No one expected much from Hesperia's only team in the National Junior Basketball league.
Next year, maybe they'll think twice.
Competing against teams from Nevada, northern California and Orange County, the Hesperia Hoopsters just took fourth place in a national all-star tournament.
"They like to win," said Jason Darling, coach for the Hoopsters. "They have a lot of heart."
When the Hoopsters started playing together in December, most other cities within the High Desert had two and three teams competing in the NJB league. At first, the other towns didn't see the lone Hesperia team as much of a threat.
Then the Hoopsters started winning — and they didn't stop.
"They just trained together as a team and they just started playing really good," said Art Cuevas, one of the team's assistant coaches. "They were undefeated for the whole season."
That winning streak continued through the playoffs, taking the Hoopsters all the way to the NJB National All-Star Tournament at the MAP Sports Facility in Garden Grove April 5 through 7.
When it came time to choose an all-star team from the 8- to 10-year-olds in the league, it made Hesperia's choice simple.
"Most of the other areas had two or three teams in each division, but in our area all we had was one team," Cuevas said. "When the season was over and we went into the All-Stars, we only had one team to pick from."
However, that gave the Hoopsters the advantage of being teamed with the same boys they'd been playing with all season, rather than getting used to a newly-combined all-star team.
To put another feather in Hesperia's cap, one of the Hoopsters took second place in a 3-point competition at the opening ceremonies the night before the national all-star tournament.
Roughly eight players were each given 30 seconds to make as many 3-point baskets as possible. In the first round, 10-year-old Arthur Cuevas — son of assistant coach Art Cuevas — tied for first place with five baskets. When Arthur competed with the other player in the next round, he came up just short, losing the contest 5-4.
"You're talking about a fourth-grader shooting college-level 3-pointers," Darling said.
Over the next two days, the Hoopsters played six games.
"We won our first three games pretty handily," Cuevas said. "Nobody really expected us to get as far as we did."
They played their last game in the tournament only about an hour after their previous game, losing by 4 points to the team who ended up in second place.
"We lost in the very last couple minutes," Darling said. "They just ran out of steam. You could see their legs just wouldn't move any more."
"I think it was chemistry — the chemistry and the trust they had in each other," said the team's other assistant coach, Kyle King. "It was something I've never seen before. They're super-competitive, every single kid on that team."
"They walked away happy that they made it that far," Darling said. "They may have come in fourth place, but they're first place in my mind."
"It was amazing to see these kids," King said. "For them to compete at that level just really put it into perspective what 'team' means."