Daniel Faris, right, celebrates with one of his best friends, Chris Randall, after Eldorado won the state high school championship in 2004. (Courtesy of Daniel Faris)
By Daniel Faris
My school, Eldorado High School, hadn’t won a state title since before I was born. Eldorado had some good teams in that span, but never great. As my teammates and I huddled up at the top of the Pit ramp, we could feel the energy pulsing on the court. We were facing Cibola, they were stacked that year. We were not favorites to win. (Backstory: Lobos lost in first round of conference tournament that year. We had all the focus in the city for our game that night — 11,000-plus fans to watch the 2004 5A State Title game.
The best basketball experience I’ve had to date happened that day.
The game was a dog fight. I was matched up with Alan Branch and Kasey Cunningham all night. It came down to the last few possessions of the game. My gritty teammates pulled it out with defensive stops and making free throws. As the court was rushed by all our screaming Eldorado faithful, all I could think of was, “Damn, winning in March is fun.”
We had so much fun winning state in ’04 that we had to go back to back and win it again in ’05. March isn’t always fun though.
They say athletes are driven for their love of winning or they’re driven by how much they hate losing. I dealt with nothing but success in high school. I thought I loved winning. When I got to
Freshman year at UNM, we got knocked out of the MWC tournament in Denver first round at the Pepsi center. No postseason for us, so that was it. But I had three more years in college. I wasn’t happy about the result but it wasn’t the end of the world.
Sophomore year was even worse. The coach who recruited me was fired just more than halfway through the conference season (Ritchie McKay). Safe to say there was plenty of losing to build up my distaste for it.
Junior year we had a good turnaround year, losing in the first round of conference, but we made it to NIT and had a good showing at Cal before losing in the first round. I realized I had one more shot to make some noise in MWC tourney.
Senior year we started slow but finished strong. We ended up the MWC regular season on five-game winning streak and won eight of nine to share share the regular season title with BYU & Utah. We won a ring, but the conference tournament still was on my mind.
Wyoming was our first-round opponent, who we just beat 74-73 our last game of regular season. We won in Laramie and cut the nets down in their court to celebrate the regular season championship. In retrospect that was a mistake. Wyoming came out extra fired up in the conference tournament. We battled hard but ended up losing.
Sitting there realizing we had let down our fans, state and each other hurt. We still had postseason play left. The loss against Wyoming was painful but we had to move on to our postseason play (got invited to NIT again instead of the big dance).
I am still bothered by losing that game and messing up our chance to really experience March madness. I take solace in the fact that UNM had tremendous success in the short run after Tony Danridge, Chad Toppert and I graduated.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous of those UNM teams huge success after I graduated. Postseason success in college is something I never will get back.
I will say that I learned a lot from that experience. I learned I hate losing so much more than I love winning. March is always a good time to keep playing.
Daniel Faris is a former Eldorado High and New Mexico Lobo basketball star who is playing professionally in Lebanon. Daniel will write occasional stories on former Lobo athletes, as well as keeping Enchantment Sports fans updated on his year with the Lebanese national team. For tips or comments to Daniel, please email EnchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.