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Class Of '17: This High School Junior Faces Tall Hoop Dream Odds

Bill Zeeble
Now in his third year at Flower Mound High School, Ricky Rijos' passion for basketball continues to grow. Thing is, he hasn't. He's short. He hopes heart will earn him a varsity slot.

For the past few years, KERA’s been checking in with students who are part of the Class of ’17. Ricky Rijos is a junior at Flower Mound High School where he loves basketball and has played every year. Now he’s trying for the varsity team but he faces tall odds. 

There’s a slam-dunk fact about basketball that everyone gets, even those that know almost nothing about it.  Height matters. Tall people play basketball. In college and the pros, players under 6 feet are rare. So even though Ricky loves playing basketball, he’s short.

“Uh, like 5’6”, 5’5,” Ricky says.  

Doctors figured he’d have grown a few inches by now. Ricky played on the Flower Mound Junior Varsity team last year, and is working hard to make Varsity this year. So he keeps practicing and working out. He’s more muscular and can lift twenty more pounds than he did last year, which can help his game. But he’s not any taller.

“Because of getting stronger in my arms and my chest and all, you know, I can shoot from farther than I could before. And you know like, legs, quicker for defense, staying in front of people, cutting them off, all that,” Ricky explains.

Flower Mound’s Varsity basketball coach, Eric Littleton, welcomes that attitude, what he calls heart. While odds remain steep for a relatively small, talented guard to make Varsity, he’s not ruling it out.

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
How tall, or short, is Ricky? These Flower Mound High basketball players will help make up the varsity and JV teams. Ricky wears number 2, in white.

“You better be an assassin when you shoot the basketball,” Littleton says. “You better be able to shoot it from anywhere at any time against anybody, you’ve got to be able to dribble and pass and catch better than anybody. And equally important, you’ve got to have a heart that’s the size of the moon.”

Why heart? Ask Isaiah Brown, a Flower Mound point guard.  He’s a senior who’s six foot five and is familiar with the saying “Hard work beats talent when talent refuses to work hard.’

“That could be the same thing between height also,” Brown reasons. “So if a shorter person works harder than a taller person then he’s going to play more.”

Isaiah says he would welcome Ricky to the varsity team. He says Ricky works really hard. Ricky’s dad thinks so, too. Yes, father and son are basketball fanatics. Riki Rijos Sr. says he played varsity his junior year of high school, and believes in hustle and heart.

“Dives for the ball and gives every intensive effort that he can to show that he should be with the varsity team,” Rijos Sr. says, explaining ‘heart.’ “I think it’s a last push kind of thing and speaking to coach, too, he says there are spots for two, three kids. So battle it out and let’s go.”

Coach Littleton says there are more than a dozen kids vying for those few varsity slots, so chances are slim for every player. Despite size differences – Ricky is the shortest on the squad – Littleton says all the contenders are even. By the end of this month, Ricky should find out if he’s a varsity Jaguar. 

This story is part of KERA’s American Graduate Initiative, charting the journey from childhood to graduation.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.