By Joshua Koch
HOUSTON – The goals for a regular season are the same for every coach – get better every day, win enough games to make the playoffs and win a District Championship.
At Atascocita High School, those aren’t just merely goals but rather the expectation for a men’s basketball program that is considered by many to be one of the best in Houston.
Under the leadership of David Martinez, the Eagles have made history year after year – first Regional Finals Appearance in 2015 and first State Championship game appearance in 2016.
Through it all, the excellence of this program boils down to two words – focus and emphasis.
“In terms of checking off boxes you get through the preseason and tournament time,” Martinez said. “Then you want to finish district playing well to give yourselves a chance in the playoffs. That’s how we look at it. With three games left, we want to continue to play strong towards the end and shore up some things and hopefully get to make a run in the playoffs.”
One of the boxes Atascocita checked off on Friday with a 77-50 victory against C.E. King was the program’s fourth-consecutive District Championship.
The Eagles haven’t lost a district contest since Feb. 5, 2013, giving them a 53-game winning streak in district play.
“It’s always good to win games,” “Then on top of that to clinch another District Championship it’s just something we set out to do every year. It feels pretty good but at the same time we know we have more left in the tank. We’re just trying to play our best basketball at this time of the year and I think we are.”
Coming off the best season in school history, finishing 38-1 and falling in the State Championship game to DeSoto, and on top of everything having to replace 10 players, including recent Big Ten Freshman of the Week Carsen Edwards, who’s at Purdue, there was going to be some growing pains.
When the season began though Atascocita stumbled out of the gates, losing three of its first five contests.
After the rocky start, Martinez remembered telling people to be patient with them and they would be fine. And they were, finishing non-district play winning seven of their final nine games, the Eagles settled at a 9-8 mark before District 21-6A play was set to begin.
“We had to replace 10 guys, not only did we have to replace 10 guys but we had to play 10 guys with no varsity experience,” Martinez said. “There’s a lot to be said for not playing a varsity game. They had to get used to the pace, get used to executing assignments and it took some time. Not to mention we played a beast of a preseason schedule and tournaments. We took a few on the chin. We’ve learned from that, we’ve gotten better from that and we were able to build some steam in district. That’s what you want to do, you want to be playing your best right about now and I think that’s the direction we’re headed.”
The momentum built off going 7-2 in their final nine non-district games carried over into District 21-6A play, where Atascocita rattled off 11-straight wins to claim another district title and the No. 1 seed for the 2017 playoffs.
Led by University of Houston signee Fabian White, the Eagles have averaged 71.5 points per game, while holding opponents to a just 44.7 points per game, the second-best average in the district behind Kingwood.
“We are playing our best basketball right now,” Martinez said. “Defensively, we’re playing really well. We’re flying around like an Atascocita team should be. We’re contesting shots and taking charges, we’re just playing well together. We do it on the defensive end first. Offensively we’re starting to move the ball a lot better, definitely a lot better than we were earlier in the year. We’re starting to shoot it well. That helps.”
Coming into the season, many looked at the Eagles as potentially a one-dimensional team with White as the centerpiece and the go-to scorer.
White has filled his role as an elite scorer, averaging a double-double this season 24 points and 12 rebounds and in the past five games averaging 23.2 points per game, having just one performance not break the 20-point mark in that stretch.
Outside of him though, the scoring has come along for the Eagles.
Devin Harrison, Kobe Wilson, Travion Gariet and Casey Brooks have all stepped up this season for Atascocita, providing multiple double-digit scoring performances along with White.
“We’ve have some kids that can play,” “You have to guard them. We’re not a one-man show and I think that’s part of the reason we’ve been playing well.”
Comparing this team to a squad that went into the 6A State Championship game a perfect 38-0 could be difficult to do.
Looking at the buildup of this year’s team, Martinez said there are some areas that the 2017 version of Atascocita is better than the 2016.
“This team is actually a better shooting team than last year’s team,” he said. “Carsen (Edwards) was our only real threat from the outside. Now those other kids did a lot of things better than a few guys we have now. We had guys really play their roles well last year. This team overall has more guys that can put it in the hole from the outside. We knew they had it in them.”
Not taking the foot off the pedal, Martinez said the focus for this Eagles team is to finish strong in their final three games before the playoffs begin later this month.
Atascocita is slated to finish the year off against Goose Creek Memorial tonight at home, while its last road contest comes at rival Kingwood on Friday. The Eagles will host senior night on February 14 in their regular season finale against Channelview.
The kinds of results his team has been posting night in and night out, Martinez said he knew they had this in them and they just needed time.
“Our community should be proud of these kids,” he said.”Of course we are and we come in every day to work and be the best we can be.”