Tiger boys have new coach and a lot of weapons

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It is a new day for Los Lunas basketball, but with some connections to the Tiger past.

News-Bulletin file photo: Senior Guard Dakota Eward battles between two Eldorado defenders during a game last season. Eward and seven other seniors, are looking to establish a quick, unselfish style of play under new coach Travis Julian. The Tigers open with Class 4A defending state champion Santa Teresa at home on Saturday, Dec. 1.

The Tigers will have a new starting lineup, losing six players to graduation. They will have a new coach and a new style of offense. They will have a new philosophy, and new assistant coaches.

But the new coach is longtime resident Travis Julian. The new assistant coach is former Los Lunas star Matt Billups. The newest player, Ben Romero, was a middle-school teammate with some of the Los Lunas seniors.

The Tigers open with defending Class 4A state champion Santa Teresa at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1. The Desert Warriors ended Los Lunas’ season last year in the state quarterfinals, 61-44.

It is then on to the buses for the next two games at Bernalillo and in Las Cruces to face Centennial. The travel doesn’t get any easier as the Tigers visit Alamogordo, Mesilla Valley Christian and Piedra Vista.

That will be the biggest adjustment to me,” said Julian, explaining that the Albuquerque area circuit was not so travel-heavy.

“We are going to spend a lot of time on the bus. The way I look at it, it’s more time for us to bond.

Under Julian, the Tigers will be a defense-first, transition-when-possible, and motion-offense team. The Tigers will have the services of one of the better players in Class 4A in Romero.

Romero is Julian’s stepson. The family has lived in Los Lunas for last 17 years, meaning the ties are deep between Romero and current Tiger players from elementary and middle school days.

Back for his senior season in blue and orange, Romero will rejoin his former teammates, Dakota Eward, Quentin Mullins and five other seniors to lead Los Lunas.

“It will be nice to be able to coach close to home is welcomed by me,” said Julian. “It has been nice.”

Julian has been coaching for 15 years, beginning as an assistant under Mike Brown at Albuquerque Academy and then for five years at Manzano under Greg Brown before taking over the Monarch reigns for five more seasons. Julian has a 117-45 record at Manzano.

Julian noted that the decision of where to spend his senior year was left up to Romero.

“It was a difficult decision for Ben,” said Julian. “He was really torn. He always kind of wondered what it would be like if he had stayed in Los Lunas.”

The eight seniors will be joined, at some point, by five juniors who are currently in the Class 4A football playoffs.

Chris Sanchez, Jacob Holland, Jalen Chavez, Sasha Gallegos and Chad Murphy could all join the team as late as the Dec. 22 trip to Alamagordo.

Until the junior group is out of the pads and helmets, the seniors will make it through the first five games or so of the schedule.

“The difficult thing is that you have two phasing in periods,” said Julian. “You have with a group that starts the season and that is difficult. Then you have to go through it again when the new group comes out.”

Romero will lead the team, primarily as a point guard, and Julian is particularly pleased with the progress of Eward and Mullins.

“We are expecting Ben to have a big year,” said Julian of his stepson. “It may come across as me being partial, but he is probably one of the three hardest working kids I have ever coached.”

Eward has developed some physical stamina over the summer.

“I think that Dakota will have a big year,” said Julian of the weight-room efforts. “The added strength is really going to have him playing well.”

Mullins will be the sole true post player for the Tigers.

“Quentin really worked this summer. When we had him in the summer we were a completely different team in a positive way. He is a bulldog,” Julian said.

Seniors Aaron Sais, Chris Bartlett, Emilo Gutierrez, Marcus Mendoza and Martin Mendoza will provide leadership in attitude and get plenty of playing time in the early part of the season.

“The seniors on our roster are very committed,” Julian said. “The junior group, too. They have come to all of the summer workouts and have been very committed.”

Once the juniors join the group, the Tigers should be very deep and very fast.

“I think once we have the full team out, we have the ability to run,” said Julian. “We will be very athletic.”

An immediate scoring punch as well as some team quickness will be added when Sanchez, Holland and Chavez join the roster. Gallegos and Murphy will add depth.

The coaching transition will be fun to watch as the Tigers go from being short-handed to having a lot of guys capable of playing time.

“One of our core values is sacrifice,” said Julian, giving a hint as to the atmosphere he will establish. “So some of the mare going to have to sacrifice scoring more points for the team to benefit. That is always a challenge in basketball. The nature (of the game) is to go get yours.

“I want them to shoot open shots, but we are going to have a lot of discussions about what a good shot is.”

He continued by noting the unselfish play would lead to accomplishing team goals rather than individual needs.

“We are not trying to win individual scoring titles, we are trying to win championships,” said Julian. “If it is a district championship or even better, we have to play together.”


-- Email the author at mstearns@news-bulletin.com.