Saturday, May 11, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Kevin Soares hadn’t been in the Bonanza High basketball gym since the late 1980s.
The facility, he quickly realized, had changed little. It’s one of the few gyms in Las Vegas that still has wooden bleachers, and the walls are covered with wood panels, which when the school opened in 1976 were hip and in style. Probably not as much today.
Soares, whom many considered the area’s best high school basketball coach after a nearly two decade run and many league championships at Foothill, took over the Bonanza program in the late winter.
Bonanza is one of the area’s original schools, producing greats in many sports along the way such as baseball's Kris Bryant, NFLers Gerald Riggs and Adam Seward, and Minnesota Wild winger Jason Zucker, the lone native in the NHL.
If Soares has his way — and there’s no reason to suspect he won’t turn a perennial mediocre program at Bonanza into a contender — that list will soon include one of his players.
“No. 1, these are great kids,” Soares said. “It’s the basics. Nobody has taught them the basics of the game. Once we get the fundamentals down and basics down, they are going to see the game is going to open up and be a little easier for them.”
A Las Vegas native, Soares raves about Bonanza’s charm and character, everything from those yellow and brown uniforms to the memorable games of yesteryear when those wooden bleachers were packed. In 1988, he was the star on Bishop Gorman’s state championship team, which defeated Bonanza in the finals.
He fondly remembers the battles with Bonanza, smiling when naming some of their top players of that era. “They had a lot of guys. Roger Cram, a few guards, Doug Simister and Britt Johnson, and Doug VanderWeele, who did a lot of the dirty work,” he said.
Soares knows Bonanza isn’t a power in basketball. It, after all, has never won a regional championship and has just one banner among the masses for the school's other sports in the gym — for the 1988 team’s runner-up finish.
At Foothill, Soares’ teams were usually ranked in the top 10 and always expected to compete for a spot in the state tournament. A playoff berth in the first year at Bonanza would be an accomplishment.
That challenge is what’s appealing. Soares takes pride in his ability to develop athletes and sees a program filled with players with room to grow. He’s only had a handful of workouts as the team transitions into the summer program, but he sees enough to be encouraged — the players are giving him premium effort and are happy to have someone providing elite-level coaching.
“I am here to teach the game,” Soares said. “It is always easy to go where there is talent and win games. It is a lot more fulfilling to do it with kids once you teach them the right way. That is what we are going to do here. We are going to get rid of that losing mentality and get them to believe they can win.”
There weren’t many blowout defeats at Foothill, which in 2004 finished as state runners-up and won nine straight Southeast League championships. At Bonanza, there are probably going to be some nights featuring the running clock of the mercy rule. But those nights won’t last.
Soares is confident the Bengals will be a playoff team sooner rather than later, especially once the program starts developing a higher caliber of player. There will also be players who move into the Bonanza zone solely to play for someone with Soares’ pedigree.
Soon, there will be battles with Gorman — the eight-time defending state champions — reminiscent of those back-and-forth affairs of the late 1980s. The flashback will include those wood panels, which school officials say alumni are passionate about not replacing.