Basketball pair looks back on years of work, fun and friendship


Madhav Pamidimukkala, Sports editor

A last-minute three-pointer released from the hands of senior guard and co-captain Auston Gonzalez ties the Wildcats over the powerhouse Viera Hawks. Not even one possession later, senior guard and co-captain Travis McClendon storms down the court and also shoots a three-pointer, this one to decide the game. The swish of the net harmonizes with the buzzer to signify the program’s first victory over Viera in a decade. Gonzalez and McClendon have been the keystones of the varsity basketball program since they were sophomores, contributing to the teams historic 17-11 season, and becoming the most efficient backcourt duo the school has ever seen along the way.

The two met at middle-school basketball tryouts in seventh grade and though only one was selected, they formed an instant connection.   

“I remember [Travis] got cut even though he shouldn’t have,” Gonzalez said. “That’s when I actually started talking to him because I was kind of mad [since] there were a bunch of people on the team that were terrible, and he wasn’t. After that we started talking more because we had a few classes together and then we became friends.”

McClendon did not let the rejection deter him, however. He worked harder so he would not only make the middle-school team in eighth grade, but the high-school junior varsity team as well.

“When I didn’t make the team in seventh grade, I didn’t really compare myself to anyone else,” McClendon said. “I just thought that I wasn’t good enough to make the team, so that pushed me and made me work harder so I could make the team next year.”

The following year, the two began their on-court bond.

“We’re both guards so we’ve worked a lot with each other on the court and since we made the team in eighth grade, we played together for middle school,” Gonzalez said.  “Then, we both played JV in eighth grade and we both started going to LA Fitness together. Our chemistry increased a lot over the course of one year. We kind of read each other every time we had the ball and we knew what the other person was going to do, so we built off that and then it just increased throughout high school.”

Before ninth grade, the two were presented with the opportunity to attend their zoned high schools and more developed basketball programs, but their relationship provided them with the confidence to stick with West Shore and its academic rigor.

“I like challenges, and I knew basketball hasn’t been a main sport this school excels in,” McClendon said. “But after I came here in seventh grade and I developed connections with Coach [Tony] Riopelle, and especially with Auston, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to leave emotionally. The connection was just too good.”

As they progressed past middle school, the tides turned and McClendon began outplaying Gonzalez. McClendon was even granted some varsity minutes while in eighth grade. According to Gonzalez, he caught back up with McClendon in his sophomore year when they both made the varsity team.

“When we were in 10th grade, everyone already knew Travis could play,” Gonzalez said. “I was expected to be like one of the last people off the bench for varsity and then [during] a scrimmage, I was on Travis’s team and he gave me the ball a few times and I got hot and I felt like I outplayed most of the seniors that were on that team. That’s where I feel like personally I solidified my role as one of the best basketball players on the team.

In their sophomore year, the energy and skill the two were able to bring off the bench contributed to the most successful season the school has seen. According to former head coach and current athletic director Tony Riopelle, this blossoming of their athletic ability reveals the hard work and leadership the two exhibit.

“Part of the reason I’m still coaching is because of Travis and Auston,” Riopelle said. “They were just small, little kids that didn’t stand out in any way shape or form, but by the time they hit high school you could see they both could shoot the ball very well and if they could develop other parts of their game, they could really develop to be good players.

Riopelle also said that the two make the players and even the coaches around them better.

“Put aside their talent and they’re fun to be around, work with and coach,” Riopelle said. “They don’t realize the impact they have, neither one is very talkative on the court with their teammates, but their teammates are gonna follow their lead so when those guys are really pumped up and energized and getting after it, the whole team would follow along and if they were having a hard time and weren’t feeling the energy, the rest of the team followed suit most of the time.”

Gonzalez and McClendon were apart of 38 varsity wins, took down Satellite and Palm Bay high schools for the first time in the history of the school’s varsity program, and Gonzalez even broke both the schools three-pointers made in a single season and over a career for the school this year. The two’s immense success did not come easy, however.

“I would say my greatest obstacle that I had to overcome was being confident in myself,” McClendon said. “When I was younger, I wasn’t that good at all compared to other players, so with that came low confidence and then over time, with the work I put in, I would gain confidence which would help me perform on the court.”

Though McClendon’s work was tedious, he said that he enjoyed every minute of it.

“ I would  get up at like 5:15 a.m.  and then either go to the gym and practice basketball or I would go to the park,” McClendon said. “It was just kind of like your daily routine, but it’s something that I enjoyed doing, whether anyone knew about it or not or if I was by myself or with someone else. It was just something I enjoyed doing because I love the sport.”

For Gonzalez, his defining hurdle came with the injury of his partner McClendon and crucial starter Scott Maggio. Suddenly, the weight of the team was vested on his shoulders.

“It was hard because not only were we not winning the amount of games that I would have liked to, but watching Travis [McClendon] on the bench and he just looked like he wanted to play so bad, but couldn’t. Just watching him like sucked for me,” Gonzalez said. “It was really hard to overcome the fact that we lost probably the best point guard in our county and we were going to prove so many people wrong, but it was really hard to do that without him.

Though their senior season did not go as planned, the relationship the two share will forever be an important part of the their on-court and personal lives.

“If either of us are stressed with our social life or something, Travis and I can just call each other and go to LA Fitness or something like that for a couple of hours,” Gonzalez said. “Literally you just forget about all your problems. And then Travis started driving like a year before I did. And he lives not that far from me, so he could just come pick me up and we can go hang out or do whatever. It’s one thing to have like a best friend off the court, but then when you actually have them in the sport that you’ve loved, it just increases your love for the sport by a lot.”

McClendon shares a similar sentiment.

“I think my love for the game would not have been as much as it is today and I wouldn’t be as competitive and as I am today because I have him to push me,” McClendon said.