SAN ANTONIO — SAN ANTONIO – It didn’t take Steele High School long to build a strong football tradition after it opened in 2005, winning a state championship in 2010 and reaching the title game two other times.

While it has yet to produce a state champion, the Knights’ basketball program hasn’t been too shabby, either. Steele beat Laredo Nixon 77-62 last Saturday to earn a berth in the UIL state tournament for the third time in seven seasons.

“Everybody knows that we’re good in football, but I think people are starting to realize Steele can play basketball, too,” senior guard Kwabena Davis said this week. “We’re proud of that.”

Steele (30-8) plays Klein Forest (32-3) in the Class 6A state semifinals at 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Alamodome, where the University Interscholastic League state tournament tipped off Thursday morning. The tournament ends with the 6A title game Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

The Knights have advanced to the state semifinals three times, all under coach Lonny Hubbard, but have yet to reach the title game. Steele lost to South Grand Prairie in 2013 and to DeSoto in 2016.

After losing standouts Gerald Liddell and Jayden Martinez to graduation last year, the Knights were expected to have a drop-off this season after going 32-3 and advancing to the regional quarterfinals in 2017-18.

The doubts persisted after Steele started 0-4 this season, but the Knights found their footing and reeled off 15 consecutive victories before losing back-to-back games against Allen (93-91, in double overtime) and Killeen Shoemaker (57-40) in the Allen tournament Dec. 29.

Steele boys basketball coach Lonny Hubbard
Steele boys basketball coach Lonny Hubbard has guided the Knights to the UIL state tournament three times since taking over the program in 2011.
Photo by David Flores / KENS5.com

Steele has gone 15-2 since then, winning a second straight district title and continuing its trend of reaching the state tournament every three years.

“These guys were almost disrespected earlier in the year because we lost two really good players,” Hubbard said. “People were saying, ‘Gerald Liddell is gone. Jayden Martinez is gone. What are they going to do now?’ They were saying, ‘We’ll beat you guys now.’ They (his players) kind of took it personal.”

Liddell, 6-foot-8, is now a freshman at Texas and Martinez, 6-7, plays at New Hampshire.

“We always say you’re going to have those teams that work really hard, then you’re going to have those teams that have crazy-good athletes. But the special ones are the ones that do both. We have athletic guys, but we’re working hard, too.”

Hubbard credits Davis, senior Alijah Comithier and sophomore Langston Love for the team’s strong work ethic.

“These guys have even more fight than the guys we had in the past,” Hubbard said. “The coach from Killen Ellison told us earlier this year, ‘Coach, this is not your most talented group, but it might be the most working-hard group that you’ve had.’ That’s a good thing.”

With Liddell and Martinez gone, this season’s team rolled up its sleeves and created its own identity.

“We knew we didn’t have them and we knew that we’d have to come in this year with different attitudes because we didn’t necessarily have the size we used to have,” Love said. “We knew we had to play much harder than we did before because we don’t have the size that makes up for that. When we started 0-4, we used that as fuel for the rest of the year because everybody thought we weren’t going to be good.”

Getting back on track wasn’t easy after the 0-4 start, but the Knights persevered and turned their season around. In short, the Knights became a team.

“A perfect example is early on in the season, the 0-4 part, we probably had, as a team, five assists, six assists, a game,” Hubbard said. “We decided to share the ball. Now we’re at 15 assists, almost 20 assists in a game. That was a big thing for us. We got outrebounded, but it was just a matter of working. You get some success, the guys (say), ‘Hey, this works.’ They were buying in.”

Love reflected on the turnaround and how Steele got back on track.

“We came together and just talked about us playing for each other, and playing hard for each other” he said. “Because it was individually playing hard. We were a new team and we really hadn’t clicked yet, but after the 0-4 start, we just came together and started playing as a team.”

What makes the Knights go?

“We play hard on both ends,” Love said. “We play hard on offense. We run our stuff and then we play hard on defense. Defense is what makes us go. We get up and down the floor fast. That’s how we’ve been winning games all year.”

Love, a 6-foot-4 guard, leads the Knights in scoring (23.1) and is second in rebounding (7.8). Love is already attracting plenty of attention from college recruiters. For now, Love is only thinking of winning a state championship.

“We’ve just been focusing and trying to get our bodies right for the games this weekend, and fixing the tweaks that we have and putting everything together,” Love said.

Love has no illusions about the challenge Klein Forest presents, but he is confident in the Knights’ chances of faring well.

“They’re just a fast, athletic team,” he said. “We feel like we can stay with them if we execute.”

Comithier is Steele’s leading rebounder with 8.1 boards a game. He and Davis average 13.6 and 11.8 points, respectively.

Hubbard chuckled as he talked about what this season’s team has accomplished.

“It’s something we’ve said to these guys,” he said. “‘You went from the beginning of the year when people probably called you the worst team ever at Steele, and now you have a chance to be the best team ever at Steele.’”