There was no Olympic cold or panic. That, he assures.
Juan CardonaHe simply saw it as another game.
But it really wasn’t any other game in the Vegabajeno’s career. It was his first commitment as interim coach of Southern Miss University in NCAA Division I basketball.
A health mishap led coach Jay Ladner to miss the game against Old Dominion on Wednesday. And Cardona – in his role as first assistant – took the lead and won 78-73.
It was, without a doubt, a significant moment in the career of Cardona, a former baseball player in his youth who later became a high school basketball coach in the country, under the tutelage of the late coach Miguel Mercado.
“When the game started, I was ready for whatever came. He wasn’t nervous. Mentors, like Miguel Mercado, prepared me from a young age for moments like this. At the age of 18 I started coaching basketball, when I retired from baseball due to an injury. And at the age of 28 he was already directing at a professional level (BSN). So I was prepared“Cardona shared with The new day.
“I felt like I had been on that stage before. This was nothing new. I saw it as just another game and, thank God, everything went well,” continued the current pilot of the Capitanes de Arecibo in the National Superior Basketball.
Ladner suffered a heart attack on Tuesday and was taken to a hospital. Ladner has already been released, Cardona said, estimating that the American coach will be out of the team for two or three weeks.
The Golden Eagles are 13-11 and in fifth place in the Sun Belt Conference. They have seven games left to finish the regular phase on March 1 and then participate in the conference championship. Their next game is Saturday.
Cardona knows that many college basketball eyes will be on him in the coming weeks. The Puerto Rican dreams of being a coach in the NCAA. This is his second experience in Division I and his third campaign at this level.
He debuted as an assistant at Mercer and was only there for one season (2019-20), before returning to Miami to work with Cuban Arturo “Pilin” Alvarez in a prep school.
Last season he debuted with Southern Miss and was an important player in the recruitment of Puerto Ricans Neftali Alvarez and Andre Curbelo.
“We are not going to stop. I am going to direct (in ownership) in Division I. We are going to stay here,” he stated.
Standing on the line in front of Old Dominion, Cardona said he couldn’t stop thinking about Mercado, who coached for 26 years in the BSN and won three championships.
“When I started directing, I remember that Miguelito told Pilin that I was going to direct in Division I. At that moment, I didn’t know what he was saying”Cardona recalled.
“I also thought about Pilin, David Rosario… people who helped me a lot in my development as a coach.”
Cardona is not the only Puerto Rican who belongs to a coaching staff of a Division I basketball program this season. Chuck Martin is an assistant at Oregon; Orlando Antigua in Kentucky; and Donald Copeland is the property coach at Wagner University.
Unlike them, Cardona is the only one developed on the island.
“And now I have the challenge of paving the way for other Latinos who come after me. Let them see that this is possible,” she said.
And he also said that his intense and fiery style on the line will not change. “I already got my first technique. I don’t even remember why they gave it to me,” she said, laughing.
Regarding Curbelo’s absence in the last eight games, Cardona said that the point guard suffered another concussion and He added that it is evaluated “day by day.”
Curbelo is going through his first season at Southern Miss and He has only played six games with averages of 12.0 points, 5.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 23.7 minutes per game.. His last game was on January 11.
He did not start the season active because the NCAA body had not approved his transfer from St. John’s. Curbelo was also affected by a concussion in St. John’s.
While fulfilling duties with Southern Miss, Cardona is also working on putting together the Captains for 2024.
Arecibo will present several new faces, after the departure of David Huertas as a free agent and the trade Walter Hodge, Jr.., to the Cangrejeros de Santurce for the young escort Alfonso Plummer.
And in recent days, the management of the Arecibe team announced the hiring of imported players David Stockton and Jahlil Okafor.
“I like what we are doing. We are not only looking for players who score, but players who make others and the team better. And there are still more movements to come“said Cardona, who coached Ponce and Arecibo in the last tournament.