Union Rebuilds, Reloads for Basketball Season
By MIKE MOGUIN
GTR Sports Writer
When all starters are lost to graduation, a coach will say their team is either rebuilding or reloading. For Union boys basketball coach Rudy Garcia, it’s both.
“I’d say we’re in the middle of a total rebuild and reload. We got guys that started a few games that weren’t full time starters,” Garcia said.
Union often continues its winning ways with new talent following the graduation of a solid class. This year is expected to be no different.
“We lost the bulk of (the lineup) and we lost a lot of leadership. The biggest thing right now is finding some guys who want to be leaders,” said Garcia, who enters his 26th season as the head coach. “Once we can get some of that and get more consistent, we’ll have a chance to be okay.”
Of course, like other programs, regardless of the sport, Union basketball is having to take safety measures for obvious reasons.
After missing the state tournament in 2019, Union returned to it last season. Unfortunately, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourney was called off the day it was scheduled to start. Two weeks later, the OSSAA officially canceled the event and Union was not able to flex its muscle. It finished the year with a 21-5 record.
“It was difficult. It was hard, especially for your seniors that didn’t get a chance to play in the state tournament after not getting there as juniors,” Garcia said. “It was hard for the younger guys as well. You never know if you’re going to get back there again. It was a disappointment. We felt like we were playing well. Once you get there, you never know what could happen and we really liked our chances. I felt terrible for our senior class.”
Players returning with experience are incoming seniors A.J. Reed, Jediah Jones and Da’Van Aromaye and sophomore Trent Pierce.
“Those four guys played last year. They were in our rotation,” Garcia said. “Everybody else will be new as far as experience. We have eight seniors, but a lot of them are inexperienced as far as varsity playing time goes.”
Juniors Demond Sanders and Matthias Roberson are expected to join the team after the football team completes their season.
“We think those two can bring some physicalness to the team that we need,” Garcia said. “We think they have a chance to come in and help us.”
Other players on the Union roster are seniors Trae Morris, Mo Rentie III, Aaron Davie, Cody Nagy and Neal Kinney; sophomores Javion Mims, who stands 6-7, and Malachi McElwie, along with freshmen Dalen Fuller and Eric Madrid, who stands 6-8.
As for the pandemic in practice and games, Garcia said it is going to be a challenge. “We’ve had some kids that have had to be quarantined due to contact,” he said. “But you just have to keep plugging with the ones you have at practice, and hopefully, nobody comes down with it where they could be seriously ill.
“There’s been a lot of cancellations of scrimmages with teams being quarantined,” Garcia added. “We’ve been fortunate so far trying to follow all of our protocols with the school district with masking, washing hands and social distancing. Trying to do our best to control what we can control.”
Union opened the season at home against Broken Arrow on Dec. 8. It hosts Booker T. Washington one week later on Dec. 15. Garcia expects those teams, along with Jenks, Owasso, Sapulpa, Bixby and Sand Springs to be the strongest foes on the schedule. There will be talented squads from the west side of the state as well.
“Obviously for us, we have a lot of new guys. We have no returning starters. It’s always a challenge when that happens,” Garcia said. “But we like the guys we have coming back and it’s just a matter of them filling and playing roles and I think doing those things will allow us to have a chance to have some success this year. We’re probably going to be playing at a little bit faster pace than what we’ve played before.”