Rams looking to surprise experts

Kevin Wilson

Most of the state looked past the Portales Rams when the 2001 state basketball tournament began, and the Rams came out with a championship. Portales was an afterthought in last year’s Class 3A regionals, right before eventual champion St. Michael’s needed overtime to eliminate the Rams.
With seven players lost to graduation, Mark Gallegos is pretty sure the state is looking past Portales again. Fine by him.
Portales is coming into the 2003-04 season with an unheralded roster, but one Gallegos thinks will create problems for its opponents on both ends of the court.
“I think we’ll surprise a lot of people,” Gallegos said. “We’re going to be pretty athletic. We can get up and down the floor and we can play a half-court game too.”
Portales will open its season on Thursday at the Shallowater (Texas) Shootout. The Rams’ opening game and opponent won’t be determined until Monday.
Gallegos said the Rams have missed a few days of practice due to sickness, but he still feels this year’s team is further ahead than in most seasons due, partially due to the half of the roster not involved in the football playoffs. He expects the team to still play an aggressive defense, but a guard-heavy lineup will allow the Rams to have a transition offense similar to the Ruidoso Warrior team Portales edged for the 2001 title.
“We’ll play a lot like that,” Gallegos said, “but we’re still going to be patient.”
The guard-heavy lineup has its drawbacks, mainly that the Rams will be undersized on most nights.
“We’re not going to be a big team,” junior guard Chris Kirchner said, “so we’ll have to play harder on defense.”
Gallegos expects the offense to be pretty balanced, but most of the scoring will likely come from Kirchner, junior guard Chris Carter and senior forwards Russell Knudson and Austin Pullen.
“Both of those kids had a good summer, they’ve got a lot of confidence,” Gallegos said of Knudson and Pullen. “They know it’s their turn.”
Two other Ram seniors, Nathan Brown and Seth Clabaugh, have been learning at different paces. Gallegos said Brown needed most of his junior year to learn the Portales system after transferring from Dora, while Clabaugh could be rusty — he hasn’t seen game action since he was on the freshman squad in 2000-01.
“We’re looking for (Clabaugh) to go to the glass really hard. He can score quite a few on stick-backs,” said Gallegos, who added that Clabaugh is also quick enough to get some points off the transition game.
Like most players on the roster, Clabaugh and Brown are seeing varsity play for the first time.
“Outside of Chris Carter and Chris Kirchner, we don’t have a lot of varsity experience. Until you play at that level, you on’t really know what’s going to happen.”
If everything falls into place, Gallegos thinks his players will be able to create mismatches against almost any defense — several Ram players are between 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-2, have 3-point range and are capable of bringing the ball up the floor.
“All the kids can pretty much play four positions, which is unique,” Gallegos said. “We’re going to be pretty versatile.”
With District 4-3A rivals Lovington and Ruidoso bringing back a lot of experience, the Rams will need to depend on team chemistry to help them get to what would be their fourth district championship game in five seasons.
“It’s a pretty close-knit group of kids,” Gallegos said. “Team-wise, they know we’re not going to have one kid that’s going to lead us in scoring night in and night out.
“They understand their roles.”
Notes: Next weekend’s Shallowater Shootout won’t be scheduled until after Friday night, when the Mustang football team faces Canadian in the class 2A quarterfinals. Gallegos said the tournament would be a two-day affair (Thursday and Friday) if the Mustangs win, or the tournament would stretch through Saturday if Shallowater loses … Portales’ first six games will be on the road, counting three at Shallowater and dates against Roswell, Bernalillo and Robertson. The Rams don’t play at home until Dec. 20 against Moriarty, and they only have eight of their 23 scheduled games at home. “We’ve got to grow up pretty fast on the road,” Gallegos said.