It has been a season of slow starts for the Mills Vikings.
With senior point guard Colby Vazquez leading the charge, however, the Vikings have found a knack for finishing strong.
Vazquez commandeered Daily Journal Athlete of the Week honors for helping the Mills boys’ basketball team salvage not just a wayward week, but perhaps its entire season — scoring a career-high 34 points in the Vikings’ 70-60 comeback victory at Capuchino.
“We knew it was going to be a hard one,” Vazquez said. “It didn’t end up the way we wanted to, so we knew we had to make up for it on Friday.”
The Vikings faced an uphill climb with the week’s three-game slate opening with back-to-back games against Peninsula Athletic League South Division frontrunners Menlo-Atherton and Carlmont. Mills lost both those games, dropping its league record to 3-2.
If Mills wants to qualify for the Central Coast Section playoffs for the second straight year, it must finish with a record of .500 or better in league play. The Vikings clinched a sub-.500 non-league record with a 4-8 start. And to be eligible to apply for the CCS postseason, a team must finish .500 or better in either non-league or league play.
So Mills’ third game of the week, a Friday night road game at archrival Capuchino, was a chance to reach the midway point of the PAL South schedule by with some room to breathe.
“Playing at Cap, I love playing there because it’s pretty hectic,” Vazquez said. “It’s a live environment.”
Vazquez responded. The Vikings may have gotten off to a slow start — Cap led 17-12 after the first quarter, with Vazquez whiffing on his first two 3-point attempts — but that changed in the second quarter. Mills went on a 25-20 run, one of its most productive quarters of the season, with Vazquez finding his groove from beyond the 3-point arc.
More a dribble-drive, midrange threat, Vazquez isn’t revered as a 3-point marksman. But the senior point guard went on to sink six 3s in the game.
“They were just giving me space; they were giving me these 3s,” Vazquez said. “And everything started to go in, pretty much.”
The Vikings’ turnaround — in which they went on to score 70 points, their best single-game total in league play since 2014-15 — was something of a microcosm of not just their week, but of their season.
Mills opened the year with four straight losses. It’s no coincidence, though, that Vazquez opened the season late, missing the first three games of the 2018-19 campaign due to a sudden injury last September when he broke his arm in two places while blocking a shot at a basketball camp at Cal Lutheran University.
Vazquez was in a cast for four weeks, and wore a brace for two weeks after that. Fortunately, the injury occurred to his left arm, his non-shooting arm. So, while he didn’t resume full basketball activities until December, he was able to work on his shooting throughout the downtime.
“That’s what I kind of saw as a blessing in disguise,” Vazquez said. “At first I was scared and didn’t know what was going to happen. But as time went on I realized I still had my shooting hand.”
On Dec. 4, Vazquez joined his first Mills practice of the season at full force. Two days later, he was playing his first game. And he was an immediate impact, despite Mills falling to Prospect-Saratoga 59-56, scoring 18 points.
“Right away he was handling it,” Mills head coach Rick Hanson said. “He was a little rusty because he hadn’t played. But he was still good.”
Unfortunately for the Vikings, that game was the first without sharpshooting junior Michael Matsuno, who has yet to return from an injury he suffered in the third game of the season.
“During the summer I was really looking at a promising year,” Hanson said, “with Matsuno and Colby, and there are a couple other guys that are good.”
Mills is built around Vazquez, though. In his two previous varsity seasons, the Vikings have run a multi-point guard offense, and favored now-graduated Nick Broqua to run the point. This year, Vazquez was clearly the man for the job, as he can score and distribute, and is even a presence as a rebounding guard.
“It was really important to get back Colby because he does so much,” Hanson said.
Vazquez said late in the game during his offensive outpouring against Cap, some of his teammates were imploring him to go for a 40-point game. Only, he didn’t realize how close to the mark he was. Not until after the game did he realize his individual point total was on the scoreboard, he said.
“He’s really a team player,” Hanson said. “First and foremost is winning. It’s not a surprise he didn’t know how many points he had.”