Mexia was buzzing five years ago when coach Walter Smith arrived.
The chatter centered around a group of talented seventh-graders that had the ability to take the Blackcats back to their first state tournament since they won the Class 3A crown in 2001.
One player in particular was already being labeled as the next Mexia great.
Well, the townsfolk of Mexia had that one right, because that player was D.J. Weathers, and he and one of his fellow now-juniors, Mister Carroll, were two-thirds of the nucleus that drove the Blackcats to Austin this season.
“You could see it when (D.J.) was in seventh grade,” Smith said. “His class went through their entire junior high career and never lost a basketball game.”
Weathers began living up to his promise as soon as he arrived in high school. He scored 14 points in his first game and was off and running to the Super Centex Newcomer of the Year award.
After earning second-team Super Centex honors last year, Weathers put it all together this season.
With almost unlimited range, combined with the ability to get into the lane almost at will, the guard averaged 21.8 points, but he was more than a one-trick pony. He also grabbed 5.7 rebounds, dished out 4.2 assists and picked up 3.8 steals per game.
But it’s his shooting that makes him truly special.
“He’s very well-rounded offensively for sure,” Smith said. “He’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever been around. Once he’s a step or two past half-court, he’s in range. It sounds kind of crazy to say it, but he really does have that kind of range.”
For being able to put together impressive individual numbers while carrying his team to state, the District 20-3A MVP has added the title of Super Centex Player of the Year.
“It means a lot,” Weathers said. “I give God the honor and the glory fully. I give thanks to my parents always staying on me and making sure my grades are good. To get this recognition feels real good.”
Weathers was torching Hardin-Jefferson in the regional semifinals with 14 points and five rebounds before coming up lame early in the third quarter with a high ankle sprain.
Hardin-Jefferson immediately went on a 20-4 run after Weathers’ departure, but the Blackcats pulled it together for a 66-60 win and went on to defeat Athens, 60-59, the next day.
Even sidelined for that game, he played a hand in the win by standing for the entire contest and constantly offering encouragement to his teammates.
“He was really the biggest supporter of those guys,” Smith said. “He really believed. Even though he’s a star, D.J. is the ultimate team player, too.”
Weathers suited up for the state semifinals against Burkburnett and drained four 3-pointers to contribute 12 points in the season-ending loss to Burkburnett.
While lamenting what might have been, Weathers knows he still has one last chance to take the Blackcats to the top of the state, and he’s prepared to work to make that happen.
“We just know we can win it because we got so close,” Weathers said. “We know we can go back and finish it because I felt like if I wasn’t hurt or I was 100 percent, we could’ve passed (the state semifinal) game and gone all the way with it.”
Weathers edged a similarly spectacular player in Midway’s Jay Hook for the award.
Coach of the Year: Walter Smith, Mexia
If adaptation is the sign of a good coach, Walter Smith earned his accolades this year.
Blessed with a bench full of up-tempo guards but not similarly endowed with much height, the Blackcats cut a wide swath in Class 3A this year under the fifth-year Mexia coach.
For tapping into his backlog of talent and altering his coaching style to do it, Smith is this year’s Super Centex Coach of the Year.
“I really believe that good coaches will adapt to the players they have and let them play,” Smith said. “We haven’t always had the type players we had that are up-tempo and shooters, and we allowed them some freedom as coaches.”
That freedom allowed Mexia to burn through District 20-3A with an undefeated record averaging north of 70 points per game, race through the regional tournament and on to state, the school’s first appearance there since 2001.
With the upperclassmen guard nucleus of D.J. Weathers, D.J. Robinson and Mister Carroll trading off on big nights, defenses had little recourse but to watch the fireworks.
Adding to the winning tradition in Mexia only fanned Smith’s fire. Three of the last four area boys’ basketball teams to make state have been from Mexia.
Smith remembers sitting in the stands at the Frank Erwin Center during Mexia’s last state run in 2001, ruminating on the possibility of one day coaching a team like the Blackcats.
Memories like those made Mexia’s postseason run all the more poignant.
“It’s real special,” Smith said. “In your career you don’t have these opportunities real often. I’m real excited about it. It makes me more proud of my team that we accomplished what we did.”
Smith edged an also-deserving pair of private school coaches who took their teams to state championship games in Vangurd’s Will Curtis and TCA’s Mark Wible for the award.
Newcomer of the Year: Austen Bradshaw, La Vega
Before the season ever started, La Vega coach Clay Cody was touting sophomore guard Austen Bradshaw as a player who had a chance to be special.
It wasn’t long before Bradshaw became the Pirates’ go-to guy with the game on the line.
In a key district game against Lorena, Bradshaw sliced through the Leopards’ defense twice in the final minute for baskets, the latter of which came with four seconds left and gave the Pirates the win.
“It means a lot to me to know that (Cody) wanted to put the ball in my hands, that he trusts me to knock down big shots,” Bradshaw said.
Because of his fearlessness in late-game situations, Bradshaw has been selected as the Super Centex Newcomer of the Year.
Bradshaw admits to being nervous in his first game to the point that “my hands were wet.”
But by the end of the year, he was a key cog in the Pirates’ co-district championship team, posting 12 points, five rebounds and four assists per contest.
“It was a pleasure playing with the La Vega Pirates,” Bradshaw said. “I just tried to come through for my teammates, and they came through for me.”
Staff writer Will Parchman contributed to this story.
Player of the Year: D.J. Weathers, Mexia
Newcomer of the Year: Austen Bradshaw, La Vega
Coach of the Year: Walter Smith, Mexia
|G||Zach Brashear||Sr||6-0||Cameron Yoe|
|F||William Stinnett||Jr||6-5||La Vega|
|G||Chance Gibson||Jr||6-4||Methodist Home|
|Jake Brown and Josh Hejl, Abbott; Mando Ortega, Aquilla; Jeff Hearin, Blum; Ryan Rekieta and Johnathon White, Bremond; Jack Rhoades, Cameron Yoe; Jacob Brown, Ricky Gates, Skyler Hadden, John Holt and Dontay Raglin, Connally; Jake Blenden and Jake Talbert, Crawford; Bryson Gates, Fairfield; Chad Karels and Drew Polk, Hico; Dae’Voddrick Williams, Hubbard; Heath Clemons, Italy; Matt Buster, Jonesboro; Trey Ridge and Michael Starts, La Vega; Cameron Smith, Lorena; Steven Gibson, Methodist Home; Chrishard Buhl, Travis Corley and Orion Stewart, Midway; JaMaar Davis, Milford; Justin McNeely and Nate Wilburn, Moody; Josh Davis and Cody Stroder, Rapoport; Andrew Kaluza and Lincoln Plsek, Reicher; Brant Embry, Riesel; Brandon Johnson and Alex Rogers, Robinson; Adonis Haven and Calvin Richardson, University; Blake Janek, Valley Mills; Berkley Bonjonia, Vanguard; Patrick Bean, Waco High; T.Q. Echols, Whitney; Cooper Warren, Wortham|
District 15-2A MVP sparked regional final run with 21 points, six assists, five rebounds and five steals.
Not just a super receiver, went for 20.8 points and seven rebounds; District 27-2A co-MVP.
Was the TAPPS 3A state player of the year for good reason; 15.8 points, shot 41 percent from 3.
Silky guard handled the ball for state-bound Mexia, was regional tourney MVP with 38 points in two games.
Was a bright spot in rough season with 21.1 points, five assists, three rebounds and two steals.
Fearless junior pumped in 21.8 per game, shot 39 percent from 3 to lead Blackcats to state tourney nod.
Volume scorer was rarely out of range, with 20 points, 8.2 rebounds; was automatic from FT line, shooting 81%.
Bruising front liner anchored tall lineup, playoff team with 15 points, 13 rebounds; district offensive MVP.
Jr, La Vega
Broken hand cut his hot season short, but was district offensive MVP with 18 points, seven rebounds.
Lanky shooter could fill it up from anywhere; hit 45% of 3s, averaged 22.5 points, shot 57 percent.
Was the muscle for Crawford’s regional semifinal run, putting in 13.9 points to go with 9.8 rebounds.
Led Kopperl within a triple OT loss of state with peerless inside game; 25.4 points, 13.2 rebounds.
So, La Vega
Showed uncanny ability to hit the big shot, averaged 12 points, five rebounds for playoff team.
Lived up to Mexia’s tradition-rich past in leading the Blackcats to their fourth state tourney appearance.