Weslaco Panthers vs Harlingen Cardinals

Team Profile: Weslaco Panthers

As I entered through the doors of the Sepulveda Gym, there was a calm serenity about practice. Coach Gabe Valdez seemed very relaxed, yet very focused and it emminated onto his players. Just as in any practice, especially before a playoff game, the habitual must be enforced, layup drill, jumpshot drill, freethrow drill, I could go on and on. Eventhough it seemed as though the Panthers were going through their daily routine, you could see the intensity in their eyes of a mental preparation that was taking place for tonight’s game. It’s the first round of the playoff, WIN or GO HOME!
As the practice continued Coach Valdez focused on fundamentals, as the Panthers have always been a fundamentally sound group. I could hear instruction on correct passing, hand/ball technique, dribbling, etc. Just as any master musician must be correctly tuned ,Coach was fine-tuning his team for a great performance. With each dribble, each swoosh of the net, each pass, it was very obvious that this great Purple Powerhouse was preparing for their show. As Coach yelled out, “don’t be fancy!” it was a confirmation that Weslaco was in good hands. Utilizing his great staff of coaches, instruction was everywhere, key to a great program.
Tonight Weslaco will rely on their entire team, but most of all on some key players who have shown their strength and depth throughout the season. Below are Rodrigo Verduzco, Sr., Julius Marquez, Sr., and JT Lopez, Jr. Rodrigo Verduzco has been a standout player each time I’ve had the opportunity to watch him. When he gets going on the 3-pt line, beware, he’ll hit it everytime. Rodrigo is a coach’s dream, a player who can come off the bench and light it up. In the last meeting between Weslaco and district Rival Brownsville Hanna, Verdruzco showed his outstanding shooting ability. An additional advantage is his size. As a guard he can easily come off the dribble and shoot, but at the same time he can definitely play solid defense down low if needed. I would definitely give this young man the “Sixth Man Award!”


Julius Marquez, starting forward who is quick, nimble, and smart under the basket. Marquez is quick on his toes for an easy put back. I’ve seen this kid physically and aggresively hussle in order to get the “ball back in the hoop.” That relentlessness is what separates Julius from the rest. You can’t play in the paint and hope you get the two, you make it happen. This is the attitude Marquez creates. He’s committed to his team and coach. As a senior on the team, his leadership is apparent, ‘Never give up!’

JT Lopez, ‘Mr. Hussle’, that’s the nickname I have officially given him. Lol. There’s never been a game that this kid hasn’t landed on the floor, ran into the pads on the sideline wall, taken a charge (his defense is always more than 100%), while at the same time, gracefully pulling up for a 10 foot jumper and scoring! Lopez, a junior shooting guard, has worked his way to a starter this year and he is definitely showing why Coach Valdez has him on the floor. Not only does he portray a great team attitude, JT boasts a near perfect GPA. JT loves the term student-athlete because this is truly his goal.

Raul Garcia (pictured above in purple) is the teams go-to-guy as he has proven worthy of this title. Playing as a post, Garcia rebounds extremely well and knows how to maneuver his body to get to the bucket. He is smart on transition and can easily hit an outside shot. As a bench players last year, Garcia has risen above and beyond to become a standout. At the start of the season, he was named MVP in two tournaments. He truly is a “Most Valuable Player.” The Panthers will need him to be strong tonite and throughout the post-season to continue their success.

Andrew Rangel, point guard and as many call him, GINOBILI, commands the floor with leadership. Only a junior, Rangel will need to take a more aggressive step as he is the one who directs his team. Rangel has a way of being crafty and sneaking in for quick layups. He reminds me of a Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili mix. He is extremely well at tucking in the ball as he goes up for his shot, therefore sending him to freethrow line. Rangel is a good freethrow shooter which has given the Panthers a nice cushion in close games. Great on defense and transition basketball, I see Rangel becoming an even greater contributor to his Panthers.

Tonite the Weslaco Panthers take on an equally talented team in the Harlingen Cardinals (Blog entry Wed, Jan. 20). Tonight will definitely be a packed house. I believe the winner will be determined through number of turnovers and made freethrows. I predict an extremely close game within single digits. I wish both teams and coaches, Gabe Valdez and Greg Yates, the BEST OF LUCK!

** Action shots courtesy of the Mid-Valley Town Crier**

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