It’s been quite a year for both Pima College basketball programs.
Sophomores Abram Carrasco and Jacqulynn “JJ” Nakai both joined the 1,000-point club and broke their respective team’s all-time scoring record.
“It’s big-time and I’ve always told her she’s big time and I wish her the best,” Carrasco said of Nakai. “I know she’s a hooper, too, and it’s a good feeling to know that both of us were able to do it the same year. That’s a good memory to be able to hold onto.”
And the season still isn’t over. In fact, the best may be yet to come.
Both programs start the NJCAA Division II national tournament Tuesday. The men’s tourney is set to take place in Danville, Ill. and the women’s tournament is in Harrison, Ark.
The No. 3-seeded men’s team will first play No. 14 Cecil, from Maryland, while the sixth-seeded women face No. 11 Lake Michigan.
The Aztecs return to the same spot they lost in the championship game last year and finished as the national runner-up.
Going back to the same city and school is comforting to coach Brian Peabody, who considers himself a creature of habit and is very superstitious.
“I get up and do the same thing every day,” Peabody said. “We made sure we’re staying at the same hotel that we stayed at last year, we’re warming up at the same time and going to the same gym, same high school. I think it’s huge.”
Of this year’s squad, only Carrasco and Robbie Wilson made the trip to nationals last year. And they’re ready to get back to the title game.
“Just the experience we got last year, obviously coming up a little short, but that’s just has driven us all season,” Wilson said. “That bitter taste in our mouth has helped us out all year.”
One of the biggest improvements from both returning starters has been their level of confidence. Even though he wasn’t scared before, Carrasco feels like “this year my confidence has really jumped in and taught me a lot throughout the year.”
Now he hopes to use his new-found confidence and familiarity with the national tournament to help the freshmen on the team, hopefully on the way to a national title.
“We can help the young guys out and lead them,” Carrasco said. “If they just continue doing what they’re doing, we’ll be solid.”
Last season, the Aztecs’ season was cut short in the regional finals, but now Nakai believes everything is coming out the way the team planned it.
The women really wanted to make it to the national tournament and now all the hard work is beginning to pay off, she said.
And the women also feel prepared. Along with practices, the team has been watching film from possible tournament opponents.
“I think we’re definitely prepared,” Nakai said. “I know, if you saw the last game, everyone was contributing. It wasn’t just one person or two or three — everybody was contributing. Our defense was really great and, I think, going off of that, we should be ready for nationals.”
The Aztecs are entering the national tournament on a five-game winning streak. And coach Todd Holthaus knows just how huge it is to be on a roll like that.
But now it’s about slowing things down.
“It’s good for the freshmen, just to build a little confidence,” he said.