By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Jaden Isler and his Clovis High basketball teammates remember all too well the last time they played in The Pit.
The Wildcats rolled into the Class 5A state championship game in March at the University of New Mexico’s basketball facility in Albuquerque with 28-1 record, but had to settle for second place with a last-second 73-71 loss to rival Hobbs.
Isler and teammates Bryce Hill and Layne Strebeck hope to put those memories behind them tonight when they return to The Pit for the New Mexico High School Coaches Association’s Class 4A-5A North-South boys all-star game.
“I’m planning on (the South) getting a win,” Isler said. “We want to go out the right way.”
Jaden’s dad, J.D. Isler, will coach the South squad in the 7:30 p.m. contest, following a Class 1A-2A boys matchup at 6 p.m.
The younger Isler has apparently recovered from an incident in late March when he collapsed and his heart stopped briefly for an unknown reason while watching a CHS girls softball game in Canyon, Texas. He now wears a defibrillator.
He signed in the spring with Division I Charleston Southern, but after his illness the school did not want the risk of an athlete with a heart condition. He later signed with Lubbock Christian.
“I feel a lot better,” Jaden Isler said. “I’m probably about 90 percent on my way back into shape.
“I’m kind of past the stage of being nervous about it. My instincts just tell me to go all out.”
Coach Isler said his South squad is relatively quick and looking for a fast tempo against a North team that may have a size advantage.
“Rebounding is a concern for us,” he said. “We’d like to get up and down and press, but I don’t know if we can do it that much in the summer.”
Hill and Isler formed a potent backcourt duo for the Cats, while Strebeck gave them inside help. Tonight they’ll play with a number of guys they competed against during the season.
“It’s been kind of a nice experience,” Jaden Isler said. “This is a little more relaxed.”
Regarding his three players, J.D. Isler has mixed feelings about the game.
“This is the last time I’ll be coaching them, and the last time for them to get to play in The Pit,” he said. “They’d like to go out winners.”
Texico well-represented — Forwards Courtland Luscombe and Casey Crist and post Daniel Schueler will play for the South in the 1A-2A game.
Texico coach Richard Luscombe, Courtland’s father and the South coach, expects the North to try to use its speed and quickness.
“They’ll be able to get up and down the floor,” he said. “But I think we’re pretty quick and we have an advantage in height. We’ll have to handle their pressure defense.”
Grady’s Brian Blackburn is on the North squad.
Four Cats set for football game — Clovis will be represented on the South team by offensive lineman Nathan Carter, defensive lineman Michael Howard, defensive end Diondre Hunter and cornerback Derrick Phillips in Friday’s Class 4A-5A all-star football game at University Stadium, set for 7 p.m.
Standout running back Manuel Robles was also chosen for the game, but will not play due to a foot injury.