Voks still will sport postseason yellow hair under alum
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Fear not Voks fans, postseason Lanier High School boys basketball teams will continue to dye their follicles blond, just as they’ve done since 2000.
That highly visible Voks tradition will live on under new stewardship, just as it did under 31-year coach Rudy Bernal. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who know that Bernal’s successor, 30-year-old Joseph Martinez, was a sophomore on the first Lanier team to apply hair dye before its bi-district contest and maintain it throughout its playoff run.
“I’m sure now, it’s kind of us,” said Martinez, who has been an assistant to Bernal for the past six seasons. “(The kids) always look forward to it. There’s always one or two kids that don’t want to do it, but their teammates pick on them until they do. Once they make the postseason, the kids really love it.”
Bernal confirmed that he recommended his former four-year varsity player for the job. Martinez, a guard on the Voks 2000 and 2001 state finalists, accepted the position June 23.
“I think Joe has a great work ethic and he’s interested in making sure kids not only learn about basketball,” Bernal said, “but making sure once they leave Lanier, whether they go on to college or whatever they decide to do, that they’re prepared to be successful.
“That was a big part of what we did and I know he will continue to do kind of the same thing.”
In addition to the two state appearances, Bernal posted a 568-443 record at Lanier before retiring following the Voks’ heartbreaking 60-52 bi-district loss to Hays Feb. 18. His Voks teams qualified for the postseason 15 times.
Bernal, who resigned his teaching position at Lanier when the school year ended, hopes to continue his coaching career at a private school. However, Bernal said last Wednesday that he hadn’t made a decision on his next destination.
Martinez is amazed by the way things have come together for him since being graduated from Lanier in 2002.
“This is a dream come true,” he said. “I didn’t want to coach anywhere other than Lanier. I feel so lucky to have gotten a job right out of college. A lot of my friends didn’t.
“This last week has been very exciting, just to realize how many people were paying attention (to the hire). I’ve been constantly receiving e-mails, text messages and phone calls congratulating me on the job. To be able to take over this program, it’s an honor.”
Martinez pursued his basketball career at Hibbing (Minn.) Community College, but sustained a knee injury during his two years there and elected not to continue playing basketball. Martinez transferred to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and enrolled as a business major.
That career path was swiftly abandoned.
“Since probably third or fourth grade, I’d been playing basketball,” Martinez said. “I ended up changing my major to athletic administration. I guess you could say I was going through basketball withdrawal.”
He didn’t last long on the post-graduate job market. Martinez returned to Lanier as a physical education and assistant basketball coach without having to do a saturation mailing of his resume.
“I kind of kept in contact and when he graduated, we had a position open,” Bernal said. “It just kind of worked out.”
Martinez’s education in the finer points of Lanier basketball didn’t end when his playing career was over. It has been ongoing as an assistant to Bernal. His mentor knew of his desire to be a head coach and regularly gave him tips, Martinez said.
He plans to continue implementing Bernal’s offensive and defensive systems, with only minor modifications.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from Coach is his abillity to motivate kids and give them confidence,” Martinez said. “That’s what helped me get through college. Coach always reminded us that we could improve.
“He is one of the ultimate motivators. He motivated these kids to always play hard and play the game the right way.”
Bernal helped ease Martinez’s transition to the job by allowing him to run Lanier’s basketball period during school hours, starting after spring break. The group he taught was included most of the players he’ll inherit in the coming season.
Martinez also was serving as the Voks’ junior varsity coach.
Lanier will return two starters from its 25-9 team, 5-foot-10 senior wing Chris Salazar (8.3 points a game) and 6-foot-4 sophomore Isaiah Vargas (7.8). Junior Raul Solis displayed a deft three-point touch off the bench while scoring 11 points against Hays.
“For next year, that’s going to be huge,” Martinez said, referring to his knowledge of his prospective players. “The varsity returns four guys and I had a very strong JV group. The top six or seven from JV will be bumped up. I believe they’re ready to go to the varsity level and compete.
“Things are going to be a little different. It’ll be a little more structured.”
Although he won’t be quite as easily accessible, Bernal said he’ll be available for help and advice if Martinez reaches out to him.
“I don’t think he’ll need a whole lot of help,” Bernal said, “but, if he has questions, I’ll make sure he knows he can always call on me.”
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