Behind every great basketball team is a great coach: the Lakers had Phil Jackson; UCLA had John Wooden; and the Arizona Wildcats have Sean Miller.
What these coaches have in common is they mold their players through dedication, discipline and determination. And that's precisely how head coach Jeremy Daniels coaches his club team of 9- and 10-year-olds.
Daniels, 32, of Sahuarita, moved here from Hampton, Va., three years ago after his wife, Ebony, 32, was assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. They have two daughters: Bre, 5, and Joy, 2.
Daniels played basketball in high school, and after a brief stint at the collegiate level decided to go into coaching. He coached with the Amateur Athletic Union for the Boo Williams Summer League in Hampton, which competes nationally. Daniels also coached the boys basketball team at Norfolk Christian High School in Norfolk, Va.
"I always knew as a player what I would like a coach to kind of be like," Daniels said. "Somebody who really pushes you, who really talks to you through the game and someone who really cares."
Daniels works as a basketball skill development trainer and teaches private and group lessons. He also offers workshops to school districts, including Tanque Verde and Catalina Foothills.
Perfecting the system
The idea to start a club team began when Daniels was giving private lessons to Ryan Tertel, 9.
Ryan's dad, Jack Tertel, discussed with Daniels how he would want a club basketball team to be coached - Tertel said he was satisfied with the teams Ryan was playing on, but something was missing.
"We kept talking about how to perfect the system and how to make a more perfect type of team," Tertel said. "We saw eye-to-eye on how we thought things should be. Our philosophies aligned."
The Arizona Playaz was born.
The team started with two kids, Ryan and Jude Garcia, 10. The program has grown to 20 kids from all around Tucson who pay $90 a month to participate. It includes a travel team and a local team; an all-girls team is in the works.
The players practice three times a week at Christ Presbyterian Church, 6565 E. Broadway.
One way the Arizona Playaz differs from other youth basketball clubs, Tertel said, is by adhering to strict fundamentals.
On the court, Daniels focuses on running plays, which for 9- and 10-year-olds was almost a foreign concept. He also focuses on conditioning and running basic shooting and dribbling drills.
"Coach Daniels makes you shoot more and he gives you more encouragement than other teams," said Mahaleek Henry, 10. "This team is different because you do harder things that are better than what I would do on the other team I was on."
Off the court, Daniels focuses on helping players be responsible - they must maintain grades of better than C at school. Those who don't meet that requirement risk suspension.
Erica Dehuelbes said her daughter, Ahidali, 10, has improved significantly in school because of that requirement.
"I told her, 'Hey, you need to keep your grades up or else you can't play,' " Dehuelbes said. "Now the teachers are asking, 'Hey, what's going on?' because she's doing so much better."
Grade checks are a part of Daniels' philosophy that the discipline and fundamentals taught on the basketball court can be transferred to the real world.
"We're trying to build players on and off the court," he said. "Whatever you're going through in life, basketball is the link to it."
Daniels also requires his players to do community service. Over the holidays the team participated in a clothing and food drive.
"If you have, give back," Daniels said. "Even if you don't have it financially, why not donate your time and help someone else less fortunate?"
Daniels walks that talk: Some of the Arizona Playaz receive sponsorships from other parents or from Daniels, who doesn't believe money should determine if someone can participate.
"I feel that every kid should at least have an opportunity to be successful at something," he said. "People who can pay for it, that's fine. But the kids who can't pay for it, we want to give them the opportunity as well."
A coach who cares
Kelly Arizmendi's daughter, Brianna, 10, started playing with the team in September. Arizmendi said although Brianna didn't know any of the other kids, they were accepting of her right away. She also said she's noticed a difference in her daughter since joining the team - Brianna has become more confident and is more motivated than ever.
"He's a really good role model for the kids," Arizmendi said. "Jeremy gets to know their personalities really well."
It's not just teachers and parents who notice the difference - the players see changes in themselves. Ahidali said that of all the coaches she's had - besides her dad - Daniels is the first to really care about her on a personal level.
"Coach Jeremy cares more about the players than the game. It doesn't matter, win or lose," she said.
Daniels said as a youth he never played on a team like the Arizona Playaz.
"I didn't have much. Basketball was my outlet," he said. "I just want to give kids a good life. That's my vision - I just want to give back to the community."
Find out more
Coach Jeremy Daniels can be reached by phone at 440-7445 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Scarlett McCourt is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at 573-4117 or email@example.com