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Boys Basketball Preview: Atrisco Heritage is aiming for a rare hoops three-peat (w/ players to watch)

Atrisco Heritage’s Joziah Ramos (12), shown during last season’s state title game, is back to help the Jaguars try to win their third straight crown this year. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Hobbs was the last to do it, 18 years ago.

“Our kids … they’re not settled,” Atrisco Heritage boys basketball coach Adrian Ortega said.

The Jaguars this season are attempting to do something that hasn’t been done since 2001: win three straight big-school state championships. Hobbs won four straight from 1999-2002.

The Albuquerque Public Schools season opens today, headlined by Volcano Vista at La Cueva.

The two-time defending champs from Atrisco Heritage open their 2019-20 season on Tuesday against Valencia. They return one of the state’s most dynamic players in senior guard Joziah Ramos, and Ortega, who never lacks for confidence, believes his group can get up that mountain a third consecutive time.

“Our kids are completely competitive,” he said. “The thing that is so special about this group is that they’ve had this pressure for two years now. They just expect to win. Our mental makeup is really phenomenal.” Atrisco Heritage has one of the best stables of guards of any 5A boys squad, including Dominic Rivas, Isaiah Brooks and Elijah Gaxiola.

“This is the best shooting team I’ve had in the last three years,” Ortega said.

The 5A hierarchy starts with the Jaguars, but there’s a long list of teams that want to carve out some space. That includes last year’s 5A state finalist, Santa Fe, which is getting UNM commit J.B. White back after he missed the second half of last season with a knee injury.

But it also includes the likes of Las Cruces, Clovis, Volcano Vista, Capital and La Cueva, and possibly others like Hobbs and Eldorado.

Volcano Vista was a state semifinal team last March, and the Hawks graduated a lot of size, leaving them with a smaller, more defensive-minded bunch.

“We’ll have to overcome that and play a different way than we have,” Hawks coach Greg Brown said. “We’re gonna have to shoot the ball well, because we don’t have great presence in the post.”

La Cueva and coach Frank Castillo have a team many believe can play deep into March. Senior shooting guard Derek Aeilts is a long-range specialist, and this team has size, athleticism and experience.

“This team can make a lot of noise,” said Castillo, who remains the only head coach this program has ever had. “And I think we’re gonna be pretty good.”

In District 1, after Atrisco Heritage and Volcano Vista, Cleveland, despite seeing so much scoring graduate and losing four starters, hopes to extend its run of Final Four appearances to four years in a row.

“When you get to the Pit,” Storm coach Sean Jimenez said, “anything can happen.”

District 1 has produced the last four state champions.

“And to be honest,” Jimenez said, “I think the state champion will come out of this district again.”

Rio Rancho will likely begin the season off the radar as the Rams lost several players to graduation and transfer. Cibola is hoping to rebound from a tough, one-win season.

In District 2, Eldorado graduated a huge chunk of its scoring, but the Eagles are a team coaches think will be heavily in the mix. Getting longtime Eagles coach Roy Sanchez to say that out loud is another matter, entirely.

“I like this group,” he said.

There are some superb players in this league. Aeilts is one. Deraje Agbaosi at Eldorado (who has the potential to be one of the best two-way players in the area) and West Mesa’s fourth-year senior guard, Eloy Medina, are two others.

Out of District 5-5A, Santa Fe is clearly the favorite there, but Capital, which returns a bulk of their roster, hopes to challenge the Demons for supremacy. As for the metro teams in that league, Manzano and Albuquerque High (with the terrific senior guard, Jude Tapia) will be angling for position.

CLASS 4A: Defending state champion Valley returns four starters coming off that remarkable playoff run last March that nearly saw the Vikings, a .500 team entering the postseason, eliminated in the first round by Highland.

“They definitely know there’s a target on their backs,” Valley coach Joe Coleman said.

Speaking of Highland, which is in the same district as Valley, the Hornets are going to have one of their best chances to win a state title in many years, as their top four scorers return.

“We have to improve defensively, and we have to be able to rebound,” Hive coach Justin Woody said. “But our offense will be really, really dangerous.”

Los Lunas, which fell in the 4A title game to Valley, was hit hard by graduation, losing most of its key impact players.

Hope Christian, one of the teams Valley beat at the Pit in March, is bigger than usual, although the Huskies are not as experienced in the backcourt.

“Hopefully, we’ll be right in the thick of things,” Huskies coach Jim Murphy said. “The key is how well we play defense, and learn to rotate with our bigger guys.”

Valley, Highland, Hope and Del Norte – the Knights were a shocking state semifinalist last March, and leading scorer Malik Barton returns this season – all belong to the same, loaded district.

CLASS 3A: Bosque School coach Clifton Davidson said he thinks his Bobcats and Sandia Prep are two of the elite programs in this class.

“I really think it’s between us and Prep,” he said.

Both private schools feature unusually big lineups, starting units that would look right at home against most anyone in the state. Elijah Davidson for Bosque, and Sam Henderson and Max Feit for Sandia Prep are all All-State caliber players.

The Sundevils were a state semifinalist last March.

“With our guys coming back, and the experience we have, we are hoping to take that next step,” Sandia Prep coach Marcos Rivera said.

NOTES: Cottonwood Classical Prep (Santiago Maestas) has a new coach … Danny Brown is not new as a head coach, but he is new in the sense that this will be his first season leading Sandia after being a former assistant to Alvin Broussard. … Former St. Pius player Ryan Myers has taken over at his alma mater for Damian Segura, who retired in the offseason after a glorious career with the Sartans. … There is a new program in the metro area: Legacy Academy, which is competing as an independent on the West Side.

COMING TUESDAY: The Journal will preview the metro area in girls basketball.

Boys basketball capsules

METRO BOYS TO WATCH

Jude Tapia, 5-11, sr., G, Albuquerque High: He averaged nearly 25 points a game as a junior; is a highly skilled shooter, and perhaps Class 5A’s best passing guard.

Joziah Ramos, 5-8, sr., PG, Atrisco Heritage: Ramos is as good as it gets, coming off a season in which he averaged nearly 24 points and four assists per game. Clutch shooter, has a nose for the big moment.

Eloy Medina, 6-3, sr., SG, West Mesa: Just the second four-year starter in the last 20 years for the Mustangs. Added some bulk in the offseason, after scoring about 20 a game as a junior.

Deraje Agbaosi, 6-6, sr., FW, Eldorado: He was really starting to blossom as a junior, and he’s going to be one of the more fearsome players in the metro area at both ends of the floor.

Tre Watson, 6-5, jr., FW, Cleveland: There’s not much Watson cannot do, and he will likely emerge as the featured offensive option for the Storm. Good luck trying to defend this kid.

Elijah Davidson, 6-4, sr., G, Bosque School: Among the smaller classes (1A-3A), Davidson is arguably the best player in New Mexico. Headed to Western Colorado to play at the next level.

Dion Battle, 5-10, sr., G, Volcano Vista: A four-year starter, the Hawks will look to him to lead this team. And he can, in spurts, be an outstanding scorer.

Derek Aeilts, 6-5, sr, SG, La Cueva: A superb 3-point marksman who averaged more than 20 points a game as a junior. Signed with St. Edward’s in Austin, Texas.

Sam Henderson, 6-5, jr., W/Max Feit, 6-3, sr., W, Sandia Prep: This potent Sundevils’ duo combined to scored over 32 points a game last season.

Erasmo Carreon, 5-8, sr., G, Highland: On a team with so many scoring guards, he might be the best of the lot, and someone that could be over 20 a game this season.

Seyi Oyeku, 6-0, sr., PG, Valley: Had 19 of Valley’s 37 points in the state final last March, and seems poised for a terrific senior season.

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