Bobcat to Bearcat: Valdez chooses Willamette

Ignacio senior guard John Valdez was recognized Wednesday, May 2, outside IHS Auditorium for his decision to continue his student-athlete days at Salem, Oregon-based Willamette University (NCAA Division III). Present for the occasion were: Standing—uncle/IHS Boys’ Basketball head coach Chris Valdez, IHS Dean of Students Alfonso ‘Ponch’ Garcia; Sitting—father/IHS Boys’ Basketball assistant coach Johnny Valdez, sister Elizabeth Valdez, mother Wendy Valdez.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

Making his final year at Ignacio even more memorable, senior guard John Valdez recently revealed he’ll be prolonging 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, Wednesday, May 2 at IHS, Valdez stood with family and coaches outside the school’s auditorium, proudly sporting a Willamette University [founded 1842] 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 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.  “Up there, he was like, ‘That’s the kind of player that we want here at Willamette.’  It was easy to talk to them and let my thoughts be known.  The coaches are great there and I’m really excited to play for them,” he said.

“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.  “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.’”

“All the kids on the team wanted him, asked the coach like, ‘I think we could use this guy.”

Willamette finished the 2017-18 campaign standing 11-14 overall, and tied for fifth place in the Northwest Conference with a 6-10 mark after a season-ending 76-60 loss in Spokane, Wash., at Whitworth University.  One of six seniors on the squad was reserve post Dylan Critchfield, originally from Broomfield, Colo., and a 5A Westminster Standley Lake grad who logged six points and seven rebounds against the fourth-ranked [D3hoops.com Men’s Top 25 poll, 2/20] Pirates.

“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’ll start off at the point,” he continued, discussing where the Bearcats may envision using him, “so I definitely have a lot of work to do with ball-handling and all that, because here at Ignacio our team didn’t need that.  We had plenty of ball-handlers; I was kind of more a ‘three-and-D’ kind of player and a slasher.  So, it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment right away, but…when I went there I played some point and didn’t turn the ball over as much as I thought I would.”

“He can shoot, and you can’t really teach him that anymore.  At that level, they’ll find him places to shoot, put him in positions to score,” Chris Valdez said.  “I think his offense is going to be fine.”

“The place he’s going to have to improve is his ball-handling.  And he’s not bad, but they’re probably actually going to put him close to a point-guard position at times, so they’re really going to drill him on that.  I already know they’re talking to him about that…his handles have to improve.”

“He’s quick on his feet, strong and physical…so I’m not worried about his defense one-on-one.  What I’m worried about is, maybe, his help defense against big kids—he’s not as big—and guarding bigger guards,” the skipper continued.  “He’s strong but he’s going to have to build on that, get his legs bigger to hold bigger kids out of the lane if they try to post him up.”

“Playing with Wyatt Hayes and those guys…toughened me up and made me want to be better,” John Valdez said, recalling his early varsity days as a sophomore reserve.  “That was big for me.  Then as a junior and a senior, just building on that and getting in the weight room—I added twenty pounds over the summer, had my own motivations to do that—was a lot of my confidence this year, to win Player-of-the-Year and produce every night consistently.”

“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 (NCAA Div. II) volleyball player Chrystianne Valdez for inspiring him, “and I used that to the best of my ability.”

“And this summer, Wyatt and I are going to try to be doing a lot of workouts together—trying to get him playing on Fort Lewis and trying to get me playing next year already!”

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 proved to be.

“For academics, yeah, I’m pretty well set—I guess that’s what I’ll say,” he said.  “And that’s been my goal: Not to burden my family in any way, or even myself in any way.  So if…I can keep my game together, maintain my grades and play a high level of basketball, then I should be fine.”

“I’ll probably major in Economics—thinking about minoring in Psychology—and then I’m in their Master’s of Business Administration accelerated program,” Valdez noted.  “It’s three-plus-two; I’ll be doing three years of undergraduate and then two years of master’s, basically.  That was a huge reason of me really, really wanting to go there, and it was just great that everything worked out.”

“Him and his dad really worked hard early, getting his name out there.  And he got a lot of calls from coaches, got several offers but they weren’t offers that were going to financially make him go, ‘Let’s do this,’” said Chris Valdez.

“To get to coach a kid with the academics he has, is awesome.  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.”

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