Nelyeen Diaz knows she isn’t going to outmuscle many of her opponents.
But she can always outwork them.
Diaz is a senior small forward on the Samuel Fels High School basketball team, and at 5 feet 5, she is many times forced to go up against players who have a few inches on her. Basketball is a big person’s game, but since Diaz isn’t the tallest, she makes sure nobody tries harder.
“I’m not the best scorer, but I try to make sure I help the team in other ways, especially on defense and rebounding,” said Diaz, who lives in Lawncrest. “We all try to do that. I think if you work hard, you can be better. I just try to do whatever we have to do so we can win. We have scorers, I just try to do my part.”
According to coach Malvin Carrion, Diaz is the engine that motors the Panthers, and so far that engine is firing on all cylinders.
The Panthers are perfect in Public League play with four victories. They’ve lost five nonleague games, but have played tougher competition and hung tough, which should serve them well in the playoffs.
A lot of their success is due to the scoring of Seione Bethell, who is averaging 15.8 points per game, and A’Nyeyah Burell, who is contributing 14.4 points per game. But Diaz knows her role is just as important.
She also can be counted on to be the leader of the team. She’s a senior, and she’s a three-sport athlete, so she knows what it takes to win games.
“I try to help the other girls as much as I can with whatever they need,” Diaz said. “We’re having a good year this year, and we all want to help each other do better. It’s my last year, so I want to make sure I help the younger girls.”
Diaz is no stranger to helping Panthers team. She’s also comfortable going outside her own comfort zone.
Diaz plays volleyball in the fall, and there she improved every year she played. But her improvement is even more evident in her favorite sport, softball.
She’s been on varsity all four years in every sport, but in softball, she started out as a position player. But prior to her junior year, the Panthers needed a pitcher and she gladly took the ball and gave it a shot.
It went pretty well, too, because she approached it like she does every challenge in her life. She put in the work.
“It was hard learning to pitch, but I did what I do in every sport,” Diaz said. “I just tried to stay position, work hard and work with my teammates. I think I got better. If you just go out and always work hard, you get better.
“I really like playing sports for Fels. I like representing the school and the community. It means a lot to me.”
Diaz loves creating fun memories at the school.
She also loves creating art.
When she’s not playing sports, she’s either working on her studies, where she gets A’s and B’s, or working on art.
“I enjoy doing a lot of creative things because it lets me express myself,” Diaz said. “I made (artwork) that had all my favorite interests on it. It had sports, because I love playing them, art palettes because of my love of art, and my favorite movie (Aladdin). It’s displayed in the school and it means a lot to me.”
Her love of art could factor into what she does next year.
She wants to go to college, where she could major in fine arts. She also has an interest in biology.
“Art has been something I’ve loved my whole life,” Diaz said. “But I also think biology is very interesting. I could do a lot of things with both of them. I definitely know I want to go to college and I would play sports if I could.”
She still has plenty of time to decide where she’s going and what she’ll ultimately study. Right now, her only focus is having a great senior season in basketball before turning her attention to the diamond.
“Softball is in the spring and I’m really looking forward to that, but I’m having so much fun playing basketball now with this team,” Diaz said. “I think we’re doing better than a lot of people expect. We have good players and we’re working together.
“The biggest thing is we’re communicating. I think that’s helping us. We do that in practice and then we do it in the games and it helps a lot.”
And she’ll continue doing what she does best.
Whether it’s on the court or in the classroom, you can be certain Diaz is going to put her head down and put in the work.
“In basketball, I just think if I work hard, I can help the team,” said Diaz, who pulls down about six rebounds per game. “That’s what I try to do all the time. When I work hard, especially on defense, I think I’m helping the team. And that’s my role on this team, to do whatever I can to help.”