La Vega’s 2011-2012 boys’ basketball squad finished with a state final four and a 35-2 record.
This season’s Pirates in almost no way resembled that one, however, after they lost four senior starters and nine players overall to graduation. They also lost their coach, Clay Cody, to Flower Mound Marcus. He was replaced by La Vega graduate David Drafahl.
About the only tie to bind the two seasons was Austen Bradshaw. Luckily for La Vega, none of the changes phased the electrifying guard.
Bradshaw not only accepted the challenge before him, but made sure his senior year wasn’t a rebuilding one as he put the Pirates on his back and led them to the Class 3A Region III tournament.
“Going in, I knew he was a good player,” Drafahl said. “I saw him in Austin (at the state tournament) last year so I knew he could score, but he grew up a lot this year . . . It would have been easy for a guy with his talent to just do it his way and worry about him. He stayed and worked hard every day and did everything we asked him to do.”
Bradshaw’s expanded game and leadership helped him earn the nod as the Super Centex Player of the Year. He’s the second straight Pirate to earn the honor, following former teammate William Stinnett.
Bradshaw has always had the ability to score. The senior averaged 26.4 points per game and was the District 17-3A offensive MVP. He added a career high of 50 versus China Spring this season, which broke the previous La Vega record of 37.
Bradshaw had 32 at halftime and when the fourth quarter came around, Drafahl believed the captain had earned the chance to go for the new height.
“He had 45 in the fourth quarter, and we debated whether to let him stay in and go for it,” Drafahl said. “He wasn’t playing selfish. He had worked his butt off on defense and deserved the chance. His teammates were more excited about it than he was, and they really got behind him.”
Bradshaw also had the ability to get the needed baskets at the end of quarters.
Drafahl said that despite opponents knowing who was going to get the ball, Bradshaw is the best player he’s ever coached at getting a good last-second shot and finishing.
Bradshaw knew that his game would have to include more than just scoring if the Pirates were going to be successful this year.
“My scoring ability has always been there,” Bradshaw said, “but this year I wanted to get my teammates involved, and I had to improve my defense.”
With all the Pirates lost from last year, Bradshaw knew he had to mold his game to a new system with new teammates.
Bradshaw moved to the front of a pressure defense and had to get used to sitting at times for rest due to Drafahl’s up-tempo style of play.
He raised his basketball IQ and learned how to score easier baskets on offense — doing anything he could to make the Pirates better.
His stats showed the improvement, as he averaged 4.1 rebounds and more than two assists and steals per game.
When the postseason began, Drafahl told Bradshaw that he needed the senior to rebound if they were going to make a run.
Bradshaw answered with a double-double performance of 17 points and 10 rebounds in a 77-63 bi-district win over Taylor. The Pirates picked up an 84-79 win in overtime against Lufkin Hudson before stunning previously unbeaten Navasota, 62-57, to reach the regional tournament. They couldn’t get past La Marque there, but the Pirates had already exceeded expectations and followed in the school’s tradition of success.
Despite the awards and team accomplishments, Bradshaw said he will cherish the memories like bus rides homes and shoe shopping with his teammates the most.
The Pirate’s future is still undecided. Bradshaw is still figuring out college plans, but hopes accolades like this will help himself and other locals in the future.
“It’s good for (local) guys to get recognized,” Bradshaw said. “Most people only get recognized out of Houston and Dallas. Anytime someone out of Waco can get recognized, its a good thing.”
Coach: Robinson’s Scott Richardson
Robinson has seen success in a number of sports in recent years.
The boys’ basketball program always seemed to be lagging a little behind.
The Rockets had been competitive in the past couple seasons, only to fall a game — or really a few points — shy of reaching the postseason.
This year, with a roster full of motivated seniors, that wasn’t going to be good enough. They not only wanted to reach the postseason, they wanted to win the District 17-3A title.
The fuel the Rockets carried made coach Scott Richardson’s job easier than it had ever been, since he knew they were going to be doing what they needed to in order to make that dream a reality.
“I didn’t realize how easy your job as a coach gets when you have great senior leadership,” Richardson said. “ This was the first time where some of the pressure was relieved because I knew we had guys who were going to lead on the floor and off the floor. The thing that was special for me was the fact that I wasn’t just coaching good players, I was coaching good kids. That made it a lot better for me as a coach and as a person.”
For the first time since 2003, Robinson surpassed all of its competition in 17-3A and picked up the outright district title. The Rockets then won a playoff game before falling in the regional final.
It was undeniably a special season, and Richardson was the one at the controls. Because of that, he has been chosen as the Super Centex Coach of the Year.
“I think there are a lot of great coaches in the area, so it’s a great honor for me personally,” Richardson said. “I certainly respect the guys in this area. To get this honor means you have to do something special, so it means a lot to me.”
The Rockets’ success also reinvigorated fan support, which had been sparse at times lately.
In fact, in his first game at Robinson three years ago, Richardson said he counted 16 fans in the home-side stands. Because of that, he said the greatest memory he’ll carry from this season was the look on his players’ faces when they saw a packed house behind them.
“Our second district game at home, we see the home side and to see that thing packed, I looked at our kids, and they were all gleaming with, ‘Wow, look at all these people,’” Richardson said. “That was a great feeling as a coach to see those kids realize they’ve done something where people want to see you.”
Newcomer: McGregor’s Jordan Najera
The first time Jordan Najera stepped on the floor in a varsity game, he made an immediate impact.
The sophomore got a steal and turned it into a layup on the other end on his way to a 17-point, 11-rebound debut.
It was the kind of spark the Bulldogs needed, and Najera helped them to the District 21-2A championship, and the district’s Newcomer of the Year honor.
He can added Super Centex Newcomer of the Year to his growing list of titles after averaging 14.2 points, eight rebounds and three steals a game, while allowing the coach David Haynes some much-needed flexibility.
“I feel that Jordan is a matchup problem for kids at the 2A level,” Haynes said. “He’s big and strong enough to play in the post, but he handles the ball well enough to play guard. We played him (at every position) 1-5.”
Despite his numbers, Najera was frustrated at times by not having a spot in the starting lineup.
Haynes preferred to keep him on the bench to start the game, knowing he could plug whatever hole presented itself and give the Bulldogs a lift.
“He comes in, and he’s a difference-maker,” Haynes said. “We played Crawford and we’re struggling offensively. He comes off the bench and makes two long 2s and a 3.”
His obvious athleticism at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds gives Najera a solid foundation, but Haynes can’t wait to see what he’ll do when he smooths a couple rough edges.
“If he just learns to calm down, not force shots and let the game come to him, he will be a whole lot better as a player,” Haynes said. “He’s a young sophomore. Actually he could be a freshman this season. Once he learns he can trust his teammates, he’s going to be really good.”
2013 SUPER CENTEX TEAM
Pos Player Class School
G Austen Bradshaw Sr La Vega
G T.Q. Echols Sr Whitney
G Marcus Irons Sr McGregor
G Ray Washington Sr University
F Daryl Brooks Sr Teague
F Carson Earp Sr Robinson
F Chris Harrison Sr Connally
F Nathaniel Jack Sr Mart
F Danial Steels Sr Frost
F Mangle Womack Sr Marlin
P Jeremy Lasseter Sr Robinson
P Marques Smith Jr Waco High
Player of the year: Austen Bradshaw, La Vega
Newcomer of the year: Jordan Najera, McGregor
Coach of the year: Scott Richardson, Robinson
Pos Player Class School
G Skyler Hadden Sr Connally
G Daniel Hibbs Jr Vanguard
G Drew Keeney Sr Lorena
G Erran Mays Sr West
G Darius Littlejohn Sr Midway
G Jordan Phillips Jr Methodist Home
F LaDarian Hopwood Sr Marlin
F Carlos Lerma Sr Walnut Springs
F Chance Oliver Jr Troy
F Joe Schwartz Jr Vanguard
P Alvin Daniliuc Sr Rapoport
P Kyle Whitley Jr Troy
Payton Casarez, Aquilla; Greg Wilganowski, Bremond; Mike Powell and Dontay Raglin, Connally; Aaron Heers, Fairfield; Andrew Jackson and Jacob Stroder, Frost; Marquise Womack, Marlin; Shawn Watkins, Mart; C.J. Taylor, Methodist Home; Patrick Listach, Rapoport; Lane Scruggs, Teague; Dewayne Freeman and Daniel Wurster, Troy; Blake Janek, Valley Mills; Jake Schwartz, Vanguard; Holden Sykora, West.