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Prep Newsmaker: Nez has Prep off to a hot start

Nez's 52 combined points on Friday and Saturday secures Eagle's Classic championship for Navajo Prep

Jake Newby
jnewby@pnj.com
Navajo Prep's Nachae Nez poses for a portrait on Monday at the Eagles Nest in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — During the Eagle’s Classic boys basketball tournament at Navajo Prep over the weekend, the Eagles did something they haven’t done much in the past five years: win.

With Nachae Nez’s 25-point semifinal game Friday against Navajo Pine and Saturday’s 27-point performance in the title game over Durango's junior varsity squad, the Eagles claimed the championship.

Navajo Prep is now 5-2, which already matches its win total from all of last season. Nez, a junior, didn’t play a minute last year after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in an Arizona AAU summer tournament game after his freshman year.

But he’s made a full recovery, and his ability to score has Prep hoping for its first winning season since 2009-2010.

“He’s got a complete game,” first-year Navajo Prep coach Rick Hoerner said of Nez. “I honestly think if he was 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-2, we’d have some colleges knocking on our door right now.”

The 5-foot-8 point guard flashed his shooting range and ability to drive the lane in Saturday’s final against Durango, which Prep narrowly won 55-52. Every time the Demons pulled ahead by a point or two, Hoerner said, Nez answered with a bucket.

“In the third quarter, he just kept hitting big shots,” Hoerner said. “He had a couple drives and a three-point play. And he hit one of those 3-pointers that makes a coach go, ‘No, no, no — great shot.’”

Nez said he wanted to set the tone in the Eagle’s Classic games by bringing energy and being aggressive.

“I was trying to lead and play with as much enthusiasm as I could,” Nez said. “I knew if the rest of the team saw me trying to score and play all out, the energy would rub off.”

It took Nez an entire year to get back to full strength. He’s still playing with a knee brace, but he said he’s pain-free. And now he’s not taking his playing time for granted.

“Missing my sophomore year and watching all these guys play — it was hard for me,” he said. “I remember coming into the season, I told myself I wasn’t going to waste a minute on the court.”

Nez said the rehabilitation process was tough. He had doubts he would ever play basketball again, let alone this year. But uplifting words from teammates and friends kept him mentally focused on a return, and now he looks like one of the most complete players in District 1-3A.

Hoerner, who was the head coach of the Piedra Vista boys team from 2000-2008, said he thinks Nez is so talented he could have been the starting point guard for any one of those teams.

“When I got here, I looked at Nachae and thought he could have been my point guard at the 5A level. That’s how good I thought he looked right off the bat,” Hoerner said. “It’s always good to know what you’re going to get out of your point guard, and that’s the kind of feeling I have when he’s out there.”

Nez said Hoerner has positively changed the dynamic of Navajo Prep’s basketball program.

“He sees things out on the court that some other coaches don’t see,” Nez said of his new coach. “He cares for the players. He asks me if I’m OK after practices with my knee. He’s just a really great guy all around, on and off the court.”

Navajo Prep should be off to an even better start — in a Dec. 1 game against Farmington’s JV squad, the Eagles missed 20 free throws in a three-point loss. Still, no one at Prep is complaining about the 5-2 start to the season.

Now a tough stretch of the schedule awaits the Eagles. They will play 3-1 Thoreau and unbeaten Bloomfield twice in a four-game span, starting tonight against the Bobcats. But Hoerner and Nez welcome those tests. The dynamic scorer said he thinks his team will prove it’s for real.

“Right now, we’re taking it one game at a time, and it’s working because I think we look better each time out,” Nez said. “I honestly think we can take a district title this year and put the Navajo Prep boys team on the map.”

Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

A closer look: Nachae Nez

1. Favorite team?

"Duke basketball."

2. Favorite athlete?

"Tim Duncan."

3. Favorite food?

"Dumpling stew."

4. Favorite movie?

"8 Seconds."

5. Favorite subject in school?

"Math."

6. Least favorite subject?

"English."

7. Biggest fear?

"Not coming back from my knee injury."

8. Do you play any other sports?

"I'm going to run track and play football."

9. What is the first thing you would do with $1 million?

"Build a rec center in my hometown of Tsaile (Arizona)."

10. Do you have any pregame rituals?

"We pray with some tádídíín and corn pollen."