Aaron Nuckles can honestly say there is no ‘I’ in Lometa.
Despite three consecutive district championships and trio of trips to the area round of the playoffs, something was missing from the Hornets’ roster. It certainly was not talent or ability, and the squad has always possessed the desire to succeed and a will to win, but Lometa lacked one critical component.
But just four games into this season, the Hornets’ head coach feels the lost link has been discovered.
“It’s just unselfishness,” Nuckles said. “Last year, if someone didn’t score enough points, they wanted more points. This year, they don’t care. It’s just about winning ballgames.
“More than anything, it is due to our maturity. Our three seniors have figured out this is their last ride, and they want to make the most of it, and there is a big difference between being a sophomore and a junior. These kids are a little older this year, and they know what is expected.”
The change in mentality is already paying dividends.
Ranked 25th in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches’ Class 1A poll, Lometa is undefeated through its first four games of the season following senior guard Ivan Jasso’s game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Central Texas Christian on Thursday morning. With the 54-51 victory, the Hornets advance into the semifinals of the Temple Holy Trinity Catholic High School Invitational against Marble Falls Faith at 10:30 a.m. today.
The last-second win came less than 48 hours after Lometa defeated San Saba for the first time since Nuckles took over the program in 2011. In addition to keeping its record unblemished, beating the Armadillos, who were coming off an upset of No. 5 Menard, allowed the Hornets to clear a mental hurdle.
“We’d never beat them before,” Nuckles said. “We’ve been close, but we never had beat them. After beating Central Texas Christian, I told the guys that if we didn’t beat San Saba, we would not have won this game, and they agreed. We just wouldn’t have been ready for it.”
Along with Jasso, who was an all-district first-team selection last season, the Hornets have plenty of returning talent this year in defending all-district co-defensive players of the year Kyle Molter and Reid Moore, along with fellow first-team members Adrian Rivera and Connell Barnett.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises thus far, however, has been the play of junior wing Carlos Perez, who entered Thursday’s game as the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 12 points and 5.3 assists. Last season, he averaged 7.3 points and 2.9 assists.
But thanks to the Hornets’ newfound cohesion and commitment to team, statistics are virtually meaningless now.
“Carlos only scored three points against Central Texas Christian,” Nuckles said. “Other guys found a way to score, and that is just going to make us better.”
While the season is still young and Lometa has a lot left to accomplish, Nuckles feels his team is an ideal position for this point in the campaign, primarily because nothing other than winning matters — not even being recognized as one of the top 25 teams in the state.
“Last year,” he said, “we always wanted to be ranked, and we never got there. They guys always got caught up on it, asking, ‘Why aren’t we ranked?’
“This year, we are ranked, and they don’t care. They’re not looking to see if we are any more. If anything, they get on social media to look at the teams we could face in the playoffs. There is no concern about stuff like that now.”