December 6, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
With 0:19 to go in the game Tuesday, his team safely ascendant – 10 points up in fact, following a masterful second half performance at home – Carlos Ramos was still pacing the sidelines, reminding his kids about what set they were supposed to be in. He was still fired up to get the most out of the moment, a moment which now sees him as the head coach of a different program than the prior one he was with for seven seasons.
The group that edged past McAllen Memorial in the course of an entertaining run, this group was not the Jags, for whom Ramos worked so diligently and successfully for quite some time. This was North, and as the Cougars get used to their new leader, so too does he get used to them. The 57-46 victory over a Memorial crew that came into the day 9-2 overall was just another day at the new office for the well-traveled mentor.
“I guess I was just ready for a change, in a way,” Ramos said, about his move from Econ to North, where he replaced the legendary Rudy Garcia, he of the 500-plus wins. “We had some good seasons at Econ, I did my time and had success there, zero regrets. I was very happy to get the opportunity to come to North.”
A close and trusted friend in the coaching business told Ramos, after the latter accepted the position with the Coogs, that he had to be ready to be versatile.
“He told me that I wasn’t going to be able to be the same coach I had been at Econ,” Ramos recalled. “That I wouldn’t be doing the same things, I had to adjust, and it was good advice. Now, with that said, I am still going to be me, that won’t change, but for instance, here, because we haven’t had that much time together yet, I am focusing on defense first. That’s what we have been emphasizing. Our defense will lead to offense, and we’ll go from there.”
So far so good, as the Coogs have rebounded from a slow start to take seven of 10 contests now, and beating a quality opponent such as Memorial is a good sign for North fans, not to mention the program itself, which has been a playoff contender most every year in recent times.
After falling down early Tuesday, 7-2, the Old Gold got down to business, pressuring the ball at one end and being patient but productive at the other. With perfectly balanced scoring – six kids had seven points or more, none more than 12 – North outworked the Mustangs and went from a 23-all tie at the break to a superb third-quarter performance (20 to 7) and the eventual result. With a late and fecund burst from senior Darian Garza plus solid efforts from the free throw line (seven of eight in the final eight minutes) Ramos’ gang tucked away the Dub in preparation for the annual C.E. Vail Tournament later this week, over in La Feria.
Having beaten such foes as McAllen, Weslaco, Palmview, Weslaco East and now Memorial, the Coogs will battle through a busy December before District 31-6A action begins Jan. 13 at P-SJ-A. Included on that non-league slate are some tough outfits, with Sharyland, Harlingen and always tricky St. Joseph of Brownsville on the list. The Coogs have also beaten district rival Mission this season, and many folks are talking North up as a potential champ, just as the football group was able to cop the trophy to cap the gridiron campaign just passed.
He’s a guy who has been around the bend, working in La Joya and Donna besides Edinburg, and who has toiled at all the levels, from middle school up to freshman, JV, and varsity. Ramos definitely knows the game and the ropes, and now he’s looking forward to seeing what his first North edition can accomplish.
“This is a good challenge, because yes, we have experience on the roster, a bunch of guys who’ve been there before,” he explained. “But as far as working together, having time as a group with me, this is somewhat new, and everyone – myself included – is still getting used to the thing and how it will go. I think we are going to have a great district race, because La Joya is looking very strong, EHS too, and right now, you look at Econ, they’re off to a good start. So we’re not taking anything for granted, we just have to keep working and take our shot in district, see how we do.”
A PROVEN ADVERSARY
The new coach and his team looked to the Memorial match as a barometer for how far the collective has advanced to date, and the returns were propitious in the main. After Memorial jetted out to the lead, ENHS sophomore Jose Ramirez chipped in with a three-point make, and the Coogs were off and running. With the Mustangs working inside to decent effect, North countered with outside prowess; in 14 prior games, the Coogs had nailed 60 bombs, more than four a night, and when senior Jorge Santa Maria sank a long one, the home side had recovered from initial jitters.
The senior combo of Christian Faz and Eddie Gonzalez worked a passing chance well, the 6-7 Gonzalez scoring at the rim off one of Faz’ many assists Tuesday, and Gonzalez also rose to parry away a Mustang shot, which is his specialty. Big Eddie has also become an excellent passer from the post during his tenure at the school, and again we note that Gonzalez can impact games in many ways; he even raced out a few times to handle the pill against the press, eliciting howls of delight from the North student rooters.
Down 2 to start the second, Ramos’ charges hung tough, with Gonzalez making a nice catch of a lob from junior Joseph Cruz, keeping the ball high as he turned in one motion to toss in a deuce. Don’t bring it down, keep it high: always the big man mantra. However, as Memorial continued to find space in the paint too, often backside, North went down, 21-14, bogging down at the other end a bit.
But if Ramos were worried, he didn’t show it, continuing to holler and exclaim, all loud positive, thinking that the Coogs would respond. And they did, as Cruz spun in a difficult drive and then Santa Maria sped down to find Paz on the break. When Santa Maria fired in another trey, courtesy of the pass from smoothy Paz, it was tied at the half. That stretch, a 9-2 finish to the quarter, illustrated that indeed the Coogs have talent and experience. It also showed that the mesh between coach and kids is coming along well, especially in the key junctures.
The third period began with Ramos bellowing “Push, push, push!!” to his gang as the Coogs started running and scoring. Ramirez was the beneficiary of the latest dime from Paz, who seems to have been around forever, and can always be counted on to see the floor, make some slick looks, and when the situation calls for it, jam to the tin with a fearless flourish.
Meanwhile, Gonzalez made a sharp spin move to an and-one, and when he is in the mix offensively, it makes this team way better, harder to defend. His three-point play gave North a 30-25 advantage midway through the quarter and soon, after another 9-2 run, the Coogs were up 7. Directly after Gonzalez spun to success, it had been Cruz taking the dance card. Memorial, a little flustered now amid the barrage of pressure as it set up shop, threw the ball back toward midcourt, and a Mustang guard watched the ball bounce, not wanting to get flagged for the backcourt violation. The circumspect Cruz, so promising as a sophomore and now assuming a more prominent role, figured it out and crept over to palm the ball, spin away from the sleepy guard, and cruise to the hole for 2. BKB IQ, boi.
Now the Coogs were into what was always a staple for Ramos squads out east: finding the proper time to slow the ball down a bit, generally with a lead, and make the other team come out and take risks. The key is not to ice it and thus lose the momentum, but instead to use the pause to get set for another rush to come. If you’re doing it right, you get opportunities as the enemy struggles and presses, and here Cruz did what the drill called for, converting a slinky little number to the basket, following that with one of two free throws soon after.
Working in the halfcourt offense, North was sound, getting high percentage looks; the danger of the patient approach is that they might end up looking like the national football team of Spain in this year’s World Cup: tiki taka, yes, but not enough shots on goal, or goals. The Coogs had plenty of taka on Tuesday, as they continued to work the ball, run the clock, and get to the basket for conversions.
Garza was the super sub in the second half, using his leaping ability to score underneath off a pass from the alert Gonzalez, making it 37-28 late in the period. At 1:37, Faz motored in for a bucket and an 11-point lead, the largest of the night so far, and soon North was in fine shape heading into the stretch run, up 43-30. The last hoop of the quarter came from Garza, who took a pass from Santa Maria and went super high in the air to lay one in.
Garza continued to contribute as the fourth started off, taking a nice feed from Paz to score; Paz had been corralled by a double-team on the sidelines before flipping a slick sideways-and-back pass to the cutting Garza, and this was just what North was doing Tuesday: thinking fast, moving without the ball, and getting into the paint for shot attempts. Despite some spirited retorts from Memorial, the Old Gold was hammering this one down.
Santa Maria was especially active in the closing acts, throwing his semi-usual goggles to the bench and coming at the Mustangs like a strong safety plowing in to hit the runner. He was to plunk in four free throws in four tries in the period and give the club a lift with his aggressive exploits. The bench issued forth some subs now, and Memorial subsided, to its third loss of the season.
After the final buzzer, Ramos noted that the night had gone very well.
“That was our plan, tire them out with defense, pressure, try to take advantage of the fact that they don’t have a ton of depth,” he said. “We were worried about Memorial, that’s a really good team, but I think we did a good job of finding ways to compete with them. You can’t sit back for too long against a team like that, so we had to pressure the ball.
“We’re pretty happy with this game, the way we played, and now back to work, we have to keep learning and improving, so that by the time district comes, we’re ready. And it might take some time once we get there, with all the new things, so I expect that we’ll compete during the first round, and by the time the second comes around, we should be there to make a run.”