A packed John W. Buckner Gymnasium witnessed one of the biggest wins in Overland Blazer basketball history Friday when the Overland boys basketball team upset #1 ranked Arapahoe by a final score of 60-56. The Warriors were unbeaten, but the Blazers got off to a fast start, pouncing on Arapahoe to get a 13- 3 lead in the first half.
Although Arapahoe would close the gap and take a lead in the 4thquarter, Overland and senior captain, Darius Pardner, refused to lose.
“He is the leader of our basketball team right now,” Overland coach Ron Garcia y Ortiz said. “He hit some really big shots down the stretch. Before the game I told him big players play big in big games and he definitely rose to the occasion.”
Pardner finished the night tied for the team lead in points with 17. His coach is proud of Pardner both on and off the court.
“He’s a basketball player, but honestly he’s a better kid. He’s got a 3.6 in the classroom. He’s a great kid in the building. He’s a student leader and he’s very coachable,” Garcia y Ortiz said.
Pardner and his coach have revitalized the crowd at Buckner Gymnasium that a few years ago had bleachers that were nothing more than a barren section of wood.
“A lot of the kids are coming out. Obviously winning brings out fans and kids,” Overland baseball coach Don Parker said. “I think we’re seeing a lot more of the community involvement in the basketball program. Certainly we hope that correlates to a lot of the other sports teams also.”
The win puts the Blazers record at 11-4 and 5-1 in league play. The amazing part of this is that just a few years ago a win in league play, much less a win over a #1 team, seemed impossible for Overland.
When Ron Garcia y Ortiz arrived at Overland in Fall of 2008, the team had just 11 wins in its past five seasons. They had just two wins in league play during that stretch.
“These kids wanted to win badly,” Garcia y Ortiz said. “They had won like six games in five years before we came here. We just wanted them to have a higher standard.”
Basketball on Jewell Avenue changed when Garcia y Ortiz arrived from Centennial league foe Eaglecrest. He brought the Blazers eight conference wins, and a spot in the 5A tournament in his first season — a feat he duplicated in the following season. Some graduating classes at the school did not see 15 wins in their four years at the school.
“He brought intensity and just a high level of consistency to the program. All the kids buy in and he certainly has some great kids out there that just really, really play hard for him,” Parker said.
“I really didn’t turn it around. It was a commitment to a higher standard.” Garcia y Ortiz said. “We came in and we just wouldn’t accept losing.”
Garcia y Ortiz, who is also the school’s athletic director, credits his players accepting his system, not his staff, with resurrecting the bottom feeder of the Centennial league.
“We had a bunch of kids that bought in. A bunch of kids that were here had played together a long time bought into it and then after that it’s just easy coaching from there if you have kids that are committed.”
What the Blazers bought into was their coach’s self-described fast-paced, up-tempo style. When he arrived at Overland, he preached a defense first mentality. Completely changing a team’s outlook provided a challenge, but the way Garcia y Ortiz bonds with his players helps them buy into his system.
“For me it’s building relationships with my kids. I love every kid in there. My main goal is to make them better men and then better basketball players,” Garcia y Ortiz said.
Even though his team has ten seniors, Garcia y Ortiz assures Blazer fans that this winning trend will not regress back to the Blazers of old any time soon.
“We lost nine kids last year.” Garcia y Ortiz said. “We have a junior-heavy JV team that works every day against this group. I don’t think there will be a drop off at all.”
Overland ranked 10th in the state coming into this week, but after a 1-1 week that saw them defeat the unbeaten Warriors, Pardner, Garcia y Ortiz, and the rest of the Trailblazers are celebrating as they ascend the rankings.