Demon Boys’ Basketball: Next Man Up

Louis Herndon, Author

Grit, hustle, and coordination have characterized Santa Fe High’s boys’ basketball lineups for years, and this year’s team epitomizes these qualities. 

The Demons’ relentless up-tempo playstyle, facilitated by their quick guard play on and off the ball, is quickly overwhelming for unprepared teams. Few New Mexico opponents are accustomed to the stamina it takes to play 40 minutes of Santa Fe style basketball, experiencing the Demon death sentence of a thousand cuts – and passes.

As Head Coach Zack Cole paces the sideline during games, he is often seen waving his finger around, shouting, “Mixer! Mixer!” across the court. It’s no secret to fans, other coaches, or the opposing team what “mixer” really means: It’s the pace and tenacity the boys run this play with that make it so lethal. 

“Mixer” is a fairly standard five-out spread offense built on a series of passes, cuts, and rotations. However, the offensive schema is transformed into a tornado of constant motion because of the ability of guards to penetrate the defense. Whether they take it to the rim, or kick it out to the array of shooters behind the arc, defenses are frequently dismantled by the speed and coordination of the fluid Demon offense. 

Although being more than capable offensively, the team’s heartbeat lies in their transition game. “Transition is a big deal for us,” said Coach Cole.

Regardless of the score or situation, the Demons are almost always full court pressing. The team runs a suffocating defensive press system from baseline to baseline known as “roadrunner.” 

Coach Cole sets up a minefield of sideline traps throughout the length of court, harassing inbounders and guards until the inevitable panic pass is made. The format of the press-defense allows for intuitive timing on pickoffs and backdoor strips from all five Demons on the floor. 

On the occasion that the ball finds a way to leak through the full court press, the team reorganizes itself into a 1-1-3 tandem zone (two players stacked on the top of the key, three along the baseline). Baseline defenders are tasked with closing out on potential shooters while maintaining a presence in the paint, while the stacked guards focus on trapping the ball and closing off lanes. All five players are constantly cluttering the lanes with bodies and limbs, hence generating a lot of loose-ball scenarios, something each Demon on the floor is eager to jump on. 

Most importantly, the frequent generation of turnovers almost always leads to a bucket-getting opportunity. The team survives off of the pressure they impose on opposing teams; each tipped pass or transition steal is translated into a good shot or quality possession. 

This high conversion rate on turnovers boils down to three constants: superior discipline and decisive maneuvers when attacking the hoop in transition; speed; and surgical outlet passing. 

It is the persistence and dedication to the suffocating defensive system from baseline to baseline and buzzer to buzzer that makes this team so dangerous. Double-digit deficits seem to dissolve in minutes once the snowball of transition buckets gets rolling. When the team is truly in its element, it seems as though the Demons have a sixth man on the floor flying around the hardwood with them. 

Although the team has reached a certain level of consistency and success, things weren’t as fluid at the beginning of the season. Coach Cole was well aware of the potential that the team had, but he didn’t hesitate to acknowledge that the team was “developing.” 

After the team suffered an early devastating loss to non-district city rival St. Michael’s in the Capital City Tournament championship game, they had some reflecting to do. Santa Fe High was the clearly better team, so why did they lose?  

Simply put, the team failed to handle adversity well. When faced with a deficit against a city rival in a championship game, the boys began to force shots and make unwise decisions on the court.

Coach Cole, the rest of the coaching staff, and the players assembled to watch film and identify the weaknesses in their play. Coach Cole often integrates film into the weekly regimen for the program because it “points out all the little things,” he says. 

Coach Cole said he emphasized a set of principles to strengthen the mental toughness of the team for the next time they would face adversity on the court. He reminded the boys to take what the other team gave them and to secure rebounds before getting ahead of themselves. Above all, he told the team to stick together and operate as a unit rather than each putting up an individual effort.

Two weeks after the loss to the Horsemen, the two teams met again at Toby Roybal Gym, one team returning for a second taste, the other out for revenge. Surrounded by an electric atmosphere for an otherwise inconsequential non-district matchup, the Demons looked like an entirely different team. 

The Demons held the reins to the Horsemen from start to finish, closing out the victory with a convincing score of 79-57.

The Demons appear to be hitting their stride at the most opportune time as district play has just begun. Despite marking a slightly underwhelming 9-7 record during non-district competition, the team has blazed a four-game win streak, including wins in their first two district games. The team’s most recent triumph over higher seeded district rival Los Lunas has sparked chatter in the 5A basketball sphere as other teams regard them as a squad no one wants to cross paths with.

Six foot two junior guard Lukas Turner has been turning heads all season with his explosive first step, consistent midrange game, and arsenal of finishing moves around the rim for the Demons. Number three in navy blue and gold has been circled in red all season by opposing coaches who have found themselves in Demon country. 

The Demon varsity lineup is also led by a solid group of six seniors (Rob Martinez, Lorenzo Perea, Daniel Lopez, Owen Lock, Santiago Montoya, and Joshua Trujillo), who have each been in the program for three to four years and are the backbone of the roster. 

As the season has progressed, the coaching staff have integrated an exciting lineup of sophomore weapons into the rotation. When the starters need a breather, or are lacking a creative approach to attack an opposing defense, the coaches sub in one of the four sophomore guards (Bronson Cole, Sam Lopez, Niko Morales, and Joe Gonzales) to ignite the offensive rhythm once again. It seems that any one of these guards is capable of shooting the lights out of the building at any moment. 

Headlined by the fast tempo guard play and “next man up” mentality, the Demons are a team to look out for come playoff season. 

Basketball fan or not, Demon basketball home games are an event worth checking out. The speakers are bumping, the stands are chirping, and the Demons are winning. What’s not to love?

Coach Cole promises fans that “[they’ll] see some passionate high energy basketball played by good athletes.”

The Demon’s face off against the evenly matched district rival Capital Jaguars for the first time this season on Sat., Jan. 28, at 7 p.m. here at Toby Roybal Gym. 

The Boys Varsity Basketball schedule, along with all other sports schedules, can be accessed through the Demon Tattler’s home page. Click on the rotating link at the top of the site.