By CLAIRE CRUZ, Staff Writer
SAN PERLITA – The list of accolades San Perlita’s Tige Johnson has acquired over his four years leading the Trojans is almost as tall as the 6-foot-7 standout.
For the second straight season, Johnson is the Valley Morning Star’s 2019-2020 All-STAR Boys Basketball Most Valuable Player. He averaged 25.3 points per game and 14.1 rebounds while swatting 4.3 blocks per contest as San Perlita won the District 32-2A title and reached the third round of the playoffs.
“I’m blessed with the things that I’m getting. I didn’t end off the season like I wanted, so it definitely hits getting these awards that this is it (for my high school career),” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t really feel much of an impact before, but every award I get my senior year I’m cherishing it.”
Johnson had his sights set on getting San Perlita back to the Class 2A regional tournament, but a knee injury suffered in the first quarter in a second round playoff game against Falls City shut him down for the season. Trojans coach Nataniel Garza said coaches kept telling him San Perlita would have made it to the state tournament if Johnson was healthy, which he said speaks to the caliber of player the senior is.
Garza and Johnson have developed a strong relationship over the last five years. When Garza took over at San Perlita, he saw Johnson’s potential and challenged the youngster to improve his conditioning and become a complete player.
“In eighth grade I couldn’t even dribble, I just sat on the block and would catch the ball and throw it up. Coach (Garza) put me through a lot and I accepted the challenge and my game has just gone through the roof,” Johnson said.
Johnson competed in cross country and track & field to build his stamina. The duo worked on Johnson’s ball handling and outside shooting, which both became skills that helped the Trojans open up the floor and execute their fast paced style of play. He played the full 32 minutes in many games throughout his career, diving for loose balls and taking charges and doing anything the team needed.
“He could easily average 40 points a game, but he loves to get his teammates involved and he’s a team-first kid, very unselfish and humble,” Garza said. “It’s his work ethic that’s gotten him to where he is, and he’s not done yet.”
Johnson plans to play college basketball after graduation but hasn’t decided where he’ll take his talents. He said he’ll miss the family feel of San Perlita but he’s proud of all he accomplished in his career.
Garza said the impact Johnson’s had on the program and community will be long lasting. He called Johnson a role model for his teammates and the kids in town, who he always made time for.
“Him being great at basketball is secondary to him as a great person. As tall as he is, that’s the size of his heart,” Garza said. “I’m going to really miss coaching him, but he’s always going to have a part of our program.”
Johnson said he grew up a lot during his time with the Trojans and he wants to see the winning tradition he helped instill continue after he’s gone.
“The kids honestly are my fuel. I feed off their support and I just love helping people and making them happy. If I’m impacting them in some type of way, that’s a positive for me,” Johnson said. “I hope I left my hunger, my drive, my work ethic and my team-first mentality behind for the program. It’s sad to leave my brothers, but I know they’re going to carry it on and that’s a good thing to have in my heart.”
All-STAR Boys Basketball Team
Most Valuable Player
Tige Johnson, Sr., San Perlita
Offensive Player of the Year
Jabez Villarreal, Sr., Rio Hondo
Defensive Player of the Year
Alex Rodriguez, Jr., Harlingen South
Newcomer of the Year
Ashton Adams, Sr., Harlingen High
Coach of the Year
Albert Briones, Santa Maria
Bernie Castellanos, Jr., Santa Maria
CJ Olivarez, So., Santa Rosa
David Bazaldua, So., Santa Rosa
Giovanni Diaz, Sr., Santa Maria
James Herrera, Jr., San Perlita
Brady Bennett, Sr., Harlingen South
C.J. Leal, Jr., Rio Hondo
Eric Quilantan, Jr., Harlingen High
Jeremy Sauceda, Sr., San Benito
Justin Vela, So., Lyford