Hawks sophomore guard Steve Cazares stands just outside of his home gym’s three-point arc,. Hunched over at the waist, he uses his jersey to wipe the sweat from his brow. At the same time, he attempts to hide a mischievous grin.
With a quick examination of the court, he finds his nine teammates wearing a similar grin as the Ohlone free throw attempt clangs off the rim.
The humor becomes too much to bear as the second attempt reaches the same laceless fate, while a small voice echoes through the empty-seated quiet of “The Nest.”
Cazares led his Hawks team both on and off the court this past season and now has the high hopes of transferring to a four-year college.
Like many collegiate basketball players, Cazares’ story has been heavily influenced by the name “Jordan.” Unlike the rest, however, this Jordan has no ties to the University of North Carolina.
“Where I am today is not where I would have been if I didn’t have Jordan,” he said.
Cazares grew up in Pleasant Hill, Calif., where he went to College Park High School. The multi-sport athlete always had dreams of playing sports in college. So it is no surprise that while still in high school, he was the member of an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Boys Basketball team.
While he was traveling with his AAU team that Cazares got news that would change his life.
While preparing for that night’s game in Texas, he found out that his girlfriend, Mariah Rodriguez, was pregnant.
“I wanted to wait until he got home to tell him in person,” Rodriguez said, “but because I told him that I wanted to tell him something, he didn’t want to wait. I had to text him and tell him.”
When Cazares found out that he would soon be a father, he was merely three months out of high school — an 18-year-old boy who was about to become a father.
The next few months would be a trying period for both would-be parents.
A period that saw Cazares bounce around several junior colleges, and even found him contemplating the end of his higher education, as well as his basketball career.
“Mariah was about six months pregnant,” Cazares said. “I was almost to the point where I was like, ‘I’m done, I need to be a father, I need to make money.’ I almost gave up on basketball, but that was when the support of my family came in. They told me they could help, and they told me that I needed to keep playing and going to school.”
Then, on Dec. 29, 2010, Rodriguez gave birth to a healthy baby boy. And when the nurse in the delivery room asked what name the couple had chosen for their child, it was a surprise to Cazares when his soccer-playing counterpart blurted out, “Jordan.”
The new arrival did not, however, end Cazares’ struggle to find his place in the classroom, or on the court. But then, someone whose name has become synonymous with Las Positas contacted him.
“I was a gray shirt at San Francisco City (College),” Cazares said, “but it didn’t work out there, then I got in contact with Coach Costello. He told me to come up to the gym.”
Like so many young adults before him, Cazares’ life was greatly impacted by Coach Costello, albeit for a short time.
“He was a huge influence on me,” Cazares said about Costello.
Despite his one-hour daily commute between Martinez and Livermore, Cazares has found himself at home on Campus Hill.
Now Rodriguez brings their three-year-old to his father’s games as a sort of mascot. Not only has Jordan embraced his role as the “Little Hawk,” but he has also become the muse to his predecessor’s game.
“I’ve started really working hard at basketball,” Cazares said, “because I have a reason. I want my son to be able to watch me and say, ‘my dad’s a good basketball player.’”
When asked about the feeling of looking up into the stands after a game to see his own child smiling back at him, Cazares got emotional.
After a pause, and with a cracking voice, he responded.
“After games he’s always in the hallway, and the minute he sees me he takes off running for me and jumps up on me. After a loss it helps the loss, but after a win when I played good, it’s the best feeling,” Cazares said.
Whether battling on the hardwood of “The Nest” or wandering the halls of the campus, Cazares has an appreciation for the time he spent as a member of the Las Positas community.
LPC Athletic Director (AD) Dyan Miller reciprocates that sentiment.
“It’s great to see someone like Steve, someone that young who’s a father and is still pursuing his dreams of playing basketball and getting an education,” Miller said. “He plays basketball at a high level. He’s a good athlete, and a really nice guy. We’ve been happy to have him here these last two years.”
Miller’s point was echoed by Cazares’ teammates.
“Steve is one of the most unique people I’ve ever had an opportunity to play with,” teammate Jacob Contreras said, “He has more of a sense of responsibility than anyone else. The rest of us, we go home (before practice), take a nap, eat lunch or whatever. Steve goes home and takes care of another human being. You’ve got to have respect for him for that.”
In the classroom, Cazares is set to receive his degree in Kinesiology, which he hopes to parlay into a career as a strength and conditioning coach. He is not done with basketball, however. His immediate plan is to attend a four-year college and continue his career.
Transfer is a great possibility for Cazares, according to head coach Lon Rork.
“As a basketball player, he’s great,” Rork said. “He can shoot the ball. He can probably work on his handles a little bit. Defensively, he needs to do a little work, but I think he’s got a great chance to play at the four-year level.”
The primary targets for Cazares include West Coast Colleges, primarily, although he would give serious consideration to any school that offered what he calls “the right situation.”
That “right situation” obviously includes the opportunity to stay close to his son, as one worry for him is not being able to see Jordan daily.
“I played in a tournament in Mendocino,” Cazares said, “I was gone for three days and I was like ‘send me a picture or Facetime me.’ It was just three days and it was already rough.”
That fear does not ring too deep for Rodriguez, however, as she realizes that Cazares’ commitment to his family has been the primary focus for the 21-year-old man.
“He’s a very good dad,” she said. “He has a lot going on, with playing basketball and schoolwork, but no matter what’s going on, he always puts Jordan first, before anything.”
Even though Jordan is too young to have a complete understanding of his position at the top of his father’s list of priorities, he is there for him.
At every game, the toddler’s support of his father is unwavering.
Hawks games are a chance to watch a sport he loves.
That is, until he is given the opportunity to get involved.
He stands in his customary position at “The Nest” on the lap track, above the bleachers opposite the player’s bench. He presses his head up against the railing in anticipation while he holds his own green Nike basketball in his hands. He watches his father pace to his spot on the court, just outside the three-point arc. As Ohlone’s Henrik Davidsen takes his position at the charity stripe and raises the ball for the free throw attempt, Jordan makes the barren gym’s solitary sound.