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January 07, 2022

A SEASON OF FIRSTS

in Boys Basketball

With a new head coach leading the way, Meridian boys basketball program aims at making a move in the right direction, one step at a time

As a first-time varsity boys basketball head coach, even though Meridian’s Devin Brooks realized he would be taking on a rebuilding project, the China Spring High School and Tarleton State University graduate relished the opportunity. But without a single senior on the returning roster he inherited, Brooks knew the Jackets would have to take it one step at a time.

After opening the 2021-22 Texas high school boys basketball season with five straight losses, the Jackets reeled off three consecutive victories as they headed into the tournament portion of the non-district schedule. Since then, Meridian (0-1 in District 12-2A, 8-15 overall) has maintained a level of consistency and respectability with hopes of challenging for a playoff berth.

“Every game is going to be a tough game,” Brooks said. “We have a great group of guys that are going to go out and compete every night. I believe as long as we do what the Jackets do, we will be just fine.”

Coming out of the holidays, the District 12-2A races heats up, and the Jackets will have their hands full with 19th-ranked Italy, Itasca, Valley Mills, Rio Vista, Hamilton and Frost.

“I see Italy and Itasca being the frontrunners in the district,” Brooks said. “I believe if we can go get a game or two from Rio Vista, Hamilton and Valley Mills, we have a good shot at the playoffs.”

After losing the District 12-2A opener to pre-season favorite Italy (2-0, 11-3) at home Dec. 21, the Jackets will be looking for their first league win when they travel to Rio Vista to take on the Eagles (1-1, 13-8) at 7 p.m. Friday before returning home to host the Frost Polar Bears (0-2, 2-14) at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Jacket Gymnasium.

Following the five-game season-opening losing streak, the Jacket began to learn how to win by posting 7-6 win-loss record leading up to their district opener against Italy. But since losing to the Gladiators, 61-16, Meridian has dropped four of its last five. With nothing but district contests ahead, the young Jackets — consisting of six juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen — must grow up in a hurry.

“Since arriving in Meridian, I have had a great time really getting to know the kids,” Brooks said. “The team is relatively young, but I have seen a lot of growth in our young season. The kids are buying into what we are wanting. They have a ton of fight in them and will give it their all, whether we are up 20 or down 20.”

After notching their first victory of the season with a 54-13 thrashing of Iredell, the Jackets carried that momentum into the Moody Tournament Dec. 2-4. Meridian opened the tournament with a 46-42 win over the hosting Moody Bearcats as junior Johnpablo Bernal led the Jackets with 17 points, seven rebounds, seven steals and three assists, followed by junior Cameron Sheffer with 10 points and six rebounds, while junior Braxton Allen pulled down a team-high 13 rebounds.

The Jackets made it three straight wins by dominating Eagle Christian, 49-23, as Bernal scored a team-high 14 points, followed by junior Brady Taylor with 10 points and six rebounds, junior Alejandro Rodriguez with a team-high seven steals and freshman Jesus Martinez dominating the boards with eight rebounds.

Other steady contributors have included sophomore Brayden Wehmeyer and freshman Matty Jones in the scoring department, while junior Dustin Bowers has been strong on the boards.

“The season did not exactly start the way that we were wanting it to,” Brooks said. “But each game, we got a little better. It meant a lot to the team to finally get that first win under our belts, it helped our confidence grow as a team. I think it showed them what they could do as a team when they all played their roles and got the job done.”

Playing in the Santo Tournament Dec. 9-11, the Jackets captured third place with victories over the Santo Wildcats, 46-41, and the Bluff Dale Bobcats, 47-33. Meridian managed their second three-game win streak of the season before opening district, downing the Kopperl Eagles, 60-24, Dec. 14, before knocking off the Cranfills Gap Lions, 53-40, Dec. 17.

With only three years of coaching experience, Brooks came to Meridian after serving as an assistant for two years in Robinson, coaching junior high football, track, freshman basketball, as well as the varsity assistant basketball coach.

“With my career being so young, I have fewer high points to pick from,” Brooks said. “However, I would say the opportunity to take over as the head coach of the Meridian Yellowjackets basketball team is definitely one. Furthermore, my highest point is being able to teach/coach my athletes how to excel on the court and in life.”

After growing up in Coolidge and China Springs, Brooks’ reasons for choosing to come to Meridian for the next step in his coaching career were simple.

“I have always enjoyed the small town atmosphere where everyone knows everyone,” Brooks said. “After getting the opportunity to come and interview, I drove around the area and knew it felt like home. From the players to the community, everyone made me feel so welcome. Getting the coaching position was icing on the cake, and I didn’t hesitate moving my career to the warm and welcoming Meridian ISD.”

Photos by WENDY OROZCO

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