Flying High

Long before anybody at the University of Miami had been treated to one of his high-flying dunks or off-balance three-pointers, Guillermo Diaz was already creating the resume of a legend on a different kind of court.

Thanks to natural athletic and jumping ability, a combination rarely displayed by a player his age, Diaz quickly made his presence felt in the international volleyball scene in Puerto Rico. Considering one of the best volleyball players in the world in his age group, the 6-1 Puerto Rican has already had extensive experience as a member of the Junior Olympics squad in Puerto Rico.

Last summer, Diaz was named Most Valuable Player and Best Server at the 2003 Under-18 World Championship in Thailand. His volleyball skills are such that Diaz was courted by several Division-I schools. There are plenty of people back in Puerto Rico, including Volleyball Federation President Carlos Beltran, keeping their fingers crossed that Diaz will one day return to the volleyball courts in his native homeland.

"Guillermo is one of those kids that can do anything on the court," says Beltran. "Hopefully he can get back here in the future and continue his volleyball career."

Beltran could be waiting for a while. The 6-1 freshman, the starting shooting guard on the Hurricanes men's basketball team, has used a vertical leap of 41 inches to become the most explosive player on the team and earn consideration for Big East Rookie of the Year through 18 games this season. Diaz entered the Hurricanes (13-6, 3-2) game against the Villanova Wildcats (11-6, 3-2) at the Convocation Center averaging 11.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.

Diaz who has 39 assists, 23 steals and 4 blocks in an average of 24 minutes per game this season, is shooting .523 percent (79-for-151) from the floor, including 15-for-34 (.441) from three-point range. In just over three months Diaz has proven to be one of the premier players in the conference, if not the country. He isn't afraid to leap over a taller defender on his way to the basket for a dunk, step back beyond the three-point line to take a shot or simply take a charge.

"That kid is going to be one of the best players in the country, real soon," says Pittsburgh coach Jaime Dixon. "If you watch him closely Guillermo is still learning the game. But its going to be down right scary when he puts it all together. He's one of the reasons I'm not looking forward to playing these guys anytime soon."

In a double-overtime loss to Pittsburgh earlier this month, Diaz showed flashes of his potential with a clutch performance that included an off-balance jumper with 3.9 seconds left in regulation and a three-pointer in the waning seconds of the first overtime to force a second overtime. Diaz finished with 18 points. Against North Carolina on January 7th, Diaz scored 17 points, just one of two UM players to finish with a double-figure point total. Diaz has averaged 13.2 points on 53 percent shooting from the floor in the last five games. But he is also earning plenty of points with his teammates for the mentality he takes to the court.

"I know we have Darius (Rice) and Rob (Hite) and a lot of guys that can score, but I'm the kind of player that wants the ball in big situations," says Diaz, 18, who is coming off a 14-point effort against Rutgers. "I live for those kind of situations. I believe I can make the shot each time I get the ball in my hands."

Diaz, who plays with endless energy, has done his best to bring the home crowd out of their seats on more than one occasion this season. But even with his advanced skills Diaz still tries to do too much at times. He has still takes plenty of ill-advised shots and has committed 35 turnovers this season.

"Sometimes I think he has no idea what he's doing out there," says UM coach Perry Clark. "But he's still raw and is only going to get better with time. I just think right now he is getting by on athletic ability and instincts."

With his status in Puerto Rico growing rapidly Diaz moved to Miami in the summer of 2002 and enrolled for his senior season at Miami Christian Academy. He averaged 22.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists to lead the team into the state tournament. But Diaz was declared ineligible by the Florida High School Athletic Association after ruling that Diaz, along with two other players had been illegally recruited by Miami Christian.

"That was really hard for me because I just wanted to play basketball," says Diaz. "But everything worked out for me because here I'm close to Puerto Rico and my family can come whenever they want. I just fell in love with everything here because it's a lot like Puerto Rico."

Although Diaz isn't a household name nationally - not yet anyway - the Hurricanes quickly signed him when he arrived in South Florida. Despite winning numerous slam dunk competitions and earning rave reviews no major schools were lining up to grab Diaz. Diaz would eventually sign with UM, but even Clark wasn't sold on him right away. As it turns out it was Miami assistant Greg Gary who nagged Clark to the point that he took a look at Diaz.

"I wasn't really that impressed with him because of his awkward shooting form," says Clark. "But I would say we made the right decision."

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