The air conditioning conked out two months ago, yet Dylan Hidalgo kept reporting for work every morning at 6, staying till noon, teaching basketball to anyone who wanted to learn.
Anyone? Six-year-old girls. Ten-year-old boys.
Anyone? The Star’s 2014 high school player of the year, Austin Nehls, and 12-year-old Brandon Stoudamire, son of former Arizona All-American Damon Stoudamire.
Because he did not complain about the steamy conditions at Tucson Basketball Academy, the players didn’t either.
“We’ve had 500 kids here this summer,” says Brian Peabody, head basketball coach at Pima College who moonlights as director of Tucson Basketball Academy in a gymnasium he leases from Grace to the Nations church Grace Community Church. “Dylan hasn’t missed a day in nine weeks. He’s on time. He does the right thing. His personality really works with the kids.”
The gym with no AC is where the Tucson Heat teams practice. It’s basketball, not the Prom. A week ago, Peabody took six Heat teams to the vast Las Vegas AAU event. Hidalgo coached and served as chaperone for the Heat’s 12-year-old club, a group that not only included Stoudamire, but BradenBradon Miller, son of UA coach Sean Miller, and Carson Peabody, son of Hidalgo’s boss.
“If you trust someone to coach your son, it’s a pretty good endorsement,” Peabody said, laughing.
Nobody at ESPN will ever know this, but it’s possible that Dylan Hidalgo had a better season than Arizona stars Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon.
Hidalgo isn’t getting rich working at Tucson Basketball Academy, and when he returns to Kansas Wesleyan University today to begin his junior season, he’ll pay his own airfare.
But Hidalgo cashed in in terms that go far beyond basketball.
On Wednesday night in Sterling, Kansas, Hidalgo will be honored as the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference Champion of Character Student-Athlete of the Year. Of more than 100 finalists from the eight KCAC schools, Hidalgo was voted No. 1.
What’s the value of that?
Not bad for a point guard who completed his senior season at Rincon/University High School with a 15-point scoring average and had, near the top of his résumé, a season or two with the Tucson Heat, which doesn’t always turn a recruiter’s head.
“Dylan is the type of kid I’m always trying to recruit to Pima,” said Peabody. “He has a 3.9 GPA and has already been elected captain at Kansas Wesleyan for the coming year. He’s overcome more obstacles than most kids can deal with.”
In its news release announcing Hidalgo’s selection as the KCAC’s top student-athlete of 2013-14, the conference almost wore out the keys on its computer.
At KWU, where as a sophomore point guard Hidalgo averaged 9.2 points, he became a tireless campus and community servant.
He is co-chairman of the Salina, Kansas, Wellness Fair committee; he will be vice president of the KWU student government; he served as part of Family Marathon Night at an elementary school; he was a key part of another elementary school’s Math Madness Day.
Beyond that, Hidalgo assisted in the community’s Project HERO and Project HUNT agencies.
Hidalgo works as a resident assistant for one of the campus dormitories.
This Kansas connection began innocently enough in the same Tucson Basketball Academy program of which Hidalgo is now a coach and counselor. Two years ago, Peabody began telling Division I, II and III coaches about the Rincon Ranger point guard.
“I sent videos, made calls, told them what a great kid Dylan is” Peabody said. “You’ve got to be persistent, but I knew somebody would take time to check him out. When they did, they liked him.”
Hidalgo was sitting in a class at Rincon near the end of the 2011-12 season when a teacher told him about a call from a basketball coach at KWU.
Within a week he accepted a scholarship valued at about $35,000 a year to play for the Coyotes.
“It changed my life,” he said. “It ended up being the best decision of my life so far.”
Hidalgo rose above some domestic issues that might’ve decked anyone less determined. His brother is serving a 14-year prison sentence for a drug charge. Other family members have had addiction problems.
“We’re really struggling financially,” Hidalgo said. “That’s why I had to get a scholarship. I’ve always been a good student, I enjoy school, but college costs so much money and I didn’t have any.”
In Kansas, Hidalgo became more than a basketball player. He has three work-study jobs to help pay for the part of his education not covered by a basketball scholarship. And he embraced the Methodist ministry that is a key part of the KWU platform.
After two more years as a Coyote, Hidalgo hopes to return to Tucson and be Peabody’s assistant coach at PCC while working on a graduate degree at Arizona.
“I felt like something was missing in my life in Tucson so when I got to Kansas I became faith-driven,” he said. “It filled the gap for me. It hasn’t been a perfect or smooth ride, but after what my family has gone through, I am motivated to make something of myself.”
On Wednesday morning at Tucson Basketball Academy, Hidalgo sat in a group of 20 young ballplayers, telling them about persistence and determination.
Next Wednesday, at a banquet in Sterling, Kansas, he’ll be honored for practicing what he preaches.