A line of fresh-faced boys in matching white jerseys impatiently sit on the courtside bleachers on a Friday afternoon. These young men make up this year’s Canyon del Oro boys basketball team, and they’re ready to get their pictures taken and get the day’s practice underway.
In the background, lining up the day’s necessities—a few basketballs, orange cones and a few other knick-knacks—is first-year coach Jason Apodaca.
Apodaca faces a daunting task this season, with the assignment of resurrecting the Dorados’ long-dormant boys basketball program.
It’s a tough assignment for any coach, but one that Apodaca, who worked as an assistant on last year’s Pima Community College squad that made the National Junior College Athletic Association national title game, can handle.
Apodaca is thrilled to return to the high school game, after previously coaching for eight years at St. Gregory College Prep High School and Desert Christian before that.
“I’m teaching P.E. here full time, and I just kind of want to get into a big program in town,” he said. “I just kind of felt like it, I liked college, but I wanted to get back to high school.”
Apodaca’s pedigree speaks for itself, winning three state titles in his 15 seasons at the two Tucson private schools.
He’s confident that his time as an assistant under longtime PCC coach Brian Peabody made him a better coach, and that he’s the right man to take on the challenge of rebuilding the Dorados program.
“I think it’s easy if you come in and have a really good team, and I thought this should be a really good program, they have really good kids, it’s a great school,” Apodaca said. “It sounds funny, but we’re going to bring good, old-fashioned hard work back to the program.”
Apodaca’s bountiful confidence trickles down to his players, like guard Kameron Engram, who expects to play a large role in this year’s rotation.
“[Coach Apodaca] seems like he knows what he’s doing,” Engram said. “He has a lot of experience with Pima, so looking forward to learning more with him and growing more with him.”
Part of what excites Engram and fellow upperclassman Jano Medina is Apodaca’s up-tempo offense that focuses on offensive firepower.
For Apodaca, such an attack allows the Dorados to succeed, despite their lack of height on this year’s roster.
“We’re going to play as fast as possible,” he said. “Hopefully we’re going to be a super exciting team that talks on defense, that plays super hard, that wins 50/50 balls, that dives on loose balls, that takes charges.”
The Dorados, who are coming off a challenging 3-21 season last year, open their season at home against Desert View Nov. 27 before hosting district rival Ironwood Ridge Nov. 29.
Medina believes that Apodaca’s positive worldview and glut of high school coaching success will guide the Dorados back to the playoffs, sooner rather than later.
It’s a tall task for a program that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2015, and that’s encountered a winless season and a combined record of 9-60 over its last three seasons.