During his time with the Ignacio High School boys basketball team, Johnny Valdez did all he could to make the Bobcats reach their potential. Now, he’ll try to do the same for Willamette University after the IHS senior signed a letter of intent to play for the Bearcats.
“I really feel like at Willamette I can make an impact right away, which is great,” Valdez said in an interview with Joel Priest of the Pine River Times. “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.”
Willamette, located in Salem, Oregon, competes in the NCAA Division III’s Northwest Conference. During the 2017-18 season, the Bearcats went 11-14 overall and 6-10 in conference play under Kip Ioane, who will enter his ninth season leading the team in 2018-19.
When Valdez visited the campus in Salem, he said Ioane liked his style of play and how he moved without the ball. Although he played primarily off the ball at IHS, Valdez will likely split time at the point and shooting guard positions at Willamette.
“I’ll start off at the point, 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,” Valdez said. “We had plenty of ball-handlers; I was kind of more a 3-and-D kind of player and a slasher. So it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment right away, but in their open gym – when I went there – I played some point and didn’t turn the ball over as much as I thought I would.”
During his senior season with the Bobcats, Valdez led the team with 14.5 points per game to go with 5.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and an absurd 5.1 steals per game.
Ignacio head coach Chris Valdez, who is Johnny’s uncle, said Johnny’s ability to score won’t be an issue at the next level and echoed Johnny’s belief that improving his handle and decision making should be his biggest focus heading into his collegiate career.
“The place he’s going to have to improve is his ball-handling,” coach Valdez said. “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.”
Johnny Valdez, son of Johnny and Wendy Valdez, plans to major in economics and is going to enter the Masters of Business Administration accelerated program at Willamette, which consists of three years of undergraduate studies followed by two years in the Masters program.
Division III does not offer athletic scholarships, but Valdez will receive academic scholarships to help cover the cost of tuition at the private university. Valdez is a star student with a 4.4 GPA.
“It won’t be too much of a financial burden, definitely, and that’s been my goal, not to burden my family in any way, or even myself in any way,” Johnny Valdez said. “So if I can keep (it) together, maintain my grades and play a high level of basketball, then I should be fine.”
Joel Priest contributed to this firstname.lastname@example.org