By ZACH SMITH
Emilio Acedo’s lifelong dream of achieving college basketball success came to a halt two years after his high school graduation.
Acedo left Salpointe Catholic High School in 2011 as the Southern Arizona Player of the Year. Following a standout senior year, he’d garnered interest from several Division II and a few Division I schools.
He ultimately chose to attend Lincoln College in Illinois. When Acedo’s father became unexpectedly ill during his first year at Lincoln, he returned to Tucson.
He spent the next two-and-a-half years out of basketball, but he’s recently made a comeback.
“I just never really gave up on the dream I had to go as far as possible,” Acedo said. “I did take a little break but it didn’t stop me.”
RISE TO STARDOM
As a high school senior, Acedo led his team in points scored, points-per-game, field goals made and three-point shots made, according to Maxpreps.com.
His freshman year was a different story.
Salpointe basketball coach Brian Holstrom started as head coach of Acedo’s freshman team. He later moved up to varsity assistant coach and eventually took over as the varsity head coach.
Holstrom said Acedo had flaws in his game as a freshman. He called Acedo the team’s best offensive player, but one of the worst defenders.
Senior year was different. Holstrom’s favorite memory of Acedo came during a blowout game, when Acedo made seven three-point shots in the first half alone. That led to a standing ovation from the crowd when he took a seat back on the bench.
Accolades soon followed, including being named 2011 Southern Arizona Player of the Year by the Arizona Daily Star. No Salpointe player has earned the honor since.
Acedo felt he matched up well with former high school opponents who went on to play Division I basketball. He attributed the lack of exposure in Tucson to Amateur Athletic Union basketball.
AAU youth basketball spans the entire country, and has taken over college basketball’s recruiting landscape. The league has become a showcase for talented players to display their athleticism in travel and local district tournaments.
Acedo played shooting guard in high school at 6 feet, 4 inches. However, his AAU team lacked height so he played as a power forward. He was small for the position, but his Tucson travel team had no choice other than to utilize his frame to win games.
Acedo’s best attributes as a player were his length, high release and shooting ability, according to Holstrom. None of those attributes could be appropriately displayed with Acedo playing “down low” against big men in AAU ball.
“Out of high school, I wanted to go to Central Florida or somewhere in Florida,” Acedo said.
Lincoln, a two-year school in Illinois, provided Acedo the best chance to pursue his dream of playing at a Division I school in Florida. The final selling point came when Lincoln’s coach told Acedo he had a great relationship with a coach at Florida State.
“I went to the JC to get to a bigger school – a way bigger school,” Acedo said.
Acedo calls his father the biggest influence in his life. His father, a golfer, taught him life lessons through sports.
“As a basketball player it really helped,” Acedo said. “In golf, if you hit a bad shot, you’ve got a next shot. You can’t worry about your last shot – just like basketball. You miss a shot, it’s gone, over with, and you’ve got to focus on the next one.”
During Acedo’s freshman year at Lincoln, his father became very ill. He decided to come home, and spent the next two-and-ahalf years working and going to school in Tucson.
He occasionally played basketball at the University of Arizona Recreation Center.
“I would play basketball here and there at the rec, but it wasn’t like I used to,” Acedo said. “I wasn’t on a team anymore.”
Holstrom remembers that period.
“There was a time where I was pretty worried about him, kind of exchanging messages and hoping he was OK,” he said.
PLAYING FOR PIMA
Acedo played this season as a sophomore with the Pima Community College men’s basketball team. The 24-year-old averaged about 18 points per game.
He now looks at the game differently.
“My mentality has changed in the fact that just playing the sport is really a blessing,” he said. “Getting coaching, people looking out for you, you have to get good grades. It’s not all about basketball.”
Acedo describes junior college players as those who went “unnoticed.” The difference in skill level is obvious.
“You’re playing with players that know how to play – it’s not kids who go out there and tryout,” he said.
The process of being recruited is different than it was in 2011. Pima’s assistant basketball coach, Dylan Hidalgo, called today’s recruiting landscape “a competitive market that is only getting more competitive.”
Acedo appreciates Hidalgo’s help with the process.
“Hidalgo puts together film that he sends out to every coach that we feel like would be interested,” he said. “He really does a lot of the dirty work.”
Hidalgo explained the differences between recruiting a player coming out of a junior college as opposed to high school.
“Coaches evaluate JC players differently because you are only going to have two years to develop this individual and have success with him in your program,” he said.
“If coaches are recruiting JC players, they want them to be able to come in and play right away, not sit the bench and waste their scholarship money, because there isn’t much time to develop.”
Offers to date include Texas A&M International, Western New Mexico and San Angelo State.
His top choice is University of Califronia- San Diego. “It’s a great school, good facility. That’s where I want to play next year.”
Acedo’s recent success is no stroke of luck, Hidalgo said.
“Emilio is a quiet person and a guy of habit,” he said. “He does the same routine physically and mentally to prepare for basketball games and practices.”
The player Hidalgo describes as a mature “older brother” to the rest of the team sounds different from the high school freshman described by Holstrom.
“You can just see it in his eyes and his stance that he’s so much more focused and dedicated,” Holstrom said.
Acedo’s mentality reflects the roller-coaster ride that life has put him through over the past five years. “I couldn’t be more proud that despite all of that, he’s kind of reached this point where he’s overcome and developed into the man that he is,” Holstrom said.