BY TJ GARCIA
McALLEN — At 6-foot-6, McAllen Rowe boys basketball coach Jose Yebra definitely sticks out in Valley gyms.
The former college hoopster is often taller than his players and just may be the tallest coach in the RGV. But now Yebra is getting notice for more than his imposing height. He’s being lauded for being among the most successful coaches in RGV history.
Yebra notched his 500th victory as a boys varsity coach last Friday with a District 30-5A win at home against La Joya Palmview — a team coached by former Rowe player Andy Saenz no less.
“It (the win) wasn’t such a big deal for me. It was more about my assistant coaches that have helped accomplish this over the years, and our players that have made this happen. It was great to see them come back and show that they care about the program,” said Yebra of Friday’s game crowd. “That was important to me. But it (getting to 500 wins) was not that big of a deal for me. Winning the game and staying undefeated in district, that was important to me.”
To be sure, there are other coaches, both present and past, that have surpassed 500 career wins in the RGV. But it’s hard to argue against Yebra’s success over the years, especially at Rowe (18-6, 2-0 this year) where the Warriors are playoff contenders nearly every year and other teams loathe to play.
Yebra said he got into coaching after his high coach told him that coaching was an honorable profession and that point guards and post players often made good coaches. He was a post and figured that it might work for him.
After graduating from Brownsville Pace in 1983, he attended Blinn Junior College in Brenham and then went to McMurray University in Abilene. Yebra then went to the El Paso area where he coached at the middle school and high school levels.
The 52-year-old got his first shot as head coach in the RGV when the Brownsville ISD hired him in 1994 to head up Brownsville Lopez’s new basketball program. He stayed there until 1999 when he was hired in McAllen to lead Rowe, a relatively young program at that time, but one that had already been successful.
Yebra, now in this 18th season at Rowe, has had successful and talented teams over the years. He’s made several deep runs into the playoffs with the Warriors — and he said maybe the most memorable of the 500 wins IF he had to pick one was the regional quarterfinal victory in 1999 that qualified the Warriors for the regional tournament in San Antonio.
He said that sort of team success shows exactly what he preaches in his program: teamwork. Yebra said he and his coaches always focus on players over wins and emphasize that year-in and year-out. Rowe has had dozens of high-level individual talents during Yebra’s stint as coach, but he said the challenge has been getting players to play together.
“They (players) believe us and understand what we are trying to do,” he said. “We are tough on them and push them, but at the end of the day they can count on us as coaches, as friends. They can trust us.”
Yebra said improving young men through the game and improving their basketball skills keeps him and his coaches motivated. He said he loves to see freshman come in and learn the game through the Rowe program, and then leave as seniors better basketball players and better people.