PV’s Figueroa stars on and off the court
It was easy to notice the impact Panther Valley’s Rene Figueroa made on the basketball court.
But, what might not be as obvious is the impact Figueroa made off the court.
The all-time leading scorer in Panther Valley boys basketball history, Figueroa led the Panthers in scoring (24.7 ppg.), rebounds (6.4), assists (3.3) and steals (2.2) this past season.
Thanks in large part to the play of their senior point guard, the Panthers won 15 games and qualified for the District 11 Class 3A playoffs.
But Figueroa’s immense contributions to the Panthers’ recent basketball success will just be a part of the legacy he leaves when he graduates.
Because in the long run, what Figueroa has done to lay a foundation for the program’s future success — and positively impact youngsters throughout the school district — could be far more important then how many points he scored or games he helped win.
“I don’t think you could find a player more adored by the junior high and elementary school kids in the area than Rene,” said Panther Valley coach Pat Crampsie. “They really look up to him, and he has a knack for making them feel special.
“It’s really great to see. He’ll take the time to talk to them after our games, he attends their games, he’s always congratulating them on their accomplishments, giving them high-fives ... he’s definitely become the face of our program.”
Because of Figueroa’s spectacular play on the court and his persona off it, it’s a Panther Valley program that is no doubt trending upward.
The Panthers have put together back-to-back seasons of 15 or more wins for the first time since the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons.
With three starters returning next season — and some outstanding talent in the junior high ranks — the future looks bright for Panther Valley.
And while he will be graduating in June, Figueroa’s impact will likely be felt for years to come.
“I think Rene has helped create an excitement around the program,” said Crampsie. “The wins the past two seasons, last year’s Schuylkill League division championship, playing in a district final, making the state playoffs ... all of those things were important.
“But you can’t underestimate how much Rene taking ownership of the program and making those kids in the lower grades feel important has also played a role.”
Figueroa said he wanted to give back to a school district and a basketball program that has been so good to him, but that in the end, he feels like he has been the biggest winner.
“I like making the kids smile and feel good about themselves,” said Figueroa. “When I was younger and starting to play basketball, I didn’t have anyone that I could look up to and talk to about the sport. So I wanted to make sure I was there for any kid that had a question or just wanted to talk.
“Hopefully, I’ve helped some of the kids love the game of basketball as much as I do. I know they have helped me. The way they have made me feel like their hero or idol, that’s something most people never experience. So it was something that I wanted to take advantage of as much as I could.”
But for all the impact that Figueroa had off the court, it was his stellar play on the court that earned him the 2018-19 Times News/Lehigh Valley Health Network Player of the Year, becoming the first Panther Valley boys basketball player to win the award in its 33-year history.
“Because of his scoring ability, I think the thing that gets lost with Rene is how complete a player he is,” said Crampsie. “He led us in rebounds, assists and steals as well as scoring.
“When you take all aspects of his game into account, I think he’s the best player to ever come through here.”
Figueroa, a four-year starter, leaves Panther Valley as the school’s all-time leading scorer in boys basketball history with 1,544 points. He is also second in school history in three-pointers with 144.
“With all the great players that played at Panther Valley, it’s an amazing feeling to know I’m the leading scorer in school history,” said Figueroa. “But I could never have done it without all the teammates I’ve played with through the years and without my coaches.
“There are so many people that helped me along the way, I couldn’t possibly name them all. But I appreciate everything that everyone has done to help me get to this point in my career.”
While Figueroa did his best to spread the credit for his accomplishments, his coach said he deserves all the praise he’s received and the accolades he’s garnered.
“Rene competed as hard as any player I’ve ever coached,” said Crampsie. “And it wasn’t in a few games, or most games, it was every single time he went out on the court. His energy and enthusiasm were contagious within our program.
“He was definitely one of those special players that made everyone around him better.”
This season, he was also a better player than anyone else around.