RIO HONDO — Rio Hondo senior Jabez Villarreal signed his intent to attend and play basketball at Central Methodist University on a typically warm May afternoon Wednesday outside the school, surrounded by several coaches, family members and friends, many of whom were wearing masks.
“I felt like I wanted to have the people who supported me here to witness (my signing),” Villarreal said. “The people that stuck with me throughout my years. It comforts me, because I didn’t want to sign on my own (due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic). It means a lot to me, because this is something I dreamt about, when I was a kid.”
Rio Hondo athletic director Rocky James and basketball coach Mike Alvarez were among those in attendance Wednesday.
“Especially in times like these, this is something to uplift (Villarreal’s) spirits,” Alvarez said. “For him to sign today and have so many friends and family here, I’m sure it makes him feel good to see the support.”
CMU is a small private university in Fayette, Mo., located nearly halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo. The Eagles compete in the NAIA’s Heart of America Conference.
The opportunity to play with his close friend and District 32-4A rival in Port Isabel senior Daniel Rinza, who has announced he would sign with CMU today, was one of the key factors for Villarreal’s decision, after weighing several other offers.
“Ever since our last offseason, we wanted to play together,” Villarreal said. “We’re a dynamic duo. That’s my brother, and we would talk about it every day through Snapchat and through text, that we should commit together. Especially since the school is (far away), it will be good that we’re not alone.”
Alvarez said Villarreal’s motivation to play at the college level stems from the determination he displayed as a sophomore.
“It’s the work ethic that he had,” Alvarez said. “The motivation for him to want to play, I know he had talked to me about it over and over again. It didn’t start this year. … He’s been continuing to work on his game. There were multiple schools interested in him, and hearing that kept him motivated.”
Villarreal was the Bobcats’ top scorer, averaging 18.1 points per game in 30 games. He was the 10th-best scorer in Class 4A of the University Interscholastic League. He also recorded 78 assists and 255 rebounds.
According to a report from The Fayette Advertiser on Tuesday, CMU announced it would hold in-person classes. The NAIA is set to make a final decision on whether or not to hold a fall athletic season by July 1.
CMU president Roger Drake serves on the NAIA Council of Presidents.
During a normal summer, Villarreal would play for his club team, the RGV Lakers. But in the interim, he is still working out and putting up shots at the court at his home.
“I haven’t gotten any information on that yet,” Villarreal said about his introduction to the team upon his arrival on campus and any team activities. “But I feel like I’m going to have to adjust quickly. Because I’m going to have to leave in a couple of months, and I’m going to have to be ready for it.”