Several Demons stepping up to fill White’s shoes

Santa Fe High’s Antonio Lovato, left, is one of a number of players who will strive to pick up the slack while Fedonta ‘J.B.’ White recovers from a knee injury. Luis Sánchez Saturno New Mexican file photo

Meet Anthony Sisneros again for the first time.

The 6-foot-2 junior post is now part of the Santa Fe High boys basketball’s starting lineup — the one that starts its journey sans an important piece to the puzzle. Sisneros is filling the shoes left behind by 6-foot-7 (yes, he grew an inch this season) sophomore phenom Fedonta “J.B.” White after he suffered a dislocated patella 11 days ago at Clovis.

The “new look” Demons (13-3) get their first full game together at 7 p.m. Wednesday, opening up District 5-5A play at home against a 3-10 Albuquerque High squad in Toby Roybal Memorial Gymnasium.

While that might seem to be a tall order, Sisneros is familiar with this position. It was he who replaced White when he broke his thumb during the summer camp season in June, and the Demons proceeded to go 15-2 with him in the lineup. Even more important is that Sisneros knows his role.

“I’ll try to focus on being strong inside, trusting my teammates, looking for the open guy that’s on the perimeter,” Sisneros said. “The defenses that we’ve played, they tend to suck in the middle, and that leaves the corners open. It will be good to just see over them and kick out.”

It will take more than Sisneros, though, to offset what the Demons lose with White — a player who brought an inside-out presence on offense, and an intimidating shot-blocker and rebounder on defense. Zack Cole, Santa Fe High’s head coach, said he expects Sisneros, freshman P.J. Lovato, junior Carlos Dassaro and senior Derek Carlton to do their part to provide a presence in the middle on both sides of the ball.

“It’s all about getting these other guys their reps,” Cole said. “The starters, they get their reps in practice, then the subs come in, but they don’t get as many reps as the starters. Getting these guys reps with the starters — Anthony, P.J., Derek Carlton — it allows them to get a feel for one another, and that’s important.”

Still, Sisneros is the biggest post player at 6-2, while Carlton comes in at 5-9. Carlton, though, provides a lot of energy on both ends of the court. Cole said the best way to counteract his team’s overall lack of height is to find ways to create matchup problems for opponents — like using someone like Dove Hernandez or Derek Solano as bigs to help space the floor and open driving lanes because of their shooting prowess.

“They better respect the shot, and if they start closing out [on the shooters], we’re gonna drive by,” Santa Fe High senior guard Antonio Lovato said. “If we get stopped up, we’re going to give it down to the bottom guy, wide open. Just play it how it goes.”

It’s not like the Demons have not played without White during the season. When White ran into foul trouble against Rio Rancho, St. Michael’s, Rio Rancho Cleveland and Los Lunas, Santa Fe High held its own for the most part. In fact, against the Storm, Horsemen and the Tigers (in the first matchup Dec. 18), the Demons actually increased their leads before White returned to help seal the wins.

Cole said the team learned a lot about playing without White in those situations, but playing entire games without him is a different situation. One thing the Demons will need to do more of is attack the glass. With White, they could afford to race out to the other side of the court off of defensive boards to initiate the break. Now, they need a more concerted effort to keep opposing teams from dominating the rebounding category.

“More so than before, we need to have all five of our guys hit the glass and possess it before we try to go,” Cole said. “And they know that. When you play with a guy for a year, year and a half now, you understand what he can bring to the table. Against Clovis [a 54-53 Wildcats win], I thought Anthony and P.J. played well when J.B. went out.”

It’s not like Santa Fe High doesn’t know how to play without its tallest and most effective post player. It’s just that this is the first time the rest of the state will get to see this new look.