Hialeah Gardens isn’t content to rest on its laurels. The Gladiators’ goal is to repeat as state champions.
Most championship teams can’t wait to sport their rings around town.
But not the Hialeah Gardens’ boys’ basketball team.
“When we got them, we wore them for a little bit, but then we put them away,” center Alvaro Simoza said. “We decided not to wear them again until after this season. Hopefully, we can wear two at that time.”
Simoza, a 6-7, 255-pound senior, was part of last year’s historic season at Hialeah Gardens as he helped the 5-year old school win its first state championship in any sport.
The goal for the Gladiators now is to build a sustained winner.
“I think the seniors and our coaching staff really focused on building something for the future,” Hialeah Gardens coach Marcos Molina said. “It’s a slow process that starts with the kids at our middle school and works up to our varsity. These kids are dedicated to making sure we are a team that can be in contention for years to come.”
Simoza and 6-5 senior small forward Adrian Gonzalez are the Gladiators’ returning starters.
Gonzalez is coming off a breakout season in which he averaged 18 points and eight rebounds. Simoza averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The strength of the team, however, was its up-tempo offense that did not rely on one particular player for big contributions.
A few of those scorers graduated, including guard Ray Rodriguez, forward Yunio Barrueta and guard Gian Clavell.
But Molina has several players who played key minutes last season and are ready to assume starting roles.
Senior point guard Luis Huertas, who played close to 20 minutes per game last season, figures to be the focal point of the offense.
Senior small forward Henry Leonardo is expected to fill in for Barrueta as the team’s tough rebounder and source of points in the paint.
“[Leonardo] is our most improved player,” Molina said. “He’s got a great jump shot, he can block shots and rebound. He can pretty much do everything [Barrueta] did. He just lacks the experience right now.”
The Gladiators’ biggest challenges in the region are expected to come from Miami High and South Miami.
Miami High, which lost to Hialeah Gardens in the regional semifinals last year, returns a balanced squad led by guard Allen Baez and 6-9 center Wadley Mompremier.
South Miami appears to be the strongest team on the south end of Region 4-8A, entering the season with 6-9 senior center Antravious Simmons leading the way. Coral Reef returns the talented tandem of Cedric Hankerson and Brian Glasford, who should also make them a tough team down the stretch.
Needless to say, Hialeah Gardens, which made a name for itself statewide last season, will be a team that other programs in the county will be aiming for.
Simoza said the team is ready for the role reversal this season.
“Everyone’s expecting us to win it now,” Simoza said. “We’ve been working hard to get stronger and faster, and we’ll be ready.”