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Dassaro’s hustle, heart help fill void in Demons lineup

March 12, 2019

The reinvention of the Santa Fe High boys basketball team came from necessity.

Little did Carlos Dassaro know he was the missing piece.

The Demons’ 2018-19 season was spiraling out of control at the midway point of District 5-5A play. They lost four of five games to fall from first place to fourth and lacked the energy, toughness and cohesion on the defensive end that they displayed during a 13-2 start to the year.

Losing 6-foot-7 forward Fedonta “J.B.” White to a season-ending dislocated patella in the final nondistrict game against Clovis on Jan. 12 hurt, but then came injuries to Anthony Sisneros and P.J. Lovato that left Santa Fe High sorely depleted in the post. The Demons needed a shake-up.

“We sat down as coaches and saw that the things we were lacking are the things Carlos does,” Santa Fe High head coach Zack Cole said.

So, Dassaro entered the starting lineup on Valentine’s Day against Albuquerque Manzano. The Demons (22-7) have not lost since then, riding into The Pit with a six-game winning streak as they face Albuquerque Eldorado (22-6) in a Class 5A quarterfinal matchup at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday.

While the 6-foot Dassaro provides the hustle and heart for Santa Fe High, he has grown into something much more than that. His 15 points in a 69-55 win over the Monarchs in the opening round of the 5A state tournament were the fourth time he’s reached double figures in points during the run, showing that he is much more than just an “energy” guy.

If anything, his ability to attack the basket and shoot as a post adds another drive-and-kick dimension to an already loaded Demons offense.

“That’s pretty much the key to our offense,” Dassaro said.” We have alot of good drivers, and we have a lot of good shooters. Most of our team can hit a 3 and we trust in each other.”

The trust in Dassaro blossomed over the last three weeks of the season, but Dassaro needed some patience and faith as the season progressed toward the district portion in early January. As Santa Fe High rolled into Clovis, playing time for Dassaro became more scarce as Sisneros and Lovato earned Cole’s trust.

“It’s just the way it goes sometimes,” Dassaro said. “You gotta wait for your chance, and once you get it, you got to make the most of your opportunities.”

It wasn’t an easy time for the junior, though. Cole and his coaching staff had to sit down and talk with Dassaro at times to help him understand what was going on.

“That’s why we tell our guys, ‘You never know when your moment’s going to come,’” Cole said. “As a coach, what we do know and what we’ve experienced is that you have to be ready. You have to know your position and what’s expected of you defensively and offensively.”

Dassaro’ moment was quite ready when the Demons were jolted awake from their dream season after White went down while trying to block a shot in the first quarter of a 54-53 loss. They could rest assured that Sisneros was a capable replacement for White.

After all, Sisneros took White’s place when he broke his thumb during the summer camps in June and the Demons went 15-2 with him. the revamped starting lineup lasted all of two games before Sisneros strained his patella tendon in a 71-60 win over Albuquerque Sandia on Jan. 25.

Dassaro started climbing up the ladder in the playing rotation, but he was still coming off the bench when Lovato injured his ankle in the same game Sisneros got hurt. When the Matadors beat the Demons, 54-53, on a last-second 3-pointer on Feb. 12, Dassaro finally got the nod.

He didn’t disappoint, as he led the team with 16 points in a 65-52 win over Manzano. The Demons won their last three games to force a playoff with the Monarchs, which they won, 54-37, even though Dassaro did not score a point.

Cole did not realize the impact of the lineup change until he spent Monday looking over the team scorebook trying to find when Dassaro became a starter.

“We had been playing him because we were so thin,” Cole said as he flipped through the pages. “P.J. was out during those times. [Dassaro] had been getting some minutes, and we were like, ‘Man, what are we lacking?’ Energy, rebounds, scrappiness.

“And that’s where he came in. We’re on a six-game winning streak since we plugged him [into the starting lineup]. I didn’t realize that until now.”

And with that, the best-kept secret in the North was no more.