|Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier|
DJ Gonzales drives into the lane against Marcos de Niza back on Jan. 14 in Prescott Valley. “Without what DJ did for us night in and night out, we would’ve struggled mightily as a team,” head coach Doug Beilfuss said.
|PAST COURIER BOYS PLAYERS OF THE YEAR|
|1994: Kevin Onnen, Prescott|
1995: Kevin Onnen, Prescott
1996: Bernard Rock, Orme
1997: Brad Stooks, Bradshaw Mtn.
1998: Brian Kleinman, Prescott
1999: Donny Roskopf, Chino Valley
2000: Kellan Eckle, Bradshaw Mtn.
2001: Joseph Crockett, Prescott
2002: Stephen Soriano, Mayer
2003: Stephen Soriano, Mayer
2004: Dylan Fogel, Chino Valley
2005: Lance Jacobs, Bradshaw Mtn.
2006: S. Heinbaugh, Bradshaw & A. Davenport, Orme
2007: J.T. Soriano, Mayer
2008: David Myers, Bradshaw Mtn.
2009: J. Weir, Bradshaw Mtn. & A. Sullivan, Mayer
2010: Metehan Akcam, The Orme School
2011: Metehan Akcam, The Orme School
2012: Eleazar Garcia, Bradshaw Mtn.
2013: Jaran Hoover, Prescott
2014: DJ Gonzales, Bradshaw Mtn.
The Daily Courier
PRESCOTT VALLEY, Arizona - DJ Gonzales didn't grasp what it meant to be a team player until only a couple of years ago.
Often bossy and uncooperative as a freshman in the Bradshaw Mountain High boys' basketball program in 2010-11, it took the persistence of his coaches and, ultimately, his own inner desire to succeed for him to change his attitude.
"He was easily the best freshman on the team that year," longtime BMHS coach Doug Beilfuss said in reflection earlier this week. "But nobody liked him on the team. He was not very coach-able."
Gonzales, who comes from a broken home and admits he had a chip on his shoulder, said he needed time to adjust to a disciplined atmosphere.
"That (bad attitude) was just mainly being an underclassman, because I was new to everything," Gonzales said earlier this week. "Coming into freshman year, you've got to do the dirty work. I've just never been told what to do, especially by somebody who has authority. But I see it now."
This past season as a first-year starter on the Bears' varsity squad, Gonzales, a senior shooting guard, finally reached his potential as an athlete and, more importantly, as a person - gaining the respect of his teammates and his coaches in the process.
For overcoming personal struggles and for turning himself into a star player and leader both on and off the court in 2013-14, The Daily Courier has named Gonzales its prep boys' hoops Player of the Year.
This winter, the quick, athletic Gonzales averaged team highs in points (15.5 per game), rebounds (5.6), and assists (2.0) after Beilfuss took him off point guard duties. He registered 433 total points by converting a total of 96 2-pointers and 38 3-pointers. In addition, he went 78 percent from the free-throw line, draining 127-of-163 charity stripe tosses.
"Without what DJ did for us night in and night out, we would've struggled mightily as a team," Beilfuss said. "We were a really green team as it was, and with the way he played, he was a good role model for the other kids to show them how hard that they need to play."
This past off-season, Gonzales said he turned the corner by working harder than ever.
He practiced in the high school gym at night and constantly hit the weight room with fellow teammate Trevor Judd.
Gonzales also traveled to Colorado with his team last summer and got in plenty of extra games.
"Even when we came back from Colorado, me and Trevor would be shooting at Granville (Elementary School gym in PV), we'd be going to the (Prescott) YMCA," he said. "I went and actually bought a hoop from my next-door neighbor, because I was just so bored. I think I was getting up a thousand shots for a month, and just driving to the basket and what-not."
Gonzales said that once he got more patient and didn't settle for the outside shot this season, he showed marked improvement.
"My inside-out game is really good, and if I drive to the hoop, then I could kick it out or something," he said. "But, like coach said, I'm a hard person to guard when I'm inside and out."
On defense this season, Gonzales also was much improved and was often assigned to guard the opponent's best player. He had a team-best 58 steals and 12 blocks. Not bad for a guy who's 6 feet tall and 160 pounds, and was his club's Sixth Man the previous winter.
Gonzales pieced together perhaps the best performance of his varsity career Dec. 3 against Phoenix Barry Goldwater. In that game, he recorded only the second triple-double in the Bears' program's history with 17 points, 10 rebounds, 10 steals and eight assists.
Beilfuss said that with Gonzales' actions this season, he made a pretty bold statement to his teammates. Two years ago, Beilfuss had a heart-to-heart with Gonzales, telling him his expectations of him, and he eventually broke through his star's tough shell.
In his junior season, Gonzales' teammates pushed him as well.
"He's one of the more athletic kids I've coached since I've been at Bradshaw," Beilfuss said of Gonzales. "He was quick, he was fast. He could really get up off the floor. He was aggressive, and he hated to lose. It meant something to him."
Gonzales, who came up through Bradshaw Mountain Middle School near Dewey, started for his eighth grade team as well as for the freshman and JV squads at BMHS.
Playing alongside a youthful, inexperienced team this season, Gonzales led by example, helping to guide Bradshaw to a respectable 14-14 overall record.
Earlier this week, Gonzales said he learned a valuable lesson from the ups and downs of the campaign.
"As a player, I gained probably how to never back down and keep fighting when times are rough, which will carry over into just my everyday life," he said. "When something's thrown at you and you think you can't overcome it, just overcome it with a positive attitude."
The Bears didn't have a great ranking in the power-point standings this season, but they managed to do well in Division 2, Section 1, finishing with a 4-2 record. That mark earned them a trip to the three-team sectional tournament in mid-February.
Despite losing to Prescott High, 58-52, in the semifinals of sectionals Feb. 12 at Yavapai College, Bradshaw played well for most of the contest. Gonzales finished with a game-high 26 points, as the Bears led 42-37 at the end of the third period before PHS took control in the fourth.
BMHS wouldn't qualify for state, although it played with heart and pride down the stretch.
Currently, Gonzales is playing for the Bears' varsity baseball team for coach Randy Clifford, where he's gotten into the rotation as a right fielder. Gonzales last played baseball 2-1/2 years ago, prior to transitioning strictly to basketball.
"It's all coming back slowly, but I like having the challenge," Gonzales said of baseball. "I just told the coaches that I'm not going to give up. I'm still going to keep fighting and putting in the effort."
Follow Doug Cook on Twitter @dougout_dc