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Atascocita and head coach David Martinez, middle, (holding the basketball), are in the state tournament for the second straight season, and for the third time since 2016.
Atascocita is in San Antonio for the boys basketball state tournament for the second consecutive season, and third time since 2016, but the Eagles boast a different dynamic this time around.
Seniors AJ Aungst, Angel Johnson, Kaleb Pouncy, and Connor Miller are undeniable stalwarts of the program, but senior forward Landyn Jumawan, who played at Humble last season after coming over from Hawaii, has been a difference-maker.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pounder is invaluable off the Eagles’ bench. During last weekend’s Region III-6A tournament, Jumawan averaged 10.5 points and four rebounds per game, shooting 42.9 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent on free throws.
“Landyn is huge,” coach David Martinez said. “He can shoot. He’s got a scorer’s mentality, but he’s also got length. He can guard forwards, can guard posts. Can create mismatches. He’s a really good player.”
Jumawan said he can do a little bit of everything, which is why he fit in seamlessly with a veteran Atascocita team from the start.
“I came in and trusted the process,” he said. “I do whatever coach wants me to do, whether it’s grab rebounds or make a shot. Guard anyone.”
Jumawan said he appreciates how the Eagles accepted him right away. Teammates respect his ability to score at all three levels—at the rim, mid-range, and 3-point range. Coaches love his versatility, particularly on the defensive end.
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” Jumawan said. “We worked hard for this. We prepared for this all season. Everything paid off. This is nothing new for this team. They’ve been here before, and now they helped me get a chance to get there.”
PREPARATION IN PLACE
Atascocita went to state last year, but it’s an entirely different circumstance this season, especially from the perspective of preparation.
“Considering last year was the COVID year, I can remember vividly not having much time to prepare,” Martinez said. “We didn’t even have a regional tournament; we had a regional site. We were coming off an emotional (regional final) win over Summer Creek at the buzzer on Saturday, and then Monday you’ve got to prepare because the (state) semifinal game was on a Tuesday. Not a lot of time to prepare for a team that hadn’t been to the state tournament.”
In 2020, COVID-19 canceled the state tournament. In 2021, the pandemic was still accounted for.
Last year, scheduling was condensed and games were spread out. Each playoff game was played at a neutral site—no postseason tournaments were held to limit crowd sizes and the number of teams at one site—until the state championship game, which was played at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
The Eagles beat Summer Creek in the regional final and fell to Austin Westlake in the state semifinal all in a matter of four days.
“Media day, game-planning for (Austin) Westlake, practicing for Westlake. All of that had to be done in one day, and the kids were just worn out, mentally and physically,” Martinez recalled. “Mental fatigue took its toll. I, personally, just felt a little rushed.”
Martinez said he’s grateful the timeline is back to normal. Atascocita will have had five days to prepare for its state semifinal against Duncanville at 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Alamodome.
“This year, we get to prepare,” Martinez said. “We’ve had time to watch film and study, get a couple days to formulate a game plan. To me, that’s the biggest difference. It at least eases your mind a little bit.”
MIGHTY DUNCANVILLE LOOMS
If Atascocita is to get to the state final for the first time since 2016, it must get past Duncanville.
The Panthers are 33-1, ranked No. 2 in the nation, and looking for a third straight state title. Duncanville, in its ninth state tournament, is riding an 18-game winning streak and boasts a pair of high-profile recruits in 6-foot-8 power forward Ron Holland and 6-7 point guard Anthony Black.
The Panthers’ only loss this season was to previous national No. 1 Richardson by two points.
“Looking at them on film and on paper, they are dominant. From top to bottom,” Martinez said. “They’ve got every accolade you can think of. But I told our guys we’re here for a reason. It’s our second trip here, and my expectations are the same. Go out and compete to our very best, and, at the end of the day, that is all you can ask for.”
Martinez has two keys.
Offensively, the Eagles must continue to shoot the ball well. With little to no interior presence, 3-point shooting is vital, and Atascocita has a plethora of shooters at its disposal. The Eagles knocked down eight of 17 triples (47.1 percent) in their regional final win over Shadow Creek.
Defensively, Atascocita must find some way to scheme for Duncanville’s substantial size, and “figure out how to be the best rebounding team below the rim,” Martinez said.
“It’s a Final Four. It’s a special time if you’re an athlete or a coach,” Martinez said. “But at the end of the day, there’s only one champion, and there’s no doubt we’re going to try to be that champion. Whatever happens, I’m extremely proud of these kids, no matter what way it goes. Their effort, their commitment, and their sacrifice has got us to this point.”
In making its second straight state tournament appearance, and third since 2016, Atascocita is driven by a relentless defense giving up 47.9 points per game this season.
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.”