

“I really think next year is going to be his year. He’s getting better the way you’re supposed to. He’s putting himself in all the right spots to get better because that’s who he is. His ceiling is limitless,” Trevino said.

Offensive Player of the Year

James Herrera, San Perlita

San Perlita senior James Herrera may not be big in stature, but when he steps on the court he always comes up big for his team.

Herrera was the engine that fueled the Trojans to their fourth straight District 32-1A championship and the first Region IV final in the program’s storied history. The TABC all-state honoree averaged 23.3 points, four assists and three steals per game. He is the All-STAR offensive player of the year.

“It means a lot. Every game I knew I was going to be the smallest person on the court, so it definitely motivated me to work harder,” Herrera said. “Knowing that we made history at our school was awesome. My best game was probably against Trinidad, our last win. We were down and I really wanted that game, so I had to go that extra step to get that win and get to the final. It was exciting. We fell short, but I was just glad to be there.”

Trojans coach Nataniel Garza said the leader in Herrera grew this season and his energy changed the game. Garza called Herrera a very special kid with a huge heart and a joy to coach.

“He’s a competitor. He’ll always put the team first and do whatever it takes to help the team win. It was an absolute blessing to coach that kid for four years,” Garza said. “He had a much bigger role this year. There were times we’d be struggling, and he’d put the team on his shoulders and take over. The biggest thing is he was an energy giver, and his energy was contagious. With him on the floor, it’s just different.”

Herrera thanked his dad and Garza for pushing him to be as successful as he was during his four-year varsity career. He took pride in being someone his teammates could depend on, and he left a legacy of hustle and not backing down when facing bigger obstacles.

“I was always trying to be the leader for my team, to work with them. I tried to do the best I could, and I’d take the last shot and tried my best not to fail them. (My time at San Perlita) was good,” Herrera said.

Defensive Player of the Year

Jayson Cantu, Raymondville

Going up against the big body of 6-foot-3 Raymondville junior Jayson Cantu was a tall task for opposing offenses.

Cantu was Raymondville’s “best player” during the 2020-21 season and earned the District 32-4A offensive player of the year award as he averaged 18.1 points per game. But he was also a force defensively, bringing down 134 defensive rebounds, blocking 43 shots and swiping 42 steals. Cantu is the All-STAR defensive player of the year.

“Defensive player of the year takes a lot of hard work. A lot of hustle,” Cantu said. “First and foremost, I thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ for giving me the strength. But also, my dad, my mom and my stepdad for pushing me every day to work out and not stay in bed and get lazy, and to become better every day to show the talent that God gave me.”

Cantu played more disciplined defense this season, which led to his uptick in production. He has improved as a rebounder throughout his career, and his defensive boards created offensive chances that helped Raymondville battle back through the district season to reach the playoffs.

“I didn’t go for unnecessary blocks, kept my hands up, and limited unnecessary fouls and timed my blocks better,” Cantu said. “I feel like that’s always been my role, the rebound guy. I feel like that contributes a lot, getting the defensive boards and getting the ball out to score easy points in transition is big for our team.”

Raymondville coach John Tamez praised Cantu’s confidence and work ethic. He said the junior puts in work year-round and has been dedicated to basketball for a long time, but he’s also a successful athlete in other sports for the Bearkats.

This season, Tamez said Cantu took leaps as a leader and was the type of player opponents had to plan around.

“His presence around the paint is something other teams have to work around. Almost everyone tried to rotate the ball long enough to get him out of the way,” Tamez said. “He’s been a starter on the varsity since he was a freshman, so his leadership really stepped up this year. His calmness under pressure paid off as the game went on. Confidence breeds confidence, and the level of his confidence ignited the rest of our guys.”

Newcomer of the Year

John Salinas, Harlingen High

Harlingen High’s John Salinas was determined to make the varsity team this season, and he far surpassed that goal.

The junior started all season for the Cardinals and scored 11.2 points per game. He knocked down a dozen 3-pointers, recorded 88 rebounds and added 14 steals in a strong debut year that earned him the title of the All-STAR newcomer of the year.

“It’s great. I worked so hard. Being on JV wasn’t too fun and I really wanted to move up and be on varsity, and the work paid off,” Salinas said. “I sacrificed a lot of my time to be in the gym almost every weekend, Monday through Friday, with my coaches just working on everything. It’s a great feeling.”

Cardinals coach Clayton Cretors lauded the work Salinas did to improve his game and his body to be a contributor at the varsity level. There was never a lull for Salinas in his debut season, and Cretors credited the junior’s mindset for his quick adapting.

“His mentality when he steps on the court is what gives him an edge. He’s a huge competitor. He’s a fearless kid and attacks every game the same,” Cretors said. “Offensively, he really worked on his shot and became a capable 3-point shooter. That work that he put in really showed this year. He’s one of the leaders of our team. He did a tremendous job, and he hasn’t become complacent. He has huge goals, and he’s excited for next season. We’re excited for his potential.”

Salinas said he’s not satisfied with the season he had this year, though he was proud of how he did “a good amount of everything” for his team. With the help of Cretors and assistant coach Leroy Sanchez, Salinas is already working to be a bigger impact next season.

“I just wanted everybody’s respect. It makes me want to do more and be MVP, maybe. I’m just going to work to get better,” Salinas said. “Coach Cretors and Coach Sanchez, I thank them a lot. Those are my guys, and they helped me so much.”

Coaches of the Year

Nataniel Garza, San Perlita, and Adrian Trevino, Santa Rosa

The Santa Rosa Warriors and San Perlita Trojans have established their programs as two of the best in the Rio Grande Valley. But both programs had outsiders doubting their chances to win this year.

Santa Rosa was dealing with an unexpected coaching change, and San Perlita lost some top talent to graduation. First-year Warriors coach Adrian Trevino and Trojans coach Nataniel Garza kept their teams believing, improving and successful, leading their teams to the Class 3A and 1A Region IV finals, respectively. They are the All-STAR coaches of the year.

For Trevino, returning to his hometown and having his most successful coaching season was special because he felt he was making his late mother proud. Though success was expected by his players, Trevino made sure to enjoy every achievement, every playoff win, because it was a new and rewarding experience for the coach.

“My family has always been in service to Santa Rosa,” Trevino said. “My grandmother … my uncles, my aunts, my sisters, they’ve all worked in Santa Rosa. So, service to this community was something that was instilled. To come back here and do it the way we did it, going to the Elite Eight, was amazing. … I was 0-14 a year ago. You sometimes doubt, ‘Am I cut out for this? Do I know what I’m doing?’ As a coach, there was a certain validation.”

This isn’t the first coach of the year honor for Garza, but it feels different this time. The Trojans made their best playoff run, and he said this group and this season were “super special” to him.

“I appreciate the award and it means a lot to me, but it just shows the kinds of players that I have. This award goes out to my players and my assistant coach. Without them, I don’t get recognized,” Garza said.

“I think this is probably the most fun I’ve had coaching a group,” he added. “There were a lot of doubters out there. These players took it very, very personal. We knew we could still win, but adding that chip on our shoulder motivated them and motivated me. We wanted to show that we could still win, and I was really proud of the way they answered with going the furthest ever in school history with the Elite Eight run.”

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