Making his final year at Ignacio even more memorable, senior guard John Valdez recently revealed he'll prolong his basketball career at the NCAA Division III level, and his scholastic career at the oldest university in the western U.S.
Prior to the Bobcats' end-of-season banquet dinner on May 2 at IHS, Valdez stood with family and coaches outside the school's auditorium, proudly sporting a Willamette University Bearcats shirt-the result of four years of hard work on the court, harder studying off of it, and one fortunate coincidence.
"It was pretty interesting," he grinned. "I applied there early on in the year-probably in November-when I was looking at a bunch of schools for business and economics, just great academics. So I applied there and towards the end of the year, in April, we reached out to the coach like, 'Could I get a tryout?'"
"He said he had one commit waiting to decide," Valdez continued. "They decided to go elsewhere, so he called me up and the next week I was in Salem, Oregon, to go try out for the team!"
Impressing WU head coach Kip Ioane, Valdez said he basically just did what he does best.
"Defensively, I made my presence known," he recalled. "It was a little intimidating, but then I got into the game, got physical, and that was what was important for me: Get physical right away, not back down and be scared of contact.any of that stuff. I think I did really well."
"They really liked the way I handled myself, the way I could speak about the game-I've been talking about the game every day of my life!" Valdez added.
"To get a tryout, and for the coach saying 'Is there anything that wouldn't make you commit right now?' That was really nice," said IHS head coach Chris Valdez, who is also John's uncle. "He (John) made the decision. It wasn't his dad's decision or anybody else's; he said, 'This is where I want to go. It's got a great economics program, and I have a chance to play right now.'"
Willamette, founded in 1842, finished the 2017-18 campaign standing 11-14 overall.
"I really feel like at Willamette I can make an impact right away, which is great," John Valdez said. "And it might not be by playing; it might be, you know, getting the team better in any way I can, and that's what's important to me."
"I had all the tools around me, a great family and everybody pushing me," he stated, particularly saluting father/IHS assistant Johnny Valdez and cousin/Fort Lewis College volleyball player Chrystianne Valdez for inspiring him, "and I used that to the best of my ability."
Though D-III schools do not award athletic scholarships, Valdez's 4.4+ grade-point average was just as attractive and promising to Willamette as his hoop game.
"For academics, yeah, I'm pretty well set," he said. "And that's been my goal: Not to burden my family in any way, or even myself in any way."
"I'll probably major in economics, thinking about minoring in psychology, and then I'm in their masters of business administration accelerated program," Valdez noted.
"To get to coach a kid with the academics he has, is awesome," Coach Valdez said. "But his dedication and his hard work, it wasn't like, 'Oh that's my uncle, so I don't have to work hard,'" he continued. "It was never like that. Him and Kai (Roubideaux) were the hardest workers on the floor, and when your best players are your hardest workers you know you're going to go places! I'm proud of their effort, and John's is just fantastic."