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Documenting New Mexico’s basketball history

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Britt Cooper after an interview with Marty Saiz in August. (Submitted Photo)

Sports Editor’s note: RDR Sports interviewed Marty Saiz on his upcoming book on the history of New Mexico basketball. He was in town in mid-August to interview National Federation High School Basketball Hall of Famer Britt Cooper and Goddard coach Anthony Mestas. Both are in the upcoming book along with Poe Corn. Mestas and Cooper will be featured in RDR Sports on Sunday as they reminisce about their time on the bench at Roswell and Mestas’ undefeated season at Hagerman. 

It is said Marty Saiz came out of the womb dribbling a basketball, not quite to that extent, but he is a basketball junkie. Marty played basketball at Cibola High School, graduating in 1978. He was an assistant coach with Frank Castillo at Cibola from 1980-84.

With the business world calling him, Marty opened a State Farm Insurance Agency in ‘85, at the age of 24. With a successful agency under him, he decided to give back to the game he loved. From 1998 to 2019, he coached and organized AAU basketball teams with elite players like Marek Olenski, Cesar Nava and Taymon and Tarren Burrola, to name a few.

Marty’s initial goal was to help New Mexico kids get exposure to major college coaches and elite recruiters they normally wouldn’t have access to, in hopes that those kids would have a chance to play basketball after high school.

Research and radio

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In 2002, Marty, with his radio broadcast partner, Henry Tafoya, called their first basketball game between Cibola and Rio Grand on KDEF 1150 AM. Marty has called over 1,000 games in his radio career and once lost his voice because he called so many games in a row.

Marty began wanting to write four books all about different topics in New Mexico high school basketball. His research was so good that he found out he had so much material that a friend suggested he do one major book instead of four small books. He has been working on this book since 2002.

Marty took a break from writing his book after his mother died in May 2017. After grieving, Marty started working to finish his book in May 2018.

Former Albuquerque Journal writer Ben Moffett encouraged Marty to write about the history of New Mexico high school basketball. Moffett was also writing a book about New Mexico high school basketball, but had cancer and told Marty he didn’t have the energy to finish the book. Moffett died of cancer in August 2019.

Chuck Ferris, a basketball historian who frequently works with the NMAA on state records, gave Marty every state boys basketball program from 1945-1950. With the help of the New Mexico Activities Association, they gave him programs from 1950-2017. Marty scanned in every record they have in state basketball.

Documentary work

Basketball fans throughout the state know Marty. He is a member of the New Mexico Hall of Fame. Recently, he has dedicated every weekend to visiting different high schools and people that have helped make history in high school basketball. With the help of cameraman Dana Childs, they have traveled the state of New Mexico and conducted over 178 interviews.

He hopes to produce a documentary when this is all over. Between game photos and interview photos, Marty estimates he has over 500,000 photos for his untitled book, which he hopes to have finished by January.

“I know Cooper and ‘Dude’ (Burrola), his kids were on my travel ball team, so, I know them well,” Marty said. “I know (Anthony) Mestas, and we have dedicated half a page to Poe Corn and we have photos of him. We also have one of the greatest upsets of Roswell in 2009, when Silver City beat Roswell in double overtime. I will also be writing stories of the 1963-64 Coyotes’ state championship teams. There will be a lot of good stuff for Roswell and Hagerman basketball fans.”

In mid-August, Marty visited Roswell and interviewed former Roswell basketball coach Britt Cooper and Goddard coach Anthony Mestas. Cooper won four Blue Trophies and Mestas’ season was undefeated in 2011. The 2021 season will be the 100th year of high school basketball in New Mexico.

Goddard coach Anthony Mestas, left, with Marty Saiz. (Submitted Photo)

“Anthony Mestas coached at Hagerman,” Marty said. “He has Isaac Bejarano and that team was special. That Hagerman team was just one of 16 undefeated teams in New Mexico history. Think about how tough that was and is to do. To go undefeated in a season, while every team is giving you their best shot, especially later in the season in district play and the playoffs. Every team wants to be the team that knocked off the undefeated team, that would make their season. No matter what anyone says about competition, class, in 2011, Hagerman was perfect and no one can ever take that away from them.”

Book preview 

Marty’s book will feature chapters on referees, broadcasters, 40-point scorers, players, coaches, dominant teams, undefeated seasons, rebounding clubs, assist clubs. He will have stories on teams that have scored 120 points in a game. Marty says there are over 100 teams that have scored that many points.

The book includes father and son referees that have refereed high school games, and some of them have been on the court at the same time. Some have even refereed state tournaments together. The book will have a chapter on father and son coaches that have coached in high school at the same time and even coached against each other.

Marty will have a section on players that went on to play college basketball. One story is about a Lovington High School team that was 11-14 during the season, and entered the state tournament with a losing record and won the state title. The book has stories on coaches who began their careers in high school and moved on to college coaching.

“I told Britt (Cooper) he left too early,” Marty said. “Britt left some wins and Blue Trophies on the table. He’s one of the coaches to win back-to-back championships. It wouldn’t surprise me if he gets the desire to come back to coaching at some point.”

Cooper has the distinction of being the only high school coach voted into the National Federation High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 2015, for boys basketball. Cooper thanked Marty for doing the book on a basketball-crazy state. At the time of his retirement, Cooper was No. 17 in wins among high school coaches and in the top 10 in state titles with four.

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.