A Tijuana Zonkeys game is a distinct experience that separates itself from other sporting events in the region.
The basketball team from across the border started up its season this past Wednesday, March 22, at the Auditorio Fausto Gutierrez Moreno in Tijuana.
The opening series of the season for Tijuana was set to be a three-game set against expansion team, Aguilas Doradas de Durango. I received an opportunity to cover the series for East Village Times thanks to the very helpful press coordinators of the Tijuana Zonkeys.
East Village Times will look forward to bringing you more coverage of the team throughout this 2017 season.
Game 1: El Capitan
Shining lights, vibrant music, and an abundance of cheers. This is how the Tijuana Zonkeys were received to start their 2017 campaign. Far before tip-off the Arena had the atmosphere of a big game, with nearly four thousand people in attendance. The fans, the players, the cheerleaders, the mascot, and the press, everyone was ready to start off the CIBACOPA campaign. Throughout the game, the fans stayed vibrant, although did become quiet in some instances during the game.
This was due to the fact that the people who go to the Zonkeys games stay very focused on the game. This sadly has become a rarity in most sporting events in this day in age. Perhaps the moment when the fans were the loudest was when the players were being presented. A big surprise came about in the presentations as Marcus Morrison was announced as the new captain, replacing Tijuana native, Luis Ramirez, in that role. The fans have a clear affection for the Florida native and gave an immense cheer when he was announced as ‘El Capitan’.
The Zonkeys had a hard-fought encounter which ended in a narrow 95-93 win for the home team. After the first period, the score was favorable towards the visitors, the ‘burro-zebras’ being down 24-21. There was hope within the border city side with the new signings, Sean Gardner and Leon Gibson III, looking promising in the first period. In the second period, the Zonkeys did turn it around, having a 44-39 lead over Durango. By the time the third period ended, the ‘Zebra-Donkeys’ had a 68-62 lead over the opposition. The game turned really competitive in the final period with the visitors stepping it up. The player that most stood out for the visitors was Dominique Keller who finished the game with 24 points, five rebounds, and two assists. The match went down to the final moments, with even a scoreboard malfunction to add to the drama.
Luckily, The Zonkeys did come out on top beating las Aguilas Doradas 95-93. Marcus Morrison played the role as the captain perfectly, being the standout player from the team with 23 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists. The amount of assists had to be the most impressive, showing his leadership by distributing the ball to his teammates. Another standout from the team was Trayvon Lathan who had 19 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. San Diego native, Karim Rodriguez, ended the encounter scoring eight points with four rebounds and two assists. Overall, teamwork was the key to the game, offense was the clear positive for David Abramowitz’s side while the defense did leave a lot to be desired.
After the game, former Arkansas State Red Wolf, now Tijuana Zonkey, Sean Gardner, talked to EVT Sports about the game and his experience in Tijuana so far. Concerning the game Gardner Said, ” It was great. That was our first time actually playing against a team with pros on it. For us to come out and pull out the win is big for us. We cherish that”. Regarding the chemistry on the border city side, Gardner said, “We adjust great, we hang out off the court a lot, we joke around, mess around, that’s what makes good chemistry on the team”. Finally, Gardner talked about the atmosphere on opening night saying ” I enjoyed it. It was pretty packed, the introductions were awesome, a little different from college, but it was awesome I liked it”.
Game 2: Another Slim Victory
Surprisingly, on the Thursday night game, the atmosphere still remained vibrant with a decent crowd out to watch the local professional basketball team. Arguably, the fans were even louder than on opening night in some instances, shouting “Vamos Zonkeys” when the home team had possession and also the classic “Defense” call. After the game, many of the players did interact with the fans, signing autographs and taking pictures, like on opening night.
The game ended as another thriller, the Zonkeys getting the slim 78-74 victory over Durango. What characterized the game the most was questionable (to say the least) officiating by the referees. Many players had complaints about the officiating, which really prolonged the game in some instances. Another key aspect to the second game of the series was physicality and competitiveness. This game was a hard-fought encounter with the players sacrificing their bodies on defensive plays to achieve the win. The captain, Marcus Morrison, unfortunately was taken out of the game in the fourth period due to an excessive number of fouls.
The Zonkeys still managed to pull off the victory with Trayvon Lathan leading the way with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists. Sean Gardner was another impressive player in the game with 14 points, six rebounds, and eight assists. Gardner offers a lot on the court, his passing ability being among his best attributes. Defensively, the border city side looked much improved with 40 rebounds in the game, eight more than on opening night. The teams did have a rivalry brewing, playing each other on back to back nights. Youngster, Jose Carlos Zesati, was another standout, scoring 11 points off the bench. The match was an intriguing one with a sense of imperfect perfection that made the game great and a real thriller.
Leon Gibson III talked to EVT Sports about the game, the shaky officiating, and more. Gibson talked about how he felt after his first two games with the team. Gibson said, “I feel pretty good. Now that we’re 2-0 it’s a lot of release off our shoulders. We can play more comfortable now, come tomorrow get this third win and then go to Guaymas and get two also”. Regarding the officiating in the game, Gibson told EVT Sports “They’re “pro officials”. We’re all human. We miss calls. I’m just glad we came out with the win. You can’t really blame it on the refs. I’m glad our team fought and came out with the win”.
Gibson talked about how his defensive play has been improving. Gibson said, ” I’m actually injured. I’m actually playing on a sprained ankle right now so my defense is kinda off, but day by day it’s coming better”. Finally, Leon gave some insight on how competitive the CIBACOPA competition is. Gibson said, ” Everyone wants to win in this league. Everyone wants a championship and it gets competitive every time it comes down to the last second. I’m just glad we came out on top. We fought harder than them today. We came out with the win”.
Game 3: Basketball Broom
The final game of the series also offered quite the crowd and a thrilling atmosphere. A large crowd was not expected because the Mexico national soccer team was playing at the same time as the game, but the people of Tijuana did show up to the Arena on Friday night. After the game, it was quite a spectacle to see captain, Marcus Morrison, take pictures with fans and sign autographs for them for over 30 minutes. The crowd was appreciative of the team and vice-versa.
This was easily the most dominant performance the Tijuana Zonkeys had in the three-game series, beating Durango by a score of 84-68. The game did start off slow with the score by the end of the third period being 54-51. Despite this, the encounter was action-packed with distinguishable fluid passing by David Abramowitz’s team. The fourth period turned out to be the most exciting period that really riled up the home crowd. Tijuana scored 30 points for a massive fourth period, with long-distance shooting, slam dunks, and everything in between.
Captain, Marcus Morrison, came up big again for the border city side with 21 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists. The Florida native was also part of the most exciting play of the season in Zonkeys basketball, coming in the first period with 3:30 left on the clock. ‘El Capitan’ sacrificed his body, making an incredible interception, keeping enough balance to keep the ball in bounds. After that incredible interception, Morrison launched the ball across the court, where Trayvon Lathan was to make a spectacular slam junk. Sean Gardner finished up the series with a total of 39 points and 16 assists, getting 15 points and five assists in the final game, and being important defensively as well. The Tijuana Zonkeys looked great throughout the series collectively, showing a lot of promise and chemistry.
Head coach, David Abramowitz, talked to EVT Sports about the game, his opponent, and about the youngsters on the team. Regarding the game, Abramowitz said, ” Obviously they’re playing more as a team. It takes time to build a good team, but the players now believe in what I am telling them, understanding my philosophy on basketball. I feel everyone is playing at that level”. The former San Diego State student then went on to talk about his rival. Abramowitz said, ” They’re a new team. They need to go through what we went through, when we started six, seven years ago, but I think they have a solid team. They will find a way to adjust”. Abramowitz’s also told EVT Sports which youngster has impressed him the most. Abramowitz said, “Zesati, he’s a great player, and Luis Quintero. The youngsters are all playing well, but Zesati will be a tremendous player.”
EVT Sports spoke to the man himself, Jose Carlos Zesati, to see his views on the game and other topics. The youngster commented on the game. Zesati said, ” I feel very appreciative of the coach and the staff to give me the opportunity to play in Tijuana. We’re going to give it our best for the team to keep on improving and keep on playing as a team.” The native of Monterrey also talked about the chemistry on the team. Zesati said ” The truth is that there is great chemistry on this team, we all get along. I think it’s going to be a very good season because there are a lot of teams that have a lot of stars, but they don’t unite. I think we are very united and we will get to where we can”.
The Tijuana Zonkeys will now go on a six-game road trip playing in Sonora and Sinaloa. Both Zesati and Trayvon Lathan commented on the upcoming road trip. Zesati said, ” It’s going to be a good test for us. We’re going to be tested against good teams. It’s going to be six games away from home. It’s the longest road trip of the season, but we’re going to try our best”. Veteran, Trayvon Lathan, also commented about the upcoming road trip. Lathan said, ” It’s going to be tough, but it’s going to be a good chance for us to get on the road, bond with each other, and come out with some wins”. The players are motivated for this upcoming road span after a series sweep at home. Now a long road lies ahead for the Zonkeys, their next test in Guaymas, Sonora on March 28. Vamos Zonkeys!