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Big commitment paying off for aspiring coach

SANTA FE, N.M. — In Estevan Sandoval’s senior year, he broke his hand in the district tournament, so he never got a chance to play in the state basketball tournament for St. Michael’s High School.

But he’s been to one NCAA tournament and four Mountain West tournaments in Las Vegas, Nev.

“I’m in Vegas right now,” said Sandoval, a senior student manager for the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team. “It doesn’t get much better than that when it’s March Madness.”

Indeed, Sandoval has ridden the rollercoaster ride that has been Lobos basketball from behind the bench as he’s pursued a degree in business administration with an emphasis on marketing. He’ll graduate in May and has applied for graduate school to study sports administration.

He hopes to be like his dad, Greg Sandoval, by getting into coaching. Greg Sandoval is an assistant coach for the Santa Fe High boys teams and coached his son while he was with the Horsemen.

Playing for his dad and St. Mike’s head coach Ron Geyer made prep basketball a fun experience and fueled his appetite for coaching.

“Coach Geyer, not modern in a historical sense, but his values have gone on over time and he’s really successful at what he does,” Sandoval said. “I learned tons from him. And dad was a coach under him at the time I played. So I got the experience of playing for one of the best coaches in New Mexico high school basketball and I got to play for dad. That made my high school playing basketball experience that much better.”

But Sandoval also was realistic about his playing abilities as he graduated in 2013.

“I knew I wasn’t qualified enough in high school to play at the next level,” he said. “But I wanted to be affiliated with a basketball team in some way.”

Geyer knew New Mexico Highlands coach Craig Snow, who at the time was an assistant at UNM, and they arranged the position with the Lobos for Sandoval.

“I’m just really passionate about basketball,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite things. I truly do love it with everything I have.”

As a manager, Sandoval’s duties are anything but glamorous.

“I do anything from laundry to film break down,” he said. “A lot of the stuff that nobody wants to do. But I love what I do. I get to be around the team I grew up watching.”

And he does still get to play occasionally nowadays.

“Me and the other managers, on the night before games, we end up playing 2-on-2 or 3-on-3,” Sandoval said. “That’s when we get to have our fun, usually late at night, when the other work is done.”

The real payoff is getting to be on hand for practice, and learning from Lobos coach Craig Neal and the other assistant coaches.

“There’s a lot of learning for me,” Sandoval said. “My aspirations are to become a coach. I try to watch as much film as I can. I do as much as I can to help us. When I got to college, I didn’t have any knowledge of being an analytics guy. I learned a lot of how to be an efficient basketball guy.”

It’s been a big commitment, but it’s paying off, he said.

“I’m at practice every day,” Sandoval said. “I see a lot of the teaching that coach (Neal) does day in and day out. I’ve learned I so much I can’t even count how many things I’ve learned from him.”

And, from Neal’s perspective, he’s been happy to have Sandoval around.

“I can’t thank Estevan enough for our players, for our staff, for everything that the managers do,” Neal said. “They’re really a part of our teams and a part of this family. It will always be that way.”

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