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‘A work in progress’

SANTA FE, N.M. — Hoops season is up and running, and that’s exactly what Capital boys coach Ben Gomez wants to see from his Jaguars after their Class 5A state runner-up finish last season.

Coming off a 25-6 season a year ago, Capital returns three starters and most of its bench, Gomez said.

Still, “we’re small and young,” he said. “It’s one of those things where we need to use our athletic ability to our advantage to push the ball up and down the court. And if we can’t, we have to use our half-court set. We want to be able to run, giving ourselves an opportunity against bigger teams.”

Except for win totals, big is not often a word associated with the Jaguars program.

Capital does have 6-foot-3-inch junior Matt Smith, who saw significant playing time last season.

But he’s an anomaly when it comes to the Jaguars.

“I would love to have a 6-6, 6-7 guy to walk in that door,” Gomez said. “I’ve never been that lucky. But the players that do come in that door are willing to come and understand the philosophy of the program. They understand what we’re trying to accomplish. They understand it’s all about hard work. Nothing is going to be handed to them.”

The Jaguars are already getting notice as one of the top teams in 5A, getting slotted as the No. 5 team in the first coaches’ poll of the season.

“We’re not as good as people think we are,” he said. “Could we get there? It’s conceivable. But we have to work every single practice and improve every single game, regardless of the outcomes, and look at the big picture.”

With three tournaments loaded up over the next three weeks, the Jags will have plenty of opportunity to improve.

“My thing has always been to try to get the team ready for the next game,” Gomez said. “It’s all about work, it’s never about relying on the past. We have to get ready for next game, as cliché as that may be.”

That grueling stretch began with a late game Thursday against Jemez Valley, as the Jags play host in the Al Armendariz Shoot Out that also includes Santa Fe and Mesa Vista.

“We’re trying to get in games, trying to improve on what we want to do, so by the time we hit district, we’re running on all eight cylinders because it’s a work in progress.”

Gomez also is looking for returning senior starters Aaron Garcia and Tyler Alarid to continue to grow into their role as vocal leaders in games, as well as in practice.

“They’re starting to understand how important their presence is on the court and in practice,” he said. “They lead by action, but sometimes the rest of the team needs a verbal wake-up call. And that’s fine. I and the coaching staff can get through that phase until they feel comfortable to lead as far the verbal leadership. But what they bring on the court, the other players see that.”

It also helps that the players have that experience of having made a championship run.

“It gives them the knowledge that they’ve been in big games; regardless of what is happening, we can still give ourselves an opportunity to keep it close and pull out games against bigger teams than us,” Gomez said. “It gives you confidence that we’re never out of anything. It’s amazing what a little bit of hope gives you and the confidence that you’re never out of it, but you can’t do that without the experience.”