Head coach Moe Cramer acknowledges senior guard Chris Garcia is like a son to him, and just like any other son, sometimes tough love is a necessary part of the relationship.
Case in point: During a tournament game against West High two weeks ago, late in the third quarter with the Warriors down by three, Garcia failed to run the Warriors’ offense, then broke a cardinal rule by arguing with his head coach. So Cramer sat his star, his “son,” for the rest of the game.
Despite the bold move of benching the team’s leading scorer in crunch time, Tehachapi defeated West for the first time in five years. Garcia watched it all, from the bench, cheering on his teammates. Later that evening, he called and apologized to his coach and admitted the win without him will give the Warriors confidence later in the season.
Welcome to the talented and complex nature of Chris Garcia. He's a two-sport star for Tehachapi High School who is the first to admit his competitiveness sometimes gets the best of him. He can be difficult to coach at times, but that stems from a fiery competitiveness and desire to lead his team, a true Warriors’ heart that certainly doesn’t lack talent, or discipline, but sometimes just a little direction.
“It’s just my passion for the game, you know,” Garcia said. “It’s been a great learning experience … I’ve learned to keep my emotions to myself because being the leader everyone is looking to you and if they see you doing something you shouldn’t be doing or letting your emotions get the best of you, they’re going to pick up off of that.”
He’s had his fair share of technical fouls and even served suspensions from the CIF Central Section for some of his less-than-proud moments on the football field. But he continues to bounce back, refocus a little here and there and learn from his mistakes as his leadership evolves.
“I wish I could go back, with the knowledge I know now about the two sports," he said. “No regrets, I got it done but I’ve just learned a lot, growing up and becoming a senior.”
For his head basketball coach, who has had a long-standing relationship with him, the maturity of Garcia — even in the wake of those tough-love moments — is inspirational for Tehachapi.
“He is my general,” Cramer said. “He’s an encourager, he’s a firm disciplinarian, he holds a high expectation for his players, he knows what everyone should do, and he expects their best.”
Cramer says Garcia’s impact is felt programwide and he is embracing the role placed on him during this season. He’s no longer being told he needs to be a leader; he’s simply leading.
“I want to say he’s turning into the best kid I’ve ever coached,” Cramer said. “To be the glue of the team at the same time as lead the team ... he’s our Tehachapi representative, he gets in the stands and shakes hands with people from other communities and other teams. He’s just impressed the hell out of me.”
In his first season as varsity head coach, Cramer has made an early impact on the Warriors, and Garcia doesn’t only limit that impact to his game and personal development, either.
“He’s more than a coach to me, he’s almost like a mentor. He’s always giving me life lessons,” he said. “I’m more than a basketball player to him, we all are. He has so much love for the guys. It’s amazing to feel that.”
That impact and that maturity for Garcia is starting to materialize in his performance on the court. The results have the Warriors sitting at 7-6 after a tough preseason schedule and one league game. Garcia is leading the team with more than 11 points per game, and others are starting to develop around him as well with Southeast Yosemite League play continuing in earnest Jan. 9.
He’s also taken a back seat in games and facilitated the offense, like in the wins over Arvin and Highland in the Shafter Kiwanis Tournament two weeks ago where his assist totals were higher than his points scored.
“Just knowing I can dish to those guys and they can score too means a lot,” Garcia said. “Making an extra pass is always better than throwing up a bad shot.”
More maturity from a player who now realizes sometimes the game simply has to come to him, he can’t just go out and take it. It’s a necessary step each great player must realize along the way. Along with talent, desire and strong coaching influence, Garcia is driven at home by his parents, Jose and Brandy Garcia, his two brothers and a sister who make up his support structure, so important for a young athlete who is still learning the game on and off the court.
“Everyone is always encouraging me to do better,” Garcia said. “During school they’re making sure my homework is done, on the field or on the court they’re making sure I’m going 100 percent.”
After three seasons as a varsity quarterback on the football field, basketball has taken over as Garcia’s priority sport. He’s using this 2018-19 hoops season to redeem a forgettable football season that saw the Warriors post a 2-8 record and miss the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.
“That’s my mentality now. I’ve been hearing it from my father from day one who said you have to make up for not getting it done on the field,” Garcia said. “I told the football guys on the basketball team that this is our chance, this is redemption, that’s all it is.”
When the final horn sounds on Garcia’s Warrior basketball career, he hopes it is the beginning of something new. After years of football injuries, he’s focusing on basketball and looking forward to the next step in his career without any illusions of grandeur.
“I want to play at the next level, I want to go to junior college, just not sure where yet,” he said. “That’s been my plan since way back. If I had the chance of course I would go big but I’m going to try to go to a J.C., stay close to home in California and then try to transfer.”
It's a humble goal for the rapidly-maturing leader of the Warriors. Maybe it’s taken a few seasons to arrive at this point, but it’s clear Garcia’s road to redemption is paved in hardwood, and that road has Tehachapi fans excited about the possibility for their team, and the future of a young man who just wants his passion to pay off.