Armed with a bunch of junior college transfers and a few high school players, the Eagles of the NAIA managed to go 7-19 against a slate of mostly D-II schools.
And this season – whenever it might be played – Caetano had hopes of competing for a conference championship after adding a number of strong local high school players.
But COVID-19 and other circumstances got in the way, mainly an offer to be an assistant coach at D-II Adams State in Alamosa, Colorado. The Grizzlies went 4-24 last, including 4-18 in Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference play.
A 2006 Del Norte graduate, the 32-year-old Caetano said the offer was too good to pass up.
“I got the opportunity to go to the NCAA, Division II level,” he said. “That was the driving factor for me. I wanted to get my foot in the door at the NCAA level and I felt like this was just right for me.”
Caetano is a NNMC graduate who also was the associate head men’s coach under Ryan Cordova for five years. He also played at Orange Coast College, a junior college in Costa Mesa, California, then transferred to Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colorado, before finishing up under Cordova at Northern New Mexico.
“It was a tough decision because I was really optimistic,” Caetano said. “I was looking forward to this group and, with the pieces I added in the off season, I thought we were going to be really competitive. Whoever the new coach is, I know that they are going to have a great group of girls.”
Caetano plans to remain through the end of month, but most of the players are doing distance learning, so he hasn’t had a chance to work with them since they were sent home in the spring.
“We can’t do too much since campus is closed, so they’re all doing classes from home online,” he said. “There are maybe three or four who are actually in New Mexico right now. I’ve making sure they are good to go as far as classes and their financial aid is all squared away. That’s been my focus. All the junior transfers I brought in last year are all on pace to graduate by May or the summer. That’s the important thing and that’s really good for them.”
Being a college coach is something Caetano said he’s strived for since his high school playing days.
“I knew there was no way, being 5 foot, 7 inches, and I can’t jump, so I knew I couldn’t play for very long,” he said with a chuckle. “I kind of figured that out in high school. I was fortunate enough to play for a lot of good coaches.”
The biggest thing he’s learned, Caetano said, is to treat the athletes right.
“My commitment is to the student athlete and the game of basketball,” he said.
Cordova, who is also Northern’s athletic director, said it will be difficult to replace Caetano, especially at this time of year.
“I’m really excited for him,” he said. “I think he’s a quality coach. I don’t think there are very many coaches that work as hard as he does. He’s always improving and learning new techniques. I hate to lose him because he’s been a tremendous asset to the athletic program. He’s put himself in the position where people were asking to hire him. I encourage him to follow his path.”
Come September, assistant coach Jocelyn Lackey, a former Eagles player, will run the program while Cordova searches for a coach who likely will take over the program in an interim basis. Lackey also is the program’s strength and conditioning coach, and player development coach.
“It’s difficult to leave,” Caetano said. “At the same time, I have to do a move that’s going to be the best for my career. But, for sure, they’re going to be good to go and have a really strong season. The seniors they have are really good and strong leaders, so I’m not worried about them.”