When the Robstown High School boys varsity basketball team finished the season last year with a record of 18-12, 7-7 in district play, head coach Bert Ybarra said it was the best the team had done in a long time.

This year, Ybarra said he hopes the end result will be even better.

"This is my fourth year and hopefully my best year," Ybarra said. "Every year is totally different. We've got some young kids coming up and hopefully they can contribute."

With a winning record last year, and only the school's fifth winning season since 1964, Ybarra said that community support for the basketball team has grown. The team even had more kids try out this year than in the past.

"We had close to 70 kids (try out)," Ybarra said. "Typically we don't have that many kids coming out for the sport, so this was a great turnout this year."

Ybarra said that they kept about 45 kids split among the freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams.

One of the bigger changes in this year's program is on the team's rotation. Ybarra said that last year the boys Varsity team played 10 players, rotating between five starters and five backups in order to build team chemistry.

"We had very good team chemistry," Ybarra said. "This year we have around 13 players right now, so it's a little tougher. We're trying to bring up some younger kids, get them ready, because I have a lot of seniors that are leaving this year."

Ybarra said that the number of seniors has also added to the increased size of the team.

"I didn't want to cut them because they've been in the program most of the time, so I'm keeping a couple of extra kids because they're seniors," he said.

So far, the Pickers are 2-2 for the season. After their loss to San Diego on Nov. 21, the team lost a close game to the Gregory-Portland Wildcats 48-76.

"We played (them) pretty tough and (they're) supposed to be one of the better teams in South Texas," Ybarra said. "They did have a 10-point lead going into the fourth, but they have been scoring a lot of points and blowing people out. We had it to the fourth quarter and then we put our backups in there for a while and they kind of let the lead get a little out of hand, so I had to put the starters back in."

Ybarra said that building up the backups' performance is one of the things he's working on this season.

"I'm trying to get that second team to be able to come in a game situation and either keep the lead or try to bring back the team if we are losing," he said. "Like in that San Diego game. The second team is the one that brought us back. That's what makes a team dangerous. When the people getting off the bench are just as good as the people playing, that makes a team very hard to beat."

Another thing the Pickers' coaches are focusing on this season is the team's defense.

"We've been stressing it a lot," Ybarra said. "When I first took over the position, we had problems scoring, we wouldn't score many points, and I think we've fixed that."

Last Tuesday, Robstown won 80-55 against the Bishop Badgers, which Ybarra said shows they are capable of scoring at least 60 points on any given night.

"Now we've really got to go back to basics and back to our defense and really start looking at keeping teams under 48 points if we really want to win," Ybarra said. "Unless we're going to outshoot them and outscore them, which that's a possibility, but I really want to stress defense. We really want to start coming up with bigger stops. I think that's the key to making the playoffs."

Ybarra said that there are a number of standout players on the team this year, including shooters D.J. Resendez and Ryan Garza, Randy Flores and Matt Arellano, who Ybarra said have been playing very consistent basketball, and Josh Gaona and Adrian Molina on defense.

"We have a pretty strong team this year," Garza said. "Better than what we had (my) sophomore and junior year. I feel very confident about going to the playoffs this year."

Flores, who had standout performances in the San Diego and Bishop games, also said he felt confident about the Pickers' chances this year.

"I really like it," Flores said. "We're all close to each other like friends. We've known each other forever."

"What we have right now, we've played here since we were growing up as kids and we have the chemistry to work with each other," Garza said.

This Friday and Saturday, Robstown will be playing in a tournament in Hebbronville, followed by another tournament in San Diego from Dec. 10 to 12. The Cotton Pickers' next home game will be on Dec. 21 at 3 p.m. against the Moody Trojans.