South Houston boys basketball coach Patrick McCoy scans the floor during a game three years ago. McCoy says his team's experience in the Division I portion of the McDonald's Texas Invitational last year helped the Trojans' confidence and contributed to the team's success in the state playoffs.
A year ago South Houston boys basketball coach Patrick McCoy found himself confronted with the same question just about every time he ran into one of his coaching colleagues. He finally came up with just the right tongue-in-cheek answer.
Why, his basketball buddies wanted to know, would McCoy agree to enter his team in the rough-and-tumble elite division of the McDonald’s Texas Invitational Basketball Tournament? Why would the John Does from South Houston want to square off with the Vanderbilts of the state high school basketball scene?
McCoy learned to take his inquisitors in stride and respond with a smile.
“Because we just got tired of playing y’all!”
It was a year ago that McCoy’s Trojans became the first Pasadena ISD team, on either the boys or girls side, to compete in the Division 1 half of the Texas Invitational – a division that has regularly produced state champions and showcased top talent during the tournament’s 17-year history.
When the 18th edition of the Texas Invitational tips off on Nov. 17, South Houston will return to the ranks of Division 2. But McCoy says he’ll never forget the experience of competing in Division 1 and that he’ll always appreciate the positive impact it had on his team.
“It turned out to be huge for us,” McCoy says. “It was the springboard that got us where we wanted to be.”
The Trojans dropped their first four games in the tournament, losing to Class 6A powerhouses Richardson, Fort Bend Marshall, Duncanville and Kingwood. Still, three of the four losses were by respectable margins. And the Trojans capped off the tournament with a 19-point victory over C.E. King.
Dividends from that experience began to show up about a month later when the Trojans reeled off six consecutive victories. Then, after a District 22-6A loss to Manvel, South Houston won 14 in a row, finished second in the district race with a 14-2 record and then battered Port Arthur Memorial by 24 points in the first round of the state playoffs.
The playoff berth was the sixth for McCoy in his six years at South Houston. But the playoff victory snapped a streak of four consecutive first-round losses.
“It was important for us to get out of that bi-district round,” he says. “We had gotten kind of stuck there.”
The Texas Invitational features 80 high school teams – 48 on the boys’ side and 32 on the girls’ – from across the state, all competing over three days at 10 basketball venues around Pasadena and in Deer Park. Competing teams are seeded and placed in two divisions based upon their assigned seed.
It was a little over a year ago that McCoy got a call with an unusual offer. His Trojans, he was told, had just missed the Division 1 cut. However, another team assigned to play in Division 1 had asked to be placed in Division 2. That created an opening.
“I asked our players and told them it was going to be super difficult, but if it was something they wanted to do, it would be a good chance for us to test ourselves.” McCoy recalls. “Every one of the kids said, ‘Let’s go!’”
“I said, ‘That’s good -- because I already said yes!’”
Says McCoy: “It was important that we do it. It was important because of the stature of the tournament. No team from our school district had ever done that before.”
Had McCoy known he would be without his best player, he might have taken a different view.
Nick Hernandez, a three-year letterman and one of the area’s best players, was sidelined by illness just before the tournament and didn’t return to the court until the end of the year.
“That was the scary part of it -- Nick got sick and couldn’t play,” McCoy says. “Not having one of your most productive players – that was scary.”
McCoy challenged his players to make the best of the situation, to fight through every situation and keep their eye on the ultimate goal – another dash to the state playoffs.
“We told our players that we weren’t looking for one guy to give us an extra 10 points a game,” McCoy says. “We were looking for eight guys to step up and give us an extra 10 points a game. In the tournament, we knew we would be playing Top 25 teams. We just said, ‘Hey, we can do this!’”
Against Richardson, the Trojans faced a 7-foot center. They lost by 12. Against Fort Bend Marshall, they face another huge front line. They lost by eight.
Weary and forced to play an early game the second day, they lost to Duncanville by 22. But the Trojans bounced back against Kingwood, losing by only five. In their Saturday finale, the Trojans crushed C.E. King, 65-46.
“After our experience in the Texas Invitational, adversity wasn’t really a problem for us,” McCoy says. “We could be facing a really good team, but we always took the approach that they weren’t going to be as good as the teams we saw in the Texas Invitational.”
A year later, McCoy faces a different situation. South Houston returns only two starters – Jalen Amos and Deontae Johnson. Also back is sixth man Dralyn Brown. Still, no one on McCoy’s squad averaged more than five points a game last year.
On top of that, McCoy must wait out the availability of six players coming out of football – re-enforcements that will be delayed even longer because of the Trojan football team’s unexpected claim on a state playoff berth.
Of those six players, five are sophomores. But that list includes Torrence Stevens and Ethan Ponce, two of the football teams offensive standouts.
McCoy’s roster last year didn’t include any football players.
“Last year,” he says, “everything broke right for us to do something big and important.”
Managing expectations, McCoy says, may be a more difficult task. Still, McCoy says he has no regrets about his team’s high altitude foray at the 2015 Texas Invitational.
“I think we represented our school and our program very well,” he says.
McCoy uses a timeout to challenge his players during a 2014-15 contest.