A familiar face is taking over the helm of the Colt basketball team this season, and, combined with some promising young players, the team could get back in the thick of things in one of the toughest districts in the state.
The new but veteran head coach is Sean Schooley, who’s been at NMMI for 25 years, as both a high school and college coach.
“It’s been a lot of fun to come back and work with the high school kids again,” he said. “It’s different. The last time I coached a high school kid was about 1995.”
As the young head Colt hoops coach from 1992-1995, Schooley amassed a 50-29 record. During that term, his teams made two state tournament appearances and, in 1995, finished with an undefeated district record and district post-season tournament championship. All of this he credits to his players and former Colt head coach Tommy Sanchez.
“Talent will make you look good,” he laughed. “We had some kids who came through here — all at the same time — who went on to play college basketball. Coach Sanchez and I really worked on keeping the kids and built the program up. Then when Tommy left, I kind of got to reap the benefits of that work.”
Now, as the veteran coach, Schooley will bring his decades of experience with the Broncos — first as an assistant then as the head coach — back to the high school level. And while there are some differences, he said the philosophies are the same.
“The junior college kid can be very stubborn. Trying to change some habits they’ve formed, the ideas in their heads, and getting them go from dreams to what it takes in the real world can be a tough sell. With the high school kids, they’re a little more eager to learn,” Schooley said. “At the juco level, I was used to a different level of athleticism, but that’s OK. We’re still talking about the same things that I talked about with the college kids. I’m a firm believer in defense and rebounding and sharing the basketball, and that doesn’t change whether I’m coaching the college kids or my son’s travel ball team. Those things stay the same.”
For his assistant coaching staff, Schooley is maintaining that mix of eager youth and cagey experience.
Assistant coach Brandon Suazo came to NMMI last season. “He’s a good, young enthusiastic coach. He still believes he can save the world – like I did back when I was first coaching at the high school level. We always need some of that positive, never-say-die type of attitude,” Schooley said.
New assistant coach Kyle Alsup is extremely well known in baseball circles, but also coached the freshman basketball team at Roswell High under Britt Cooper.
“I think he’s going to help Brandon a lot, because he’s been coaching a long time and Brandon needs some mentoring on the bench. I think it’ll be a good balance.”
The coaches will have a young squad to mentor, with mostly junior players and only two athletes who saw numerous minutes on last year’s team. But, Schooley said, he has numbers, which he said is key to building a future.
“We really want to keep the numbers up, because if you want to build any program here, especially in the high school, retention is the key. Keeping kids for two and three and four years is crucial,” he said. “My last couple of years here as the high school coach, we had kids who’d been with us since they were freshmen or sophomores, so by the time they were juniors and seniors we had some continuity with it.”
Schooley estimated he had 25-35 players before soccer and football season ended, and is hoping for 40-50 now that the fall-season sports have finished.
The lone senior on the squad is 6-foot-3 Jesus Najar, while 5-8 junior Jesus Ley started as a sophomore. The remainder of the team is young and somewhat inexperienced.
“It’s really going to be an adventure to see what we do here,” Schooley said. “We’ve got some kids who have some ability. They need to be smoothed out a little bit and figure out what they can and can’t do. In the past, the kids just rolled out onto the court and the coaches said ‘Here we go’. I’m just not that type of coach and we’re not that good. But we’ll still let them play. We’ve got some kids who can compete a little bit. We’ll see what happens.”
The team does have some height, led by 6-6 junior newcomer Khristofer Hill, who came to the Institute from California and is expected to see time on the floor.
“He’s a good, talented young man,” Schooley said. “He’s got to learn how to play his position a little more, but he’s got a great feel for the game and he handles the ball extremely well, so I hope that creates some matchup problems for some people.”
The Colts opened the season on the road with a 56-46 win vs. Loving on Nov. 16, followed by a 51-41 loss at home to Tularosa on Tuesday. Then, they’ll have three home games — against Texico, Goddard and Hagerman — before heading off on the holiday break.
They’ll play Dexter in Dexter to open 2018, then compete at the Dexter Tourney before starting district play. Schooley likes the early schedule.
“Those first games are great to check our work-in-progress. We’ve got to get to know each other and then figure out how to play as a team, so we can get ready for a strong district,” he said. “It’s not going to be a walk in the park by any means. What we have to do by the time district comes around is know what we can and cannot do and implement it to the best of our ability. But it’s a good schedule. I’m looking forward to it and it’s going to put us into some challenging spots and we’ll see how our kids respond. The game is easy to play when you’re up 10. When you’re down 10, you see how your players interact with each other. They either tighten it up and get after it, or they tend to fold. I won’t know how they do until we get out there and play.”
Then, of course, there’s District 4-4A, which saw Hope Christian and Portales battle for the state title in Albuquerque last year — the Huskies won — and Ruidoso make it to the round of 16. Schooley knows it will be just as tough, but hopes his squad can get in a few licks this season.
“I would imagine that it’s probably Hope and Portales that’s one and two,” he said. “And rightfully so. Ruidoso should be up there, too. Other than that I couldn’t tell you. We’ll be fighting in every game and hopefully make a few people nervous here and there.”
Whatever happens, Schooley said it will be fun to be back coaching high school, and invited everyone to come watch this year’s team.
“I’m just excited,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and to see where we can take it. They’re working hard and they’re giving effort at every practice, and that’s all we can ask them to do, in addition to being good citizens off the court. We’ll see where it takes us.”