Thunder Mountain High School coach John Blasco encourages his nephew, point guard Bryson Echiverri, against Ketchikan at TMHS on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. Blasco has mentored Echiverri since the teen was little. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Thunder Mountain High School coach John Blasco encourages his nephew, point guard Bryson Echiverri, against Ketchikan at TMHS on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. Blasco has mentored Echiverri since the teen was little. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

‘Like a son’: Basketball coach, nephew chase region title

Once a ball boy, senior point guard strives for dream with help from his uncle

Once upon a time, Bryson Echiverri was just a ball boy — the first, in fact, for Thunder Mountain High School’s burgeoning basketball program that started a year after the school opened in 2008.

As a middle schooler, he watched as the older boys played on the hardwood in front of thundering Falcons fans.

“I just always wanted to be out on the floor and play in front of that crowd,” Echiverri said. “Back then, the crowds were real big, student sections and stuff. That was just my dream. I always wanted to play in front of everybody.”

Bryson Echiverri, left, and Thunder Mountain High School boys basketball coach John Blasco pose together at the TMHS gym. Blasco had to wear a North Carolina University T-shirt, Echiverri’s favorite team and the rival of Blasco’s favorite team, Duke University, after losing a bet to his nephew. (Courtesy Photo | Jen Kemp)

Bryson Echiverri, left, and Thunder Mountain High School boys basketball coach John Blasco pose together at the TMHS gym. Blasco had to wear a North Carolina University T-shirt, Echiverri’s favorite team and the rival of Blasco’s favorite team, Duke University, after losing a bet to his nephew. (Courtesy Photo | Jen Kemp)

Now, Echiverri is a 17-year-old senior, with two years of varsity playing time under his belt. He became the team’s starting point guard as a sophomore, a role he still plays today.

Along the way, he’s had a little coaching and mentoring help from a family member, who became TMHS’ basketball coach: John Blasco. Blasco married one of Echiverri’s family members before Echiverri was born, and the two bonded over sports, particularly baseball and basketball.

“Whenever he was over at our house, we were either throwing the baseball … or working on dribbling, passing,” Echiverri said.

“He would pitch to me out in the street and if I couldn’t hit it, I would always say, ‘Bad pitch, uncle!’” he added. “He was with me when I first ever hit a baseball at (age) 2.”

Bryson Echiverri, a former ball boy for Thunder Mountain High School, prepares to greet the TMHS starting line-up during a game at Juneau-Douglas High School during the 2013-14 season. Echiverri, now 17, served as the Falcons’ ball boy from 2009-2014. (Courtesy Photo | Jen Kemp)

Bryson Echiverri, a former ball boy for Thunder Mountain High School, prepares to greet the TMHS starting line-up during a game at Juneau-Douglas High School during the 2013-14 season. Echiverri, now 17, served as the Falcons’ ball boy from 2009-2014. (Courtesy Photo | Jen Kemp)

Blasco described Echiverri “like a son” to him. But he’s strived to hold Echiverri to the same expectations as the rest of the team. He said he’s actually prone to be harder on Echiverri than the others.

“We talk a lot about it — on and off the court — about where I’m coming from and what I see and the challenges I’m trying to push him through. I think he’s accepted that and embraced it quite well,” Blasco said.

Echiverri said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Sometimes I can get upset and give him attitude, but he knows I’m listening,” he said. “So I appreciate that — how hard he is on me.”

The coach, who has been the team’s first and only coach, said his nephew’s always been a gifted athlete. Last season, Echiverri was named to the All-Southeast Conference team, averaging 14 points per game. The focus lately has been on developing Echiverri’s skills as a leader on the team, Blasco said.

“As he’s matured and going into this year, he’s definitely understood how his attitude and how his communication skills to his teammates is very valuable,” Blasco said. “So he’s got to have a more positive tone and a more positive constructive criticism to how he works with his teammates.”

He added, “As a sophomore, all you know is going to play basketball. As a senior, it’s about your team but also putting them all in the best situations and helping them succeed in a positive way.”

2020 is Echiverri’s final year on the Falcons’ court, marking an end to the decade-long basketball coach relationship the two have had.

“It’s going to be hard not having him around here with me (next season) because he’s been around for so long,” Blasco said. “But I’m definitely excited to see what he can do at the next level.”

But first, Blasco and Echiverri will attend to some unfinished business: claiming the region championship. In each of the last two regional tournaments, the Falcons have finished behind Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaat.at Kalé and Ketchikan.

Echiverri said he remembers cutting down the nets as a ball boy in 2014, the year the Falcons won their second consecutive Region V title. Ever since then, he dreamed of the day he would do it while playing for the Falcons.

“I just really want that feeling again,” Echiverri said.

Bryson Echiverri sits on the Thunder Mountain High School boys basketball bench during a game at TMHS during the 2013-14 season. Echiverri, now 17, served as the Falcons’ ball boy from 2009-2014. (Courtesy Photo | Jen Kemp)

Bryson Echiverri sits on the Thunder Mountain High School boys basketball bench during a game at TMHS during the 2013-14 season. Echiverri, now 17, served as the Falcons’ ball boy from 2009-2014. (Courtesy Photo | Jen Kemp)


• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or nainsworth@juneauempire.com.