A 6-foot-5 shooting guard from Seabury Academy, Thomas Diaz is living proof there is more than one way to land a Division I college basketball scholarship.
A native of Bogota, Colombia, Diaz moved to Lawrence and enrolled at Seabury in October 2010. Because he was a late transfer, he was ineligible to play for the Seahawks last season.
At least on the varsity level.
Instead, Diaz suited up for the Seahawks’ junior varsity squad. And although the long, athletic wing with plenty of bounce wasn’t exactly seeing the stiffest competition, Seabury coach Ashley Battles said Diaz didn’t churn out dominant performances.
Despite all that, on Tuesday Diaz signed a letter of intent with the University of Texas-Pan American while on a campus visit.
How is that even possible?
For starters, it helped that Diaz had some talented teammates. The UTPA staff knew Seabury had some legitimate prospects because senior Georgi Funtarov and sophomore Khadre Lane both played in the Kansas City Pump N Run AAU basketball program, as did Diaz. Broncos coaches saw some video of Funtarov, prompting a visit to an open gym on the small, tucked away Seabury campus.
What UTPA saw that day several weeks ago was, according to Battles, an ultra-athletic guard with a blend of size, quickness and offensive skills.
“Thomas is kind of like a Swiss Army knife,” his coach said. “He can do just about everything pretty well.”
Before long, Diaz was on the phone with UTPA head coach Ryan Marks, and a visit to the Edinburg, Texas, campus was scheduled. It was there that Diaz decided to sign with the Broncos, even though he made the trip unsure of his chances — “I didn’t know if I was good enough,” he said.
It turns out Diaz was plenty good. Enough so that he was offered a scholarship on the spot. Given the opportunity, and his fondness for the UTPA coaches and players — not to mention the 90-degree heat, which felt like home — Diaz knew Pan American was for him.
“I’m happy right now,” he said. “I don’t have to stress for college anymore.”
For a high school senior who didn’t speak English a year ago and still hasn’t played a minute of varsity basketball, Diaz finds himself in an enviable spot. He got to this point with the help of good genes. His parents, Tomas and Counsoelo, both played basketball in Colombia, and Tomas still coaches in the country where soccer is king.
It certainly didn’t hurt his cause, either, that Diaz practiced every day as a junior against talented Seahawks varsity players. Battles, Seabury’s second-year coach, said those sessions became a training ground as he struggled with being kept out of the varsity lineup.
Plus, Diaz had a host family — parents Doug and Kathy Gaumer, and children Alexa and Austin — to get him acclimated to small-town Kansas life after growing up in the big city of Bogota, with 8.5 million people.
With his college signing out of the way, Diaz is looking forward to his first (and only) year of varsity hoops. Diaz said if he, Funtarov, Lane, senior Garrett Gillett and others work hard, the Class 1A Seahawks have a promising year ahead of them.
“I want to win state,” he said. “That’s my expectation, the biggest one.”
If a JV player can sign a Division I scholarship, that just might be possible.