Fri May 20th, 2022
Special to the Drum
Ignacio star selects NAIA, Bacone College
Amongst multiple things for which former Hotchkiss (now North Fork) Baseball head coach Blake Carlquist would have been thankful for this spring, one may have been the fact he wouldn’t have to watch Ignacio’s Gabe Tucson dealing.
“We just kept chipping away … found a way to get some runs,” he’d said following HHS’ two-game takeover of IHS Field. “But hats off to that lefty [Tucson]; he’s a good arm and it’s not going to be an easy day if he’s in the strike zone.”
Now skipper at reformed HHS-Paonia collective North Fork, Carlquist could easily have been Nucla’s Randy Gabriel or Dove Creek’s Trent Daves with that remark, considering themselves fortunate not to see reinvigorated Ignacio’s ace in 2A/1A San Juan Basin League play in 2022.
Not that he hasn’t wanted to be out on the diamond; the multi-sport standouts just had a different goal in sight.
Pot-committed since the Fall ’21 football season’s end to a dream finally realized Thursday morning, May 12, Tucson made his next destination known by signing a National Letter-of-Intent to study at, and play National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics-level basketball for Bacone College in Muskogee, Okla.
“It did feel a little unusual,” a grinning Tucson said, of having a couple dozen witnesses observing him inside IHS Gymnasium without the rock in his hand, “but I was glad my family was … watching me make the next move in my life.”
“I just wanted to go somewhere that was different, continue playing with Natives and … yeah, there’s mixed emotions,” he continued. “I’m feeling very anxious, but excited.”
“Well when he came out for the workouts last month, right away I could tell from his charisma, his body language, his energy that he was giving off that he’s a basketball player,” stated BC Men’s Basketball head coach Ruben Little Head, who’d first addressed the crowd – filled with Tucson’s family and classmates, plus IHS staff as well as Bobcat Boys’ Basketball assistant Damon White Thunder – in his Northern Cheyenne before then offering an English translation.
“What I liked about him was his open court-ness, his ability to fill the lanes and his … being very positive. That’s the word I want to use: Positive,” Little Head continued. “As far as being a team player, somebody’s coached him good!”
“Gabe proved that he was the best player on the floor, and the good part about him is that it’s not about him,” longtime IHS boss Chris Valdez had said during the ’21-22 campaign. “He was sharing the ball, trying to make things happen for his team – trying to help the team get better. That’s when you know you’ve got a future, when your best player is working with everybody to get them to his level and not just playing above them.”
“He’s encouraged all of us to do better,” sophomore guard Phillip Quintana had said, following Ignacio’s season-ending loss to Aurora-based Lotus School for Excellence in the 2A-Region IV semifinals, held at Vail Mountain H.S. “He holds the team to a standard and we came up to his standard; we played with him.”
During his two years as a primary varsity weapon, Tucson helped the Bobcats go 14-3 overall during the COVID-compressed 2020-21 season, then 16-7 in ’21-22 as Ignacio’s lone returning starter. And after averaging 11.9 points per game as a junior, he netted 18.2 (plus 9.8 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.9 steals) per outing this winter en route to earning First Team All-SJBL and Honorable Mention All-2A distinctions.
“We couldn’t be here without him for sure; he was the best of us at rebounds, points – best on the team for sure,” sophomore post Gabe Cox had said after the LSFE loss. “He’s been the best player the past two years, really carried our team.”
“I’m hoping he hits another growth spurt; if he hits 6’3” or 6’4”, that’d be awesome,” said Little Head. “But he’s a big guard, plays the 1-2 positions – maybe even the 3 – and I envision him a slasher in the open court. And he has a pretty good outside shot, from what I’ve seen.”
“Myself, I like offense, but I love defense, and if he works hard for me in that department, he’ll earn minutes!”
Defense would indeed appear to be the aspect Little Head, named Bacone’s head coach in Feb. 2021, wants to see most improved for the upcoming 2022-23 haul; ten times in ’21-22 the Warriors, part of the NAIA’s independent-filled Continental Athletic Conference, surrendered 100 or more points.
Reaching triple digits offensively just once, BC posted a 3-25 overall record including a home win over Moore, Okla.-based Randall University, a three-point win over Lincoln (Ill.) Christian University, and a season-ending, one-point overtime win in Point Lookout, Mo., at College of the Ozarks.
Bacone did not qualify for the eight-team CAC Tournament, held Feb. 25-27 in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, and hosted by 5-seed Iowa Wesleyan University. Part of a record-breaking 31-4 season, Temple Terrace, Fla.-based Florida College won the event and qualified (along with runner-up Washington Adventist University, of Takoma Park, Md.) for the NAIA National Tournament. The Falcons then defeated Evangel University in the first round – the first Nationals victory in FC history – before falling to eventual national champion Loyola-New Orleans in the LNO-hosted Naismith Quadrant’s finale.
Ending up 37-1 overall, the Wolf Pack would ultimately defeat Talladega (Ala.) College to earn Loyola’s first NAIA crown since the 1944-45 season, and denied the Tornadoes (32-6) inside Kansas City, Missouri’s Municipal Auditorium – the same building in which LNO had beaten current NCAA Div. I member Pepperdine 77 years earlier.
Mentioning interests in studying sports management or radiology, Tucson noted Bacone became his choice partially due to its IHS-like population of around 300 students.
“Yeah, big time,” he said. “I don’t want to be a ‘number’ to some professor; I want to get to know my teachers and them get to know me. I’m wanting to make a difference, and … it felt like home.”
“Cooking, rafting, hiking, watching movies …. We just do a lot of team-bonding where they can get more acquainted with each other, get to know each other,” said Little Head. “Because if you know each other well outside the court, when you’re on-court you’re going to play your roles better.”