YES Prep East End boast perhaps the youngest varsity basketball coach in Texas. He is 20, and his team of teenage girls will play for a regional championship Wednesday.
Somehow, they already have trophies.
When your tallest player is 5-foot-8, and your head coach is a college kid from Rice University who never played varsity himself, it is hard to guard doubt.
“It’s been a humbling experience,” said assistant coach Joshua Lowe, who played basketball in both high school and college.
However, between loose floor tiles, torn mats on walls and sagging lights in a gym their school does not own, East End’s varsity girls know escape traps thanks to coaching.
“They understand what we’re shooting for with grades, with basketball and our passions to do better things and everything in the future,” said Mia Dominguez, a freshman guard.
Coach Martin Rather, legendary journalist Dan Rather’s grandson, took over the team last year. He was a teenager just wanting to help high school student. Rather applied for 20 coach jobs. YES Prep was the only to offer.
“It took a few days for me to hear back,” Rather said. “(The athletics director) called all of the other athletics directors around the league to say, 'Hey, are you OK with me hiring this guy? He’s 19. You know he’s going to be coaching these girls.' They, thankfully, said, 'No problem,' I imagine because they thought I didn’t know anything and they could beat us pretty easily.”
In his team’s first game, they lost by 63 points. East End won just six games that season. Then, Scott Pera, Rice University’s men’s basketball coach saw an article about the “kid coach” and stepped in.
Pera gave Rather full access and tips on how to run practice and more. The East End girls also got a taste of Rice hoops.
Leah Dominguez, a senior forward, keeps a ticket stub from one of three Owls games she watched live. It is her trophy and a reminder of what’s possible.
“I feel being able to see them in college kind of gave me more hope or motivation so that if I do better here, I can possibly play in college,” she said.
This season, the team hardly lost games and will play in a regional tournament final. They will face the team that crushed them by more than 60 points last year. Win or lose, though, the East End girls now believe anything is possible.