By CLAIRE CRUZ, Staff Writer
Two small-town players earned big time awards Monday as the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches announced its 2019-2020 UIL all-state teams.
San Perlita senior forward Tige Johnson and Santa Maria junior forward Bernie Castellanos were two of 20 players to earn 2A all-state honors. Having two kids that battle it out in District 32-2A speaks to the talent and competitiveness of the district and is a special situation, Santa Maria coach Albert Briones said.
“This just solidifies how tough our district was and how competitive we were at the regional level,” Briones said. “There’s always been great athletes all over the (Rio Grande) Valley, but sometimes they slip through the cracks. But we’re fortunate that we both had a lot of team success.”
Being considered one of the top players in the state is nothing new for Johnson, who made the all-state team as a junior as well. This season’s recognition adds to a long list of awards for the 6-foot-7 athlete, who was recently named to the TABC all-region team and was the unanimous 32-2A most valuable player.
Johnson usually isn’t one to dwell on awards, but knowing he won’t suit up for the Trojans again has made him appreciate the accolades he’s receiving after this season a little more.
“I feel blessed. I’ve been working since freshman year, and I’ve been through hell and back with injuries and all types of things, so getting it two years in a row now feels amazing, and especially getting it my last year of high school basketball, it feels great,” Johnson said. “I’m not really an awards person, I’m usually just, like, ‘OK, that’s cool,’ and move on. But every award I get this year I’m cherishing it because it’s my last.”
San Perlita coach Nataniel Garza has been working with Johnson since taking over the program five years ago and said he’s known Johnson could be a special player since Johnson was in the eighth grade. Garza praised Johnson’s work ethic and humility as two of the biggest reasons his player has had so much success.
“For him to not only be recognized at the Valley level but at the state level twice, that says a lot about him,” Garza said. “The body of work that he’s done from his freshman year all the way to now speaks volumes. He’s earned recognition in more ways than one because he’s a great teammate and he truly does deserve this.”
Castellanos is a reserved young man, but on the basketball court observers can see his passion. Briones said he saw how special Castellanos is and how his player puts everything he has into the game after Santa Maria broke through the third-round roadblock and beat Flatonia, when he saw his workhorse crying on the sidelines because of how much he valued the accomplishment.
Castellanos made the 2A all-region team and was voted the offensive player of the year in 32-2A this season. Briones called his player’s work ethic second to none and said he’s glad Castellanos is getting recognized for his efforts.
“Bernie’s always been a kid that plays above his size. He’s barely 6-foot, but the kid is an exceptional athlete and he works so hard,” Briones said. “I’m happy for him because all the hard work, all the sacrifice … he’s a great example that I want the kids to look at.”
Castellanos is proud of the honor, but quickly turned the attention off himself. He acknowledged that his biggest focus is on leading the Cougars back to a long playoff run next season and said he is already working to get better.
“I just feel happy and grateful for having the best coach ever,” Castellanos said. “It feels good when all the work you put in pays off. But we’re not done yet.”
Derek Luna from Sharyland Pioneer was the only other Valley player to earn all-state recognition in boys or girls hoops.