Liberty’s Kevin Soares hasn’t taken much time to reflect on what his basketball team accomplished last season.
He’s already looking forward to coaching a new group of Patriots this winter.
But even if he hasn’t sat back and reminisced about Liberty’s first boys state basketball championship — a 63-62 overtime upset win over Bishop Gorman in February — he knows he’s reaping the rewards as he enters his second year at the school.
“The acknowledgement we’ve received is eye-opening,” Soares said. “One thing I notice is when you do win (a state championship), better players want to come play for you. We get invited to tournaments and showcase events we wouldn’t normally have been invited to. I’m enjoying it for the fact that the kids are getting exposure because of it.”
The way Soares guided Liberty through the ups and downs of the season has earned him the nod as the Nevada Preps All-Southern Nevada Coach of the Year.
Gorman defeated Liberty the first three times the teams played, so Soares decided in the final meeting to take the air out of the ball.
He didn’t want the Gaels running up and down the floor. That’s how they go on extended runs and deflate opponents.
Still, the Gaels led by eight points after the third quarter and seven midway through the fourth after a dunk by Gorman senior forward Darrion Williams. That’s when Soares called his team together for one final message, and the Patriots heard it loud and clear.
“We’re down by seven, and Darrion had this huge dunk. DJ (Dedan Thomas) is sick, so he’s dead tired. Joshua (Jefferson) is huffing and puffing,” Liberty senior forward Aaron Price said. “He said we have to dig deep like there’s no tomorrow because there literally is no tomorrow. If we lose here, there’s nothing left for us — no practice, no fifth game against Gorman. It really fired us up.”
That moment represented how well Soares and the players bonded in a year’s time and how the coach knew which buttons to push.
At a time like that, the game often becomes less about strategy and more about sheer will. Liberty stood up to the challenge and took home the title.
“He had great structure and professionalism,” Jefferson said. “The way he came in and coached us was like we were being coached at a higher level. We believed in him because of his background, and we took to what he was saying right away.”
Soares usually has a laid-back demeanor and an intellectual way of breaking down film and approaching the game on the court.
But, Price said, don’t think for a second Soares is soft.
“Coach has two sides to him. He is very analytical and laid back, and he’s especially good at directing where our team should be,” Price said. “But there’s another side we don’t like to see. We had several practices where we weren’t giving 100 percent effort, and he gets really fired up and threw us all out of practice a few times. It’s intense, but it’s all coming from a place of love and because he knows we can do better.”
Soares almost became Liberty’s coach in 2014 before ultimately staying at Foothill, where he was the coach from 1999 to 2018.
But when the job came open this time, he felt compelled to jump on it. He knew the Patriots were a talented group, but there are no guarantees for championships when playing against the likes of Gorman, Coronado and Durango, among others, but he immediately liked the talent he saw.
“It was the perfect storm,” Soares said. “With any job, you have to make a move to improve yourself and your situation. When I got that call at the end of March or early April and took the job, little did I know how it would turn out.”
The Review-Journal will announce its year-end awards throughout the week.
Monday: Girls Athlete of the Year
Tuesday: Boys Athlete of the Year
Wednesday: Coach of the Year
Thursday: Game of the Year
Friday: Team of the Year