From one point guard to another

Deer Valley's Johny Diaz drives to the basket during a 4A semifinal game against Catalina Foothills on Friday, Feb. 22 2019 at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Johnny Diaz ready for Pima College basketball

after learning from Deer Valley coach

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Johnny Diaz reminds Deer Valley basketball coach Jed Dunn of the point guards he watched growing up.

And maybe more than a little bit of former Central Hower High School and University of Akron point guard Jed Dunn.

Now after a stellar senior season which included a starring role on Deer Valley’s 4A state runner up team and the honor of West Valley Region player of the year, Diaz in on to the next phase of point guard education.

On March 1 Diaz signed to play for Pima Community College, the top junior college in Arizona. He liked the Aztecs’ success, their emphasis on defense and the similarity of their coaches.

“Pima stuck out because of their coaching staff. They were really good when I went to look at a practice. They’ve won three conference titles in a row. They’re winners and I’m a winner too,” Diaz said. “Their coaches reminded me of Coach Dunn.”

Diaz grew up near Deer Valley and watched his older brother, Enrique, play as a Skyhawks freshman.

Dunn knew of Diaz as a sixth grader but did not know much about his game until he reached high school. Diaz said the game became his main focus in seventh grade at Desert Sky Middle School.

“I knew about Deer Valley because my brother played. I always came to the games and they always had a good team. I wanted to be a part of it,” Diaz said.

Dunn quickly learned about the little guard with the outsized self confidence.

He said he also realized Diaz was a bit of a throwback with an old school floor game.

“His toughness stood out and he had a little swagger about him,” Dunn said. “He had an old person’s game, like Mark Jackson. Not overly flashy, not overly athletic, but smart. When I played, I played the same way. We’re undersized and we’re not afraid of anything.”

Diaz said he had to get used to being coached hard in his early years as a Skyhawk. He also had to be patient.Diaz entered Deer Valley a year behind point guards Deven Breckner and Ari Danzy, who started as freshmen, and Keyvaughn Williams, another guard that was starting by his junior year.

Dunn credited Diaz for being retro in another way — he never left in search of more playing time.

“I’m so impressed that he stayed when he knew Deven, Ari and Keyvaughn were ahead of him. Most kids would have left,” Dunn said.

Diaz said he learned a lot about playing point guard from Breckner. Before his junior year he realized he had earned a role.

He wound up playing regular minutes as the 2017-18 Skyhawks sixth man. That team reached the 5A state finals and Diaz often played in late game situation, giving Deer Valley an extra ball handler when leading and another three-point shooter when they trailed.

“Entering that season, after the summer games, I felt like I was a big piece of the team. My confidence went through the roof,” Diaz said.

He knew he would be the team’s focal point this year and worked all summer.

Not only that, but Dunn said the point guard was filling in his game, working on the lost art of the 12- to 16-foot shots.

“Johnny Diaz was in the gym at 5:30 a.m. over the summer. He was there shooting when I got in somehow,” Dunn said.

Diaz did have a lot on his shoulders, creating offense for others while serving as the Skyhawks primary offensive threat.

And even with everyone in the gym knowing he would take the final shot, Diaz took them and made most. He hit a buzzer three to win 63-61 at Estrella Foothills.

“I like having the ball in late situations because I feel like I’ll make the shot more of then than not,” Diaz said.

Now in 4A, the Skyhawks returned to the state finals. They were overmatched against a loaded Phoenix Shadow Mountain team that won its with a pair of guards that will play at Arizona State and Grand Canyon next year.

Dunn said one of his senior-dominated team took the defeat hard, despite the odds stacked against Deer Valley.

“This year left more of a mark on me. It hurt more losing. It took a lot out of me just to get there,” Diaz said. “Both the runs were special.”

Local NAIA and junior college schools offered Diaz, as did several Division II schools in Colorado.But Pima stood out.

“They get a lot of shots up. Their games are like track meets and those are the games I like to play in,” Diaz said.

Dunn will not coach him anymore, officially. But he is bringing Diaz into pickup games against adults so he can learn more nuances of the game.

Mostly the coach hopes Diaz will recognize the need to be more of a facilitator and less of a scoring point at the next level.

“I think he’ll do well there. He’s got to adjust some parts of his game. He can’t pound it. He’s got to dribble three or four times and keep the ball moving,” Dunn said.

By the same token, Dunn know Diaz will keep working on his game. And the point guard will not back away from criticism or responsibility.

“Johnny would always text you and say, ‘It’s my fault,’ after games. He never blames anyone else,” Dunn said.

Diaz said Dunn and his staff prepared him for much more than running an offense.

“Obviously for basketball, they helped me get where they are right now. Off the court, the coaches made me a better person. I also give more respect outside of the court, when talking to adults,” Diaz said.

Now, Diaz wants to study communications and sees a bit of Coach Dunn in himself.

“Hopefully after I’m done playing basketball I want to coach, or something like that,” Diaz said. “Coach Dunn and Coach (Josh) Cole from ACU, are very close to me.”

Deer Valley’s Johny Diaz attempts a shot against Peoria on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019 at Peoria High School in Peoria. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

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