BY SAUL BERRIOS-THOMAS | THE MONITOR
McALLEN — As a sophomore last year, McAllen High’s Jaden Conrow played in 30 games and averaged 5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
He spent most of last season behind the talented senior duo of Isayah West and Lalo Campos, who combined for 18.1 points and 13.2 rebounds per game.
“I learned a lot from them,” Conrow said. “I started a little bit of last year, and then I had to take a back seat and learn from them, because they were more experienced. I did learn a lot from those guys.”
Campos and West were in attendance Tuesday as McAllen High came up just short against Harlingen South 58-52 in a non-district game at McAllen High School.
In the loss, Conrow showed why he could be a game-changer this year, but also why he hasn’t yet cemented that role.
Conrow exploded out of the gates, scoring 9 points in the first quarter. He followed that up with a big second quarter.
With just under five minutes remaining in the half, Conrow found himself open on the left wing. He got the ball and dropped a 3-pointer. On the following defensive possession, he grabbed a rebound and started the break. Then, on the ensuing offensive possession, he was again open from deep and dropped another triple. The second shot put the Bulldogs up 26-18, but the run didn’t stop there. McHi got the lead up to 30-18 before Harlingen South recovered.
McHi was still up at the half, 32-24, but the Hawks charged into the second half with an intensity that the Bulldogs weren’t ready for.
“In that third quarter, we were a little lackadaisical,” McHi coach Ryan Flores said. “We didn’t come out hard in that third quarter. That’s where they got us and kind of took the momentum from us. They were able to make some shots in that second half. We had some breakdowns on defense that we need to clean up. That’s our second non-district game. I believe that is Harlingen South’s fourth. That’s what these games are for. We need to make adjustments and see what works. Overall, I think our boys played well. We just didn’t finish the game. We need to play all four quarters.”
Conrow finished the game with 20 points and 8 rebounds, but he was one of the McHi players affected by the second half malaise, scoring just two points in each of the third and fourth quarters.
“They pretty much shadowed me the whole game, but I feel like I defeated myself in that second half,” Conrow said. “I didn’t come out with the same energy I did in the first half.”
While Conrow was quick to take the blame, South made some adjustments at the break that slowed the versatile big man.
“I said, ‘You know, guys, he is knocking down some shots. Let’s make him put the ball on the floor a little bit. See if we can stay between him and the basket. Hopefully we can contest shots and come up with the rebound,’” South coach Brian Molina said. “I thought we did a good job of that in the third quarter.”
South’s third-quarter charge allowed the Hawks to even the score. The game was back and fourth from there, but with 4:56 left to play, South senior guard Aaron Briones was alone in the left corner. He got the kick and put up a 3. As the bucket fell, Briones was fouled.
“That felt like a dagger,” Conrow said.
Briones hit the free throw to bring South’s lead to 50-44 — an advantage the Hawks wouldn’t surrender.
“It was a huge momentum changer for us,” Molina said. “I think it gave us a little bit of breathing room. I thought as a team, everybody contributed, especially defensively. Aaron has obviously been starting for me for three years, and when we needed a big basket, he hit it.”
Conrow is still finding his role, and McHi’s short bench forced him to play all 32 minutes Tuesday. His potential for this season, though, remains sky high.
“Jaden is a great player,” Flores said. “He is an inside-outside type of player. He can hit from all over. The potential is there; he’s a junior. He’s still learning. Last year, he got some minutes. Now, he is getting more minutes. He needs to learn that sometimes there will be some different types of defensive schemes on him. We need to try to get him the ball more, though. I think that is what kind of slowed us down — that third quarter — they started pushing the ball on us and making some shots. We didn’t go inside as much as I wanted to.”