By Brian Argabright
Forgive Del Rio Rams head basketball coach Joe Nieto if he seems a bit frazzled.
Now in his sixth year as the head man of the boys hoops team, Nieto has never seen a season like the one he’s facing right now. He’s lost a handful of returns due to concerns surrounding COVID-19, including the latest one this week, and earlier this month his team had its own brush with the coronavirus when San Antonio Cornerstone, the team they had just played days earlier, announced two of its players had tested positive for the virus. That meant all of the Rams that played in that game had to be tested.
The good news is all the players and coaches tested negative, and the team was able to get back to work just before Thanksgiving.
The bad news is the testing and required safety precautions pushed back the Rams’ home debut to Saturday, Dec. 5 against Pleasanton at noon.
Leading the Rams this year are a pair of all-district returners in senior Luis Arteaga and junior Juan “J.J.” Cervantes. Both were honorable mention selections in 2019, and Nieto said Cervantes was averaging a double-double in Del Rio’s first few games this season.
Joining them are returners Nick Rivera and Eli Webster and first-year varsity player Will Proffit, who was part of the Del Rio High tennis team in the fall and played on the Rams junior varsity basketball team last season.
The Rams will play 27 games this season. Masks will be required when on the bench or during timeouts, but players have the option to wear them or not when in the game. They’re encouraged to wear them during free throws, though. All of those are UIL recommendations. Nieto said the masks, usually in the form of gaiters, are mandatory during practice. The other big change for the program is no sub-varsity teams.
As for district play, which begins Dec. 18 at home against Laredo United, Nieto said this will be another competitive season for the Rams as teams like United, Laredo Nixon, United South and others return much of their starters.
“It’s a deep district again this year. We have to continue to get better and fill our roles, but with the right attitude and willingness to learn we can succeed. Once our guys learn the style they have to adapt to to be competitive I believe we can do it,” Nieto said.