SANTA FE, N.M. — Jason Abeyta inherited something of a mess when he took over the Santa Fe Indian School boys basketball program just before the district tournament last spring.
The team was reeling from the late February firing of head coach Ceci Moses and her assistant head coach/husband Rick Schimmel, leaving Abeyta the last man standing as the C team coach.
But Abetya led SFIS to the District 5-4A championship game, nearly earning a berth in the state tournament before being named head coach in the summer for his first varsity gig.
And now the team is virtually remade, with just two players returning from last season and a new attitude, as well, Abeyta said.
“The biggest thing we were looking for was to bring back the old Santa Fe Indian School tradition, where we went back to the Running Braves,” he said. “Since we’re back to the Running Braves, I think it’s only fitting that that is the way we played. Back to tradition, playing at a high, fast pace.”
With a retooled roster that has only four seniors, none of whom was on the team last season, the Braves are making do with a number of players that Abeyta coached on their way up through the program.
“It wasn’t too tough because I had been there for so long,” said Abeyta, who was the C team coach for six years. “I had built a relationship with them. I was just there, trying to get them through it. They were respectable. They took me in and allowed me to help them out as much as I could. We already had pretty good relationships that I like to apply, so it’s been a successful transition. We’ll see how the rest of it plays out.”
Because the team is so young, there have been some bumps, but the players’ enthusiasm has been able to carry the Braves through most rough patches.
“We’re very young,” the coach said. “It’s a learning experience for most of us. But our ability to play fast has been one of the biggest things we’ve been able to do. We try to speed you up and press a lot. We have a young group and they can really shoot the basketball.”
One of the keys has been the play of freshman point guard Nicholas Kaye, who transferred into the program from Española.
“He’s not your typical freshman,” Abeyta said. “He’s doing pretty well. We knew he was going to be pretty good, but we didn’t know he was that far advanced.”
The decision to move into the dorms at SFIS was not really a difficult one, Kaye said.
“It’s way better academically,” he said. “More put together. They had a lot of positives, like basketball. And a more structured foundation.”
The basketball has been good, Kaye said, because of the style.
“It’s fast-paced,” he said. “Everything has to be fast. You have to make decisions all the time because things are going on all the time.”
Junior newcomer Raheem Alonzo transferred in from Pine Hill, following in his older brother’s footsteps, and he has also been a key contributor.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I’m having fun and I really like my teammates. It’s like my second home. And once we get on the court, playing with each other, we are who we are. We see each other around school and it just gets easier on the court,. It’s just fun now. We just go by day by day, just try to get better.”
Sophomore Jason Abeyta Jr. played for his dad last season on the C team, so playing for him now is not a big change.
“He pushes me more than anybody,” he said. “It’s fun. We’re having fun. We’re closer than ever before. We’re just having fun. The pace is fast. It keeps the other teams on their tiptoes. We can go pretty far with our potential and our talent. I think we should be okay this year.”