‘Organized chaos:’ Defense the backbone of state-bound Atascocita
When most teams have a tendency to be restless or at their most fatigued, during the second halves of games, Atascocita’s boys basketball team is at its best. The Eagles are at their finest.
That was glaringly evident during last weekend’s Region III-6A tournament in Cypress.
In the semifinal, Clements held a 24-22 lead over Atascocita at the half. Then the Eagles held the Rangers to 14.3 percent shooting and forced 10 turnovers in the second half to pull out a 61-54 win.
In the final against Shadow Creek barely 15 hours later, the game was tied 31-31 at the half. Then the Eagles held the Sharks to 18 points, 3-for-12 3-point shooting and forced 10 turnovers in the second half for a 67-49 win.
As Atascocita returns to the state tournament for the second consecutive season, and third time since 2016, it’s defense that has the Eagles there. Atascocita (34-6) plays Duncanville (33-1) in the state semifinal Friday at 8:30 p.m. at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
“My background comes from my roots at DeSoto High School, where I pretty much learned it all from Coach (Chris) Dyer,” said coach David Martinez, who has led Atascocita since 2012. “We won state in 2003 when I was an assistant, which catapulted me to be a head coach. I’ve always used that philosophy of tough, tenacious defense. Be able to guard you fullcourt and pressure the ball. These kids have taken to that. They fly around defensively, and we want our defense to turn into offense as quickly as possible.”
Atascocita is surrendering only 47.9 points per game this season. Ten times this season, the Eagles have held an opponent to 40 or fewer points in a game.
“Coach always gets on us for being in the right place and communicating early, loud and continuous, and just talking about every action that’s going on during the game,” senior guard Connor Miller said. “Everyone on this team can guard, from big to little. That’s the best thing about this team.”
Martinez likes to say his Eagles are the most well-conditioned team. Running is a constant during practices, with and without the ball. There is a lot of sprinting bleachers and defensive slides.
It is not without purpose.
“We try to take away the (opponent’s) best player, or players, by just throwing fresh bodies at them,” senior guard AJ Aungst said. “Everything is hard and intense.”
Along with consistent conditioning work, Miller said Martinez always has players in the right positions defensively. If a game comes down to the final minutes or seconds, the Eagles are confident that they are tougher and in better shape than their opponents.
“You practice how you play, so we make our drills in practice fullcourt with a lot of pressure. We make them competitive,” Martinez said. “A lot of the things simulate how we’re going to play. I like to call it organized chaos.
“You might look at us and think, ‘Man, what are they doing?’ But the kids know what we’re doing, and there’s an actual rhyme and reason for how and why we rotate and where we rotate to.”
That’s where the positioning and scheming comes into play. And the conditioning and its byproduct?
“As long as the effort is perfect,” Martinez said, “it’s (defense) going to have a good chance to fix itself.”
Martinez said his defense is not complex. It’s simply a matter of buy-in, though he admits that’s easier said than done.
Buy-in is what this Atascocita team has, from top to bottom. It’s a veteran roster of 11 seniors. The entire starting lineup consists of seniors.
“The good thing about our team is we’re a senior-heavy team,” Aungst said. “Once we all bought in defensively, we knew we could be a good team.”
Atascocita can be susceptible to slow starts. But it also has an impressive knack for the moment and knowing when to amp things up.
In the second halves of games, the Eagles are often a different team, as if they know the clock is ticking in putting away a team. Few Atascocita teams execute as well as this one does, and it starts with defense.
The Eagles start talking with more of a sense of urgency. Eyes are locked in. Footwork is more decisive. Steps and reaches are more intentional.
The second half is where Atascocita shines. Almost as if it is setting up its opponent for two quarters and then BOOM!
The knockout punch is delivered in the form of hellacious pressing, trapping, and sprinting.
“When we’re clicking defensively, we’re talking,” senior guard Angel Johnson said. “We’re communicating who’s supposed to be where. We’re rebounding the ball well.”
Martinez said the Eagles are a group of kids that is committed and knows what it takes to win. That togetherness and purpose are backbones of a persistent defense that moves, works, and talks in cohesion.
“It’s the most connected team I’ve had,” Martinez said. “It’s not the most talented, but they are the most together and they are the most connected on the floor. When one moves, another moves. That’s important. This team does a good job covering each other’s back and holding each other accountable.”