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20120113_Shary_BasketballPerhaps it is a bit ironic that adding one player—a freshman at that—can entirely change the way outsiders view a basketball program. However, that was the case at Sharyland High School when Jesse Pistokache appeared on Coach David Keith’s roster. The appearance prompted the media here in the Rio Grande Valley to choose the Rattlers as the Valley’s top team entering the season.

To an extent, the high expectations were not out of line. Pistokache is regarded as a future big-time college recruit—almost unheard of here in South Texas—and has proved his play by competing for national championships on his AAU squad, the Texas Titans. Add in interviews with Slam Magazine and prestigious camps on the East Coast and you have an expectation accompanying your name. Freshman or not, a number one ranking was stamped on Shary before the team had even begun to prove itself.

To Coach Keith, the top ranking was ironic since his team the year before was a more veteran squad with more playing experience. This year’s team no longer had all-district point guard and captain, Fred Ramos, or Matt Ramirez or Brendan Quinn. Last year’s team finished fourth in district play and lost in bi-district to Laredo United.

However, Keith feels this year’s team is a veteran squad in another way.

“Veteran not in years…but a veteran team from this season because of the things they have dealt with from the beginning. Opening the year with a giant target on their back…was big and I think expectations that were placed on them were big. Veteran in terms of having to deal with distractions.”

Indeed, this year’s team did not live up to their lofty ranking, immediately losing to Harlingen South. Though they would later beat the Hawks, the red and white also fell to the Edinburg Bobcats twice, Hidalgo, Brownsville Hanna and, in their district opening game, Nikki Rowe.

“It’s funny how many wakeup calls we have had this year,” says Keith. “[Rowe] was definitely one, probably the loudest one. It hurt, but I’ve been in that spot a lot.”

If the 57-54 loss to Rowe was a wakeup call, then Sharyland has heeded it well. The Rattlers responded by beating the Donna Redskins, 91-21 and then Palmview on the road, 62-42, and, finally, Memorial at home on Tuesday, 44-35.

The strong rebound has come from a multitude of sources. First and foremost it has come from Jesse’s older brother, Quino. The senior has a work ethic that is unmatched, accompanied by his quiet leadership skills through his example and his dependable play. Those attributes help him act as a steady hand for his teammates. It was Quino who led his team in offseason workouts, bringing his teammates to lift and train at his garage-turned-weight room, as well as getting Keith to open the school gym during the summer.

Helping out are the two bigs, referred to as John and John. The first John, with the last name Madrigal, is 6’-4”, a starter and fills the paint for his team. What he lacks in pure athletic talent he makes up for with hard work, providing his team with key offensive rebounds, unafraid to get on the ground for a loose ball.

John Hoerner, on the other hand, is a 6’-6” sophomore still getting used to his rapid growth. Hoerner has a soft touch, dunks the ball like it is nothing, and seems to just be getting better as the season comes along. Though the sophomore comes off the bench, Keith often has his twin towers playing together.

“Together they are big,” says Keith. “They are good size kids inside. The chemistry is coming along. Hoerner has grown in maturity just leaps and bounds this season. It has been amazing, the transformation. He is a physical talent, a great athlete. [Madrigal and Hoerner] are working together, starting to figure it out. Of course, the rebounding goes up when they are both in. They are a good balance.”

Filling in the holes are players like Ian Guy, Eduardo Garcia, and even another freshman, Andres Cantu.

However, just as the prognosticators have viewed it, Jesse Pistokache is the key for this year’s team. The point guard’s ability to create scoring opportunities, physically and athletically match up with any player in the RGV and come through in the clutch will make the difference for the Rattlers.

“[Jesse] is a winner. He’s a champion. [It] took us some time to really find out what we were going to do and do consistently. Jesse’s kind of felt it out. He’s now got a good feel on what to expect from [an opponent]. A freshman to be doing what he is doing now is pretty incredible. For him to be the leading scorer on that team…it has been fun to watch.”

Now 3-1 in district play, Sharyland still has a long ways to go before they can be satisfied with the season, despite a big win over Memorial last Tuesday. Still on the schedule is today’s visit to Mission, followed by a home game against La Joya. A week from now the Rattlers will face a huge road game against McHi.

Of course, the test comes as the Pistokaches, the two Johns and the rest of the boys compete each day to get better and to work for that number one seed.

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