Coal Ridge’s Herrera a key cog in Titan attack
Oftentimes on loaded teams there’s a great player that tends to get overlooked, at least from an outsider’s perspective.
Something of the sort has happened this season at Coal Ridge High School where junior point guard Brandon Herrera has taken a step back this season as a scoring guard, allowing teammates to carry the load for the 15-5, 8-1 Titans.
“It’s kind of how I’ve always been,” Herrera said. “I’m always looking to get everyone involved. I don’t care if I have a high-scoring game. There’s always that one player on our team that’s having their night, so I need to do my job to get them the ball. But when I do have to score, it doesn’t really cross my mind how I’m doing in the game. I’ll just do whatever it takes for us to win on any given night; that’s what’s most important to me. “
Last season, Herrera was more of a scoring guard for the Titans, who won their first of two straight 3A Western Slope League regular season titles, but this year the 5-foot-8 junior has evolved into more of a complete player, serving as the key cog to one of the most exciting and entertaining teams in the Western Slope.
“He just sees the floor so well and is a pretty good ball handler,” Coal Ridge Head Coach Paul Harvey said. “He’s also so good at just taking what the defense gives him, whether that’s allowing him to score 22 points like he did against Aspen, or scoring 4 to 5 points and dishing to guys. But what really gets overlooked with his game is his defense; he gets so many steals a game for us. He’s a very instinctual defender and knows how to read people’s eyes and anticipate the ball.”
Averaging 13.1 points, 3.8 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 3.2 steals per game this season for the Titans, Herrera has become the do-all guard for Harvey and Coal Ridge. The junior’s game mostly revolves around the three-point arc as a scorer, but he can get into the lane with ease most nights and really makes headlines with some astounding passes that leaves those in attendance buzzing, including his own coaches.
“We were watching the tape against Delta from earlier in the season, and he threw this pass that went through a sea of hands and was right on the money,” Harvey said. “We paused the tape and replayed it over and over again and asked him how he got that through there. He’s not very talkative, so he didn’t really say anything, but he just sees it on the floor and he trusts himself to make those tough passes look routine. He trusts Kevin [DiMarco] to go get it as well, which is big for our offense. But he just sees so many passes that are there, and he trusts himself to make those plays.”
“I don’t really know where [my passing prowess] comes from,” Herrera said prior to a recent Coal Ridge practice. “I watch a lot of [Chicago Bulls point guard] Rajon Rondo on YouTube. He’s inspired me with some of the passes that he makes and the way he sees the floor and gets teammates involved. That’s who I kind of try and play like.”
Unlike Rondo though, Herrera can actually stroke it from anywhere on the floor.
On the year, Herrera sits first in the 3A WSL in three-pointers made (48), second in assists per game and third in steals per game, all while playing more of a supporting role for one of the best teams in the valley. In fact, Herrera set a school record earlier this season on the road at Palisade, hitting 5 of 6 three-pointers to finish with 29 points, setting the school record for three-point shooting percentage in a game at 83 percent.
Coming from a basketball family that includes Coal Ridge Assistant Coach Adam Herrera and brothers Alec, Andrew and LJ, the junior guard has had a basketball in his hands since the third grade, which has led to his comfort from beyond the arc, as well as with the ball in his hands, often dribbling defenders into submission.
“I’m most comfortable from the three-point arc because those guys inside are bigger and taller than me, so I had to figure out a way to get my shots off and score,” Herrera said. “As far as the dribbling goes, I used to play my older brother, Alec, one-on-one a lot, and he used to frustrate me, so I just had to learn how to do my own thing and really get better.”
With one more year left in the Coal Ridge program, there’s no telling just how high of a ceiling Herrera has a basketball player, but if the last three years as a starter are any indication, a possible 3A Western Slope League player of the Year award, 1,000 career points and other on-court accolades are sure to be in the cards for the dynamic guard.
“The confidence he’s gained is the biggest improvement in his game,” Harvey said. “I mean, we as a staff knew he could do it, but it took time for him to gain that confidence. But that took a lot of work, and he’s in the gym every summer putting up shots and lifting in the gym. Plus, with the confidence in himself he trusts his own teammates to make plays around him.”
That’s largely been the case this season for the Titans, who sit just two wins away from sweeping the 3A WSL season titles. The Titans came close last season but ended up falling to the Grand Valley Cardinals in the district tournament title game. With Herrera playing a bigger role this season, don’t expect the Titans to come up short again.
“We have more confidence as a team now,” Herrera said. “We just got our butts whooped last year, so it’s going to be good to come back and fight for it again. A win this time around could make it easier for us to make the Elite Eight this year instead of having to travel for the first round of the state playoffs.”
Herrera and the Titans will tip off with the Delta Panthers tonight at 8:30 p.m. at Grand Junction Central High School.
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The Coal Ridge High boys suffered their first 3A Western Slope League loss of the year Thursday night on the road at Gunnison, falling to the defending league champion Cowboys 65-45.