BERNALILLO – Basketball coaches are fond of dividing a season into thirds.
The nondistrict part of the schedule is one section. The district portion is another. The playoffs are the third.
On paper, Del Norte began Part II of its 2021-22 season on Wednesday night.
But, in every meaningful way, this served as a defacto season opener for Class 4A’s defending state champions.
Welcome back, Shane Douma-Sanchez.
“I was super excited,” he said. “I could not sit still the entire day. I was in class trying to stay calm, but I had anxiety.”
Just eight months after tearing the ACL in his left knee, the leading scorer off Del Norte’s championship team last May returned to the lineup – ahead of most reasonable expectations given the severity of this injury.
The 6-foot-1 junior guard scored 11 points in his return. He was, unofficially, 4 of 15 from the floor, and his jump shot was not quite as sharp as he’s accumstomed to.
“I’m really rusty, as you could see, but I’m confident I’ll get there,” he said.
It was the first time Del Norte had on the floor the team it envisioned it would when it hoisted a blue trophy on Bob King Court last spring. The Knights (7-9) beat Bernalillo, 66-52, in a District 6-4A opener.
Del Norte spent most of the night chasing short-handed Bernalillo (8-9) – the Spartans, coach Terry Darnell said, were missing five players due to COVID-19 – but it was Douma-Sanchez, who scored 25 points a game last season, who finally put Del Norte ahead for good with a 22-foot, straightaway 3-pointer for a 45-43 lead in the final minute of the third quarter.
He also added a crucial three-point play for a 52-47 lead 2 1/2 minutes into the fourth quarter and a 52-47 edge.
“Shane is hard to describe,” said the Knights’ other superb junior guard, Judah Casaus. “He’s a dog. Right when he told me he got injured, he said, I’m gonna come back stronger even better.”
His mobility looked as good as ever. He wore a black brace over that left knee that mostly obscured half of a two-legged tattoo.
In capital letters up and down the back of his right calf, he has NONE spelled out. The brace blotted out most of the tattoo on the back of his left calf, which spells FEAR.
Douma-Sanchez was not in the starting lineup Wednesday, but entered the game quickly after tipoff.
“It was great. He’s just a baller,” Del Norte coach Jeron McIntosh said. “He made plays down the stretch to help us push the lead out, and he’s just the leader emotionally.”
As far back as October, there were whispers that Douma-Sanchez was healing at an exceptionally fast rate, making it possible for him to return sometime this season. His doctor cleared him to return even before Christmas, he said.
McIntosh had previously expressed some concern about bringing Douma-Sanchez back too quickly, not wanting to jeopardize the senior season he still had in front of him.
“It’s amazing,” McIntosh said. “I thought it would be a year. But he’s been working hard every day. ”
One coach in the preseason said of Del Norte, that the Knights were clearly the 4A favorite with Douma-Sanchez in the lineup.
“I feel like I’m the glue,” Douma-Sanchez said. “I’m the one that’s gonna bring it all together and just help our team make a push to the state title.”