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Fuentes averaging double-double for Kings after taking last season off
When Mary Kaye Garcia took over as the coach for the Kofa girls basketball team this summer, she already knew what was waiting for her.
It was something that any new coach would thank the basketball gods for, because it meant her job got a little bit easier.
Jacky Fuentes decided she wanted to play basketball again.
After playing varsity her sophomore year for the Kings, Fuentes took her junior year off to focus on academics but the 6-foot post has returned — and returned in a big way. She's averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds per game and has led the Kings to an 8-2 record and a seven-game winning streak.
“I talked to her and she regretted not playing last year,” Garcia said. “It was kind of a thing where I didn't have to pitch anything. She knew she was going to play.”
Fuentes, who was a star middle blocker for the Kings' volleyball team that reached the state playoffs, is the definition of a student-athlete. And last winter, the student took priority over the athlete. A rigorous Advanced Placement Economics class was heating up, and with basketball practice and games getting out so late, there was no time for both. The basketball sneakers, Fuentes decided, would be hung up for good.
However, during a pep assembly during basketball season last year in which the boys and girls teams faced off against the Kofa faculty, she felt it.
“I watched it and thought that could have been me,” said Fuentes, who hopes to go to University of Arizona to be a nurse practitioner. “They were having so much fun. The whole thing. Scoring points, people cheering you on, playing with your teammates. I missed that team bonding.”
She wasn't the only one who missed her being on the court.
“At the beginning of the (last) season, there's times where I thought man, if Jacky was here,” senior guard Adly Wiley said. “We had speed on our team, but having tall people always helps.”
Summer rolled around, when the basketball team put on camps and had open gyms, and Fuentes couldn't resist the temptation any longer. It was time to play again.
“We were all really excited when we found out she was coming back this season,” Wiley said.
But there were temporary speedbumps along the way. Mostly, the process of getting rid of a year's worth of rust.
“She has all the aspects to be a good basketball player, she just hadn't played for a while. And you could tell,” Garcia said. “Not even skill-wise, but confidence-wise. Taking a whole year off and not doing anything related to basketball is going to hurt any athlete. But she put in a lot of time over the summer.”
“I think as soon as she got back to open gym, she got that skill back from before,” Kofa sophomore point guard Sally Gastelo said.
But for Fuentes, regaining the skills side of the sport wasn't the hardest part.
“It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be,” Fuentes said about the return, adding, “the only thing was the conditioning. Because going to volleyball where you don't run that much to basketball, I was so behind on the conditioning.”
It didn't take long for Garcia to like what she saw. So much so, that she named Fuentes a team captain despite not playing for the Kings the season before.
“The minute she stepped on the court and working for me, you could immediately see the leadership from her. That's how she's always been,” Garcia said. “It was really a simple decision for me.”
Last season, the Fuentes-less Kings only won 8 games. This year, they reached that mark before Christmas. After spending last year dedicating herself solely to the books in the winter, she said she has learned how to balance the two. She has found a way to have her cake and eat it, too. So far this season, that cake has been mighty tasty.
“Every time the other players saw me (last year) they'd nod their heads or say you better come back next year,” Fuentes said. “When I came back they all said we missed you, we're so glad you're back. And that felt good. I have to admit, that felt really good.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson.