Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Re-introducing Zack Gonzales

The Blues Brothers -- Elwood and Jake -- were on a mission: "It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark... and we're wearing sunglasses." Well, Modesto Junior College (MJC) guard Zack Gonzales is also on a personal undertaking but minus the road trip. His quest is becoming the best player he can be, leading his band of fellow Pirates and giving his hometown of Riverbank, California a reason to be proud.

The 6-foot-2, 210 sophomore guard hasn't enjoyed the easiest of paths in his two decades of life thus far but he has always risen to the challenge rather than succumbing to deadend temptations.

Gonzales' basketball journey began early, with just brief excursions into football and track. "I was the waterboy in first grade for Riverbank High." That exposure got him hooked, resulting in, "I would play for hours, even bringing a light outside to keep shooting."

After entering high school, a life-altering event took place. "Due to family circumstances, my high school basketball coach took me in and gave me guidance to the right path." That was Riverbank's Jeff Jennings.

"I was asked to lead the team as a sophomore," said the eventual three-year varsity player. Gonzales also paced the Bruins in points and rebounds each season. "I was always a really good shooter. Coach Jennings preached defense and I wasn't good at that initially." Now he prides himself in his defensive effect.

Gonzales also lauds his uncle plus an NBA player from the Modesto area as hoops influences. "My uncle (Chris Gonzales) played at Westmont College (where he was an NAIA All American) and then in China, Canada and Mexico. He would never let me beat him. Working out with Chuck Hayes was really helpful." Hayes is a 6-foot-5 center out of Modesto Christian High who has thrived professionally for 10 years aided by his intelligence, a willingness to do the dirty work necessary to be successful and playing his role.

Two years ago, Gonzales averaged 13.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists while shooting 45%, 38% and 72% respectively for MJC Coach Paul Brogan. Then came a strategic decision. "I redshirted although I could have played but I wasn't sure I could complete the classes I needed to transfer with D1 eligibility."

 So he stepped away from the action if showing up at 6 a.m. to work out with MJC assistant coaches qualifies as such. "I didn't take any days off. Also, Mike Montes at Jaboca Fitness and Brett Butler at The Performance Lab helped me gain weight and become a better athlete in the off-season." Gonzales now checks in at 210 pounds, up from the 185 he weighed as a freshman.

How he sees the play on the court has also changed. "The game has slowed down for me and I can see what will happen three plays ahead. It's like chess, it's a mind game."

Propelling Gonzales is "I have a high level of confidence and I want to be great. My drive comes from my family's situation with drugs and alcohol. I want a different future, to break that cycle." There is also another important element spurring his effort. "Being from Riverbank, I've seen people's faces when their [local] teams lose. I want them to have someone and a team to be proud of."

He cites two basketball moments as among his most cherished. "One was scoring the gamewinner at Delta in my freshman year. It was a three at the buzzer." The other? "In high school, I was playing a team that had a special ed kid on it and I let him score on me. Some things are bigger than basketball."

Gonzales is being looked at as a combo guard at the four-year level and he'll be majoring in communications because, "I can teach, coach, do whatever I want with that degree."

"Everyday I'm learning how to become a better leader and the more I work the better I become." This young man will be a tremendous addition on and off the court for his coach, team and school at the next level.

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