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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Growing up

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Colin Darland
Colin Darland / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Daniel Bejarano won’t boast. He’s been through too many life lessons to view his basketball talent as a big deal.

“”I’m not The Man no more,”” the freshman shooting guard said about his place on the Arizona basketball team. “”I’m here just to be a role player or whatever player I can be.””

The 6-foot-4, 208 pounder out of Phoenix’s North High School committed to the Wildcats after winning back-to-back state championships. He ended his high school career ranked as No. 75 player in his recruiting class, according to Rivals.com.

But with so much accomplishment, it’s Bejarano’s journey to Arizona that defines him the most. Since the sixth grade, he’s shared that journey with his new Arizona teammate, walk-on guard Robert Arvizu.

Sharing a dorm room this year, not much has changed since the pair’s meeting.

Playing against Arvizu’s middle school team, a sixth-grade Bejarano was invited by Arvizu’s older brother, Ray Arvizu Jr., to start practicing with his club team.

“”I didn’t know anything about club ball,”” Bejarano said. “”I wasn’t even looking toward the future.””

It was the beginning of what would become a blossoming brotherhood, and little did Bejarano know how much he would blossom as a player. He felt a connection with his new teammates, creating a bond so deep with the Arvizu family that he’d soon be living under the roof of Ray Arvizu Sr., the father of Robert and Ray Arvizu Jr.

Bejarano is close with his mother, Barbara Butler, and stepfather, but they had other children to care for and Butler wasn’t against the idea of her son living with the Arvizus.

“”I just thought, ‘hey maybe I should spend the night (at the Arvizus), a couple nights,”” Bejarano said. “”I felt connected to them. After that it just went to spending a night, to a week, to a month and it went on.

“”I just stepped over and said, ‘Hey mom, do you mind if I just live here?’ It was to help her — relief,”” Bejarano added. “”It was just easier.””

At the Arvizu home, Bejarano and Robert Arvizu were joined by future North starters Shabaz Lewis and Kwame Dailey.

“”First it was difficult,”” Robert Arvizu said of living with his three teammates, not to mention his twin brother, Daniel Arvizu. “”Everything that I wanted was cut in half, from going out, to hanging out with friends, to going out to dinner. But once we started doing it, it started getting more fun.””

The close bond at home translated to the court, Robert Arvizu said. The four players decided to take their chances at North, a school that had a 3-24 record the year before the foursome arrived.

“”It’d be a dynasty team,”” Bejarano thought. “”We just tried to make it a known school. That’s what we tried to do, is just win basketball games.

“”That’s what we did.””

And top college programs came calling.

Bejarano committed to the Texas Longhorns before his senior year in high school. Meanwhile, he had become closer to his estranged father, former Carl Hayden High School hoops standout Damion Gosa.

But in June 2009 tragedy struck.

Playing at the NBA Player’s Association Top 100 Camp, Bejarano’s coach took him aside, to a psychiatrist. His mother was on the phone.

Gosa, in an apparent home invasion, had been shot and killed in his Phoenix apartment.

“”That basically changed everything,”” Bejarano said. “”Everything happens for a reason.””

To Bejarano, basketball is just that — basketball. Family was more important, and that led to his decommitment from Texas in October 2009. He wanted to be closer to home, Ray Arvizu Jr. said at the time, and was familiar with Arizona after being recruited early in the process by former head coach Lute Olson.

A week later, after being contacted by Miller — not to mention an in-home visit gone wrong, which led ASU coach Herb Sendek to pull a scholarship offer soon after — Bejarano was a Wildcat.

Today, by all accounts, he’s the same humble person as the sixth grader where the story began. And with a potential future in professional basketball, his work ethic remains the same.

Ray Arvizu Jr. told the Arizona Republic he was proud a sixth-grade Bejarano with a “”third-grade reading ability”” became a top reader in his class by his junior year of high school. During the guard’s brief time in Tucson, Miller echoed a similarly vast improvement.

“”Earlier in September, you would question whether he was going to make it through the workouts,”” Miller said on media day. “”We have a conditioning test that we do at the end of the fall — 13 players who ran it. He was number one in terms of the fastest. I think it says a lot about him.

“”He’s improving rapidly.””

Through Bejarano’s whirlwind into basketball stardom, his father’s death and a violent car accident over the summer that he walked away from without serious injury, he’s gone through more than most.

He also admitted he’s grown up, though it appears his core hasn’t changed.

Simple things like getting his driver’s license, Bejarano said, were points in life he never dreamed of reaching as a kid — quite an accomplishment, he thought.

“”Just stuff like that,”” he added, “”I would see people like (former Wildcat) Channing Frye, everyone on TV … But I would never put myself there.

“”Now I’m here.””

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