Alex Herrera never will play another competitive basketball game in the Four Corners again.
His careers at Ignacio High School and Fort Lewis College are over, but his playing days are far from it.
After a tough loss at CSU-Pueblo in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinals Tuesday, Herrera took his No. 44 Skyhawks jersey off for the final time. It signaled the end of one of the greatest careers in FLC history.
The 6-foot-10, 255-pound center, who graduated from Ignacio High School in 2010, leaves the FLC men’s basketball team with seven school records, 19 RMAC Player of the Week awards and a second-team All-American selection in his junior season, with a first-team nod imminent for his senior season.
Three days removed from his final game with FLC, Herrera finally allowed himself to reflect on his accomplishments instead of focusing on the next game on the schedule as he humbly did his entire career.
“It’s been a great five years. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m disappointed it had to end, but everything has to end eventually,” said Herrera, son of Chris and Kathy Herrera. “I knew it was going to happen, but it’s still bugging me at the back of my mind the way it ended.”
Here is a look back on Herrera’s career and all the accomplishments along the way:
It only took one game into his senior season for Herrera to set the career blocked shots record at FLC. He surpassed Bayfield’s Rich Hillyer’s previous mark of 208, set in 1989, by finishing with 301.
Herrera set that record while playing against St. Mary’s in a tournament - appropriately storybook - held in Ignacio. He wasn’t willing to take credit for the record at the time with a whole season ahead of him to play, but he said it meant more to him now that the season is complete.
“To break it in Ignacio in front of my home fans, that was a real special moment that means a lot to me,” he said. “In a couple of years down the road, it’s going to be a real good story to tell my kids.”
During the final game of the regular season, Herrera set a mark he never would have imagined, setting a new single-season scoring record with 687 points. Montezuma-Cortez graduate Kirk Archibeque had set FLC’s previous record of 640 points while playing his one and only season at FLC after transferring his senior season from the University of Northern Colorado.
“I always wanted to beat (DeAndre Lansdowne’s) career scoring record but fell short,” said Herrera, who now is second in career scoring after finishing 107 points behind Lansdowne (2007-11). “The single-season scoring record, I never thought I had a chance. Kirk came home over Christmas break and said I was on pace to beat his record. That was the first I thought of it.”
Archibeque, amid his sixth professional season in Europe, said he was happy another local kid from the Four Corners area was the one to break his mark.
“It is definitely a lot better that the record is broken by him because he is from the area, and also he has put in so much work on the court and off the court to get to the point where he is basketball-wise right now,” Archibeque said in an email interview with The Durango Herald. “I am very proud of him and how he has matured as a basketball player from when I first saw him as a freshman.”
Herrera broke a few more of Archibeque’s records along the way. Fitting, as both big men wore No. 44 for FLC and dominated play at the post. Herrera set a new mark for single-season rebounding, surpassing Archibeque’s 297 with 335 this season. He also beat Archibeque’s free-throws attempted and made in a season with 224 makes in 333 attempts.
Archibeque’s father, Bob, still regularly attends Skyhawks’ games and watched Herrera break his son’s marks.
“For Alex to do it, it’s perfect. He’s a great kid, good athlete and has a great family,” Bob Archibeque said. “If anybody should get those records, it should be Alex.”
Herrera’s 937 career rebounds rank second in FLC history behind Chuck Lamb’s impressive record of 1,054 set in 1964. He also finished one made field goal shy of matching Joel Tribelhorn’s single-season record of 231 set during the 1986-87 season.
More than any record, receiving recognition as an All-American is the one honor Herrera said he values over anything else.
“I always wanted to be one, but you never really think it’s possible,” he said. “Coming from a smaller school in the RMAC without the facilities some other schools have, it’s tougher to get that recognition. But it shows anything can happen as long as you set your mind to it.”
From Ignacio to the Fort
Herrera still vividly remembers the first time he interacted with the FLC coaches. His Ignacio team had just lost by one point in the championship game of FLC’s team camp it holds every summer. Dejected after the loss, an upset Herrera left the gym and was walking across the parking lot when FLC associate head coach Bob Pietrack caught up to him.
“Coach P ran out of the gym to talk to me. I was all disappointed we lost, but he told me they liked me. That made the whole camp for me, even after the loss,” Herrera said.
Herrera signed with FLC before his senior season. It was the only school that recruited Herrera coming out of high school, where he set a CHSAA single-season record for blocked shots with 197 in the 2009-10 season. Herrera also is tied for the most blocks in a game with 15 against Bayfield during the 2008-09 season, and he’s fourth in CHSAA’s career blocked shots list with 311.
“Otero Junior College called me after I signed, but that was it,” Herrera said. “Coming up to the college from my small town of Ignacio was a big change. I give Coach P and (head coach Bob Hofman) a lot of credit for helping me adjust.”
Herrera said he didn’t feel any nerves when he first arrived on campus, even though he was playing alongside some of the best players in FLC history, including Lansdowne, every day in practice.
“I was too ignorant to know what I was getting into,” said Herrera, who still was an awkward pudgy kid coming out of high school. “I don’t think anything really hit me until my sophomore year when I started developing and got a feel for the game.”
‘A Hall of Fame Human’
What separates Herrera from many great players is the attitude he brought to the court on game day and in practice. It earned him the admiration of his coaches, especially after he began to develop into an elite talent.
“Alex is a guy to root for because he’s so modest. If you were sitting next to him in a science class, you wouldn’t know he is a basketball player without asking him,” Hofman said early in the 2014-15 season. “He doesn’t talk about himself as a player. He’s humble and polite, and everything is about the team over himself. That’s what makes him so special.
“Alex works as hard as any player I’ve ever had. Everything he receives, he deserves.”
More than any accolade received, Herrera said his development at FLC was his biggest feat.
“My biggest accomplishment I would have to say is getting better each year. A lot of people get complacent and satisfied when they see success, but staying hungry has been the biggest thing for me,” Herrera said.
The only thing Herrera struggled to do was praise himself. Every time he had a big game, he credited the guards for finding him with good passes or for knocking down their own shots to help the team win. No personal accolade ever came before the team.
“Chief, not enough words to say about him as not only a player but a person,” Pietrack said. “Hall of fame human.”
When the final buzzer sounded on Herrera’s FLC career Tuesday, a wave of emotion came over him and the team, knowing it was Herrera’s final game for the Skyhawks.
But Hofman stopped the boohooing with a message for Herrera and the team.
“What’s really cool about Alex is I really feel his career is just beginning,” Hofman said. “With his work ethic and ability, I just feel he hasn’t even tapped the surface yet of where his career will end up.”
Herrera played in an Australian developmental league last summer and dominated the competition, even winning a player of the week award. Already talking with different agencies and trying to find the right fit, Herrera is focused on figuring out which league in which country he will play for next season.
He said this new process is more nerve-wracking than when he first was recruited by FLC.
“To travel around and see the world while playing basketball, I’m not going to complain about that,” Herrera said. “I want to end up in a good place with a good team that will fit me right and give me a chance to succeed. Professional ball is way different. When I came to Fort Lewis, I knew where I would be for the next five years. Who knows what is coming next year or the year after that.”
But Herrera, who was used to using his physical size and superior footwork in the paint against college players, knows it will be much different when he turns pro. He doesn’t have to look any further than Archibeque for help in that category. The two have been talking regularly, and Archibeque worked with Herrera a bit last summer showing him the difference in styles.
“The thing is, over in Europe, there is so much size and athletic ability in every country, especially as you move up to the top leagues in Europe. The biggest thing, playing as a big guy, is you have to have a mid-range jump shot, even back to the 3-point line,” Archibeque said. “It will give you so many job opportunities, because it is very hard to just bully people in the paint. In college, it is very easy to bully people because of the size difference.
“With Alex’s hard work and dedication, he will definitely be able to translate his game over to the European style.”
Now That It’s Over
Playing basketball in the Four Corners area has been Herrera’s life since he was a child. He’s not quite ready for it to be over, and he is anxious to support his alma mater Ignacio in this week’s state tournament in Pueblo, where his younger brother Nicholas is helping lead this generation’s Bobcats.
“A lot of emotion has come out this week, but I know I have another 10 years of basketball to play, so it will be good,” Herrera said. “I am always going to take a lot of pride in my two schools, and I’m going to miss it a lot.”
Herrera is confident the Skyhawks will continue to turn out winning teams long after he is gone. He’ll be keeping a close eye on his old teammates from afar, but he isn’t quite ready to see anyone chase any of his school records just yet.
“You always don’t want your records to be broken, but they say records are meant to be broken,” he said. “Somebody will come along and break them, and I’ll be happy for them when they do, but I’m going to enjoy them for now while I can.”