Warriors’ guard turns coach

Cuevas’s new post is ‘Great new beginning’

After five years of leading his team from the point guard position, Rafael Cuevas is now the head coach of the San Quentin Warriors.

“Great new beginning,” said Warriors backup center Donte Smith.

The former Warriors head coach, Daniel “Bear” Wright, left the yard. Cuevas talked to S.Q. Warriors General Manager, Robert “Bishop” Butler about the coaching job.

“We thought Rafael was the best fit for what we’re trying to do – teach life skills through basketball,” said Butler.

Cuevas has plans to make the Warriors better and more inclusive. His plans include replacing practice night scrimmage games with drills on fundamentals, like passing, boxing out, shooting jumpers, and team defense.

“I’ve been told I won’t be able to coach these guys using fundamental basketball because nobody’s gonna be receptive. But I don’t think that’s true,” Cuevas said. “I believe the guys here can play fundamentally at a high level and in a cohesive manner.”

He wants to create a D-league culture for those who don’t make the team. It starts with ranking everyone who tries out. The top 12 players make the team, and the next five will be on the practice squad. There will be special practices for everyone else to come learn the fundamentals.

“This will keep everyone included,” said Cuevas. “They can work their way up and make the team if they become a better asset to the program. Nobody’s job is safe.”

He believes his point guard past will make a good coach.

“I know how to see passing lanes and make good decisions,” said Cuevas. “If you can see the game unfolding before it happens then you can prevent it.”

Cuevas said he played basketball at Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco as a small forward.

“I was a role player with good skills,” said Cuevas. “I made the team by hustling my tail off and playing dee.”

Cuevas said he went to City College of San Francisco, but he didn’t play basketball there. He held a job doing stonework at Andrea’s Marble.

He said at age 22, misguided anger led him to stabbing a man five times in a fight after a Giants game.

“At that point in my life I was just really dangerous,” said Cuevas. “I had some problems with guys in neighborhoods next to mine. We had gunplay. It made me hyper-vigilant. I was walking around ready to fight for my life at the drop of a dime. Everything seemed way bigger than it really was. He didn’t do anything to deserve it.”

While in prison serving 16 years-to-life, Cuevas has completed self-help groups like Restoring Our Original True Selves (ROOTS) and Guiding Rage Into Power (GRIP). He’s in a computer coding program called Code.7370.

Basketball is part of his transformation.

“Basketball has always been a way to connect with people,” said Cuevas.

Former teammates expressed their approval of Cuevas as their coach.

“Great choice,” said Allan McIntosh.

Anthony Ammons added, “I’m thankful for the opportunity to play for a person who I admire. This will be fun.”

His former teammates shouldn’t expect favoritism.

“Guys know what they are gonna get from me, and it’s not gonna be favoritism,” said Cuevas. “It’s gonna be based on hard work, team buy-in and respect for the program.”

While Wright coached alone, Cuevas has added a staff. Aaron “Harun” Taylor, San Quentin’s play-by-play announcer, will be his lead assistant coach. Tony Evans will be his strength and conditioning coach. Robbie Robins and Charlie Ross are also part of his staff.

“We’re gonna turn this yard into a basketball training camp,” said Cuevas.

He added it isn’t all about basketball.

“The outside teams always say it’s about God first, basketball second,” said Cuevas. “I love the humanity behind the basketball. We received a blessing we didn’t earn from the people outside coming in and giving us this program. I really appreciate it.”

Winning is still important.

“I plan on winning every game so the competition is in for some rough years,” Cuevas said.

Rahsaan Thomas


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