Sometimes it takes a quirky situation to let the light shine in, and this, Phillip de la Rosa can relate to.
Fresh off a fabulous performance at a huge regional tournament in Georgetown, the senior-to-be realized this weekend that confidence is the key to all the dreams he and his team have for 2010-11.
De la Rosa was hampered by a pre-season wrist injury last year as a junior and was forced to focus on defense as his shot deserted him for long stretches. But he emerged during the summer league with intermittent sparks of the same fire he’d used to break into the Bobcat mix as a hot-shooting sophomore. Up at Georgetown, though, he found the magic for real, and ironically, he had to.
“Well, Steve and Cord, they went to the football tournament, so it was just me and A.O., plus a whole bunch of young dudes,” De la Rosa said, referencing teammates Stevie Guerrero and Cord Arriola, plus team leading scorer Aaron “A.O.” Olvera. “That meant the team was counting on me to step it up, big time.”
The tournament invite was a gift to EHS for winning the summer league title, and the ‘Cats came in a solid third with the big boys upstate, even with those two starters competing in the state 7-on-7 football clash in College Station. No Guerrero down low or Arriola out front, leaving the two remaining vets on their own. But the division of labor worked wonders for de la Rosa, the third brother in his family to start for the Runnin’ Bobcats over the years.
“I ain’t gonna lie, I really played well up there,” he commented. “Shooting, driving, dishing, everything, and it felt good to be 100 percent. I mean, I know what I can do, and last year was not that great. But now I am having the confidence and the guys, I want them to believe in me, see that I can do what I have to do. We’re all looking forward to this season.”
De la Rosa said that with so many inexperienced players on board for the trip, he knew he had to make the move to the next stage of development. Chasing the legacies of older bros Rallie and Noe, All-Star hoopsters both, brings pressure and responsibility, which the youngest DLR cherishes. Once a floppy-haired kid who was a constant gym rat on the scene, he chose jersey No. 22 to equal the sum of the numbers worn by Rallie (10) and Noe (12). And there’s more than a little symbolism therein.
“When I was younger I used to love to watch my brothers play, I totally looked up to them and learned from them,” he recalled. “Now that I am going to be a senior, I see the less experienced guys, they’re looking to us, asking what they can do better, they’re looking up to us like we used to do in the old days. I think they don’t want to fail to live up to the Bobcat legacy, none of us want that.”
With the Fantastic Four set in stone for the upcoming season (de la Rosa says he prays that Guerrero and Arriola will have a great football season with NO injuries), it leaves a bit of playing time for some of the lesser known ‘Cats.
De la Rosa noted that several of the young kids stepped up last weekend, namely 6-foot-4 post Gabriel Rivas. With last year’s number one center Marquis Holiday having completed his eligibility, Rivas has a chance to be a contributor.
“That guy was very good at the tournament, he was rebounding, posting up, making his free throws, he did a lot,” said de la Rosa. “A lot of the new guys just need to get their confidence, that’s what summer has been all about…them learning what it’s like to play at this level, realizing their skills, and just playing ball.”
Just playing ball, that is the Bobcat drill for the rest of the break. De la Rosa and teammates search for the open gym every day, and they’re all working out with weights to get bigger.
“I got a chance to maybe go to a college camp, the coaches at Georgetown were talking to me and A.O., so I want to try and get stronger and see what I can do over there,” he said, adding that actually, the absence of two stellar teammates last week might have given him a chance to forge his own mark in the drive to college. “You never know, I mean, I have faith in my game, especially now that I am through with the wrist injury. I can flick the wrist finally, am starting to shoot like I used to. So this tournament was a good thing, super good.”
The defensive stopper knows that his unit will probably be ranked No. 1 in the Valley come October, as the Bobcats return most of the cast from a dominant powerhouse that paced District 31-5A for the fourth year in a row and narrowly missed a trip to the regional quarterfinals. But he also heeds the advice of his coach, Zeke Cuellar.
“Coach always says, ‘That’s just a poll, it’s what someone thinks,’” he laughed. “He means that the games have to be played and that’s when you show what you got. We aren’t going to worry about polls. But I tell you, chances are we are going to be hard to stop this season.”