Kai Roubideaux had to wait for his time on the Ignacio High School boys basketball team.
A knee injury cost him his freshman season, then a broken foot at the start of his sophomore season limited him. Last season, he was finally healthy, but the Bobcats failed to make it out of their regional tournament and reach state for the first time since the 2012-13 season.
Now, as a senior, this is Roubideaux's last chance, and the sense of urgency has ignited a drive to end his high school career with another state tournament run.
"Going to the state tournament is a tradition for us," Roubideaux said. "As a program, we've done it for so many years and we want to do that again. Last year was the letdown, and it's added fuel to the fire so we're ready to come back even stronger."
Roubideaux found a new level of dedication to basketball heading into his senior season. He was constantly in the gym working on his game during the summer and shed pounds to get into better shape so he could hold up to the rigors of this season.
The weight loss has allowed Bobcats head coach Chris Valdez to change the way he uses Roubideaux on the court. Previously, because of his size, Roubideaux was used in the post to match up with opposing bigs while he possessed the shooting ability to stretch the floor and knock down 3-pointers. Now, he's used mostly as a guard because he has a quick first step to get by defenders on the perimeter and attack the paint.
The change is the result of Roubideaux's work ethic - which Valdez said is as good as, if not better, than anyone he has ever coached - and his willingness to give every ounce of effort he has for the team, which has started the season 4-1.
"Sometimes you get a kid who's motor doesn't stop, and he's one of those kids," Valdez said. "He'll keep working for you until he can't breathe and has to ask come out of the game because he can't go any more. Those are the kids I love, because you know they're giving you everything they've got. I kind of wear him out because we don't have someone who can replace a Kai Roubideaux."
Roubideaux is irreplaceable for the Bobcats not only because of his skill on the court but his leadership on a team working to develop the next wave of players to keep the rich tradition of Ignacio basketball intact.
"The freshmen, we get on them when they make mistakes, but we want to help them in the process," Roubideaux said. "We all started there. We were all freshmen, so I know that feeling of making those mistakes, and having the seniors when I was a freshman help us, and that helped me become the leader and help them. You can't get too down on them. They're just freshmen and sophomores and they have two or three years to grow into the players they want to be when they're seniors, and we want to help them along the way."
The help and guidance from Roubideaux and the other upperclassmen on the team is starting to bear fruit. Roubideaux said the team chemistry is getting better, and the players are starting to build a stronger level of trust on the floor.
Roubideaux is one of a handful of seniors on the team who have taken charge as leaders since last season, joining Johnny Valdez, Cole McCaw and Kruz Pardo - who has had to sit out the first part of the season for violating a school rule.
The quartet of leaders all made the realization that this is their time, that if they want to maintain Ignacio High School boys basketball's reputation as one of the best programs in the state they have to shoulder the responsibility.
"This is their opportunity," Valdez said. "I think those guys are looking around like, 'We can't wait for the players of the past to come in and do it for us. It's our turn to step up and be responsible for Bobcat basketball.'
"When you win 10 district championships in a row, there is some responsibility there to be the man and keep our program moving forward. I think they see that. I think Kai looked around and said, 'It's on me now.' Johnny probably did it last year. I think he recognized it a little sooner, and now I see Kai taking that role and Cole taking that role and Kruz Pardo, who's been working his tail off. ... You can see that from those four guys who have all kind of said, 'This is our shot. We have to get it together.'"