Calhoun junior leads Sandcrabs with selfless play
By BY CLAY WHITTINGTON - CWHITTINGTON@VICAD.COM
Jan. 9, 2012 at 11:03 p.m.
Updated Jan. 8, 2012 at 7:09 p.m.
PORT LAVACA -It is said a team takes on the personality of its leader.
The Calhoun Sandcrabs are an unassuming bunch of undersized overachievers, who dedicate themselves to using fundamentals, not flash, to defeat their opponents.
They utilize a team-oriented, conservative style of play, sacrificing personal pride for glory as a whole.
And at the center of it all is Isaac Cardona - a junior post who is equally happy being a go-to scoring threat as he is being a double team-inducing distributor.
Cardona, like the Sandcrabs, approaches the game with one selfless goal in mind: Win.
"It doesn't matter (what I do) as long as we get the win," Cardona said. "If I don't score much then I know I can contribute with my defense or by rebounding.
"If I have to pass, I'll pass. Sometimes they rely on me to score more, (but I'll do) whatever is called for."
While Cardona admittedly attempts to pattern his game after Oklahoma City's two-time NBA scoring champion and Texas Longhorn legend Kevin Durant, Calhoun head coach Sonny Benefield compares him to a couple of other South Texas superstars.
"He makes very good grades, makes wise decisions, he's very mature, he's very quiet, he leads by example, and he is just such a blessing to coach," Benefield said. "He really reminds me of Tim Duncan and David Robinson.
"They just got in there and battled, nobody played any harder than them, but our team is like that. The Spurs had a job to do and they'd do it. (People say it is boring,) but what is boring about winning?"
Nobody will mistake the Sandcrabs for the Spurs when they open District 30-4A play at Victoria West on Friday, but Calhoun knows a few things about winning, having lost just three games this season.
But Benefield admits the team's impressive winning percentage (.863, 19-3 overall) is due to team cohesion rather than raw talent.
"You walk in the gym and nobody is going to be afraid of us," the coach said. "There is no fear factor."
Cardona is one of just two Sandcrabs standing 6 feet or taller, and Benefield exploits the opportunity to use him relentlessly on offense, but only when advantageous.
A year ago, however, the team's approach was slightly different.
As a sophomore, Cardona led the Sandcrabs to a second-place finish in district, averaging approximately 17.5 points per game as Calhoun's main offensive option.
This season, the 6-foot-4 Cardona is hovering around the same average, leading the team with 18.5 points per game, but with additional scoring help, his percentage of the team's total points is less.
The Sandcrabs went from scoring around 50 points per game last season to about 60 points per game this season.
According to Benefield, Cardona is to thank for the increased production.
"Last year, he predominately stayed inside, but this year we've brought him out," the coach said. "His ball-handling skills and his passing skills are super. So, when we bring him out and run our offense, the guys on the inside can body up and score.
"The scoring is still coming on the inside, but now he is on the outside and getting them scoring opportunities."
The philosophical change has developed Cardona into an extremely well-rounded player. In addition to his scoring, Cardona is averaging 10.9 rebounds, three steals and, perhaps most importantly, five assists.
But he has always been familiar with perimeter play.
His father, Andy Cardona, was a point guard/shooting guard at Austwell-Tivoli and was selected to play in the Texas High School Coaches Association All-Star Basketball Game.
"I've been playing since I was three, and my Dad has been teaching me ever since," Cardona said. "He's taught me everything I know pretty much.
"He's still pushing me. He knows what it takes, and he's shown me what it takes (to be successful)."
After games and practices, Cardona's father would make him do drills focused on improving his dribbling, layups, jump shooting and passing.
All the extra practice resulted in Cardona's fundamentally-sound style of play, which would earn him a spot on the Sandcrabs' varsity roster as a freshman.
Immediately, he earned his teammates' respect, leading Calhoun in rebounding in his first year.
"He came in with the goal of 'I'm going to play and I'm going to start,'" Benefield said. "So, (the players) started looking to him."
In the following years, they began looking up to him.
Now, the Sandcrabs even approach the game like him.
After all, teams typically take on the personality of its leader.