It’s been anything but a typical year for Daniel Bejarano.
The Phoenix North boys basketball standout has been a busy man off the court, decommitting from Texas, flirting with Arizona State and eventually choosing to play next season at Arizona.
But he was perfectly peaceful on Tuesday night, even if it was on the hardwood of his soon-to-be archrival.
Bejarano had 28 points to lead North to an 83-63 victory over St. Mary’s in the 5A-I semifinals at Wells Fargo Arena.
Bejarano admits that this year was a roller coaster on the recruiting trail.
“Everything’s been wild,” he said.
But the 6-foot-5 shooting guard said it hasn’t taken his focus off the grand prize: another state title.
The Mustangs won it last year in 5A-II and now have a shot at the 5A-I championship. The only thing that stands between them and the ring is a Laveen Cesar Chavez team that North has beaten once this season.
“Everyone doubted us,” Bejarano said. “They said we weren’t going to win it, we’re not going to make it. All that just motivated us.”
North coach Joseph Bustos watched his star player deal with the stress of choosing a college, not once but twice.
But he said Bejarano’s focus never wavered.
“He’s a really unique ballplayer,” Bustos said. “He could average 35, 40 points a game, but his goal is to win a state championship. He’s always been focused. Whatever it takes for him to win a state championship. He’s a team player.”
It wasn’t just Bejarano on Tuesday. Three other players were in double figures, led by Robert Arvizu’s 15 points.
The game was tight late into the second quarter, but North used a 9-1 run in the final 1:36 before the half to take a 39-28 lead into intermission.
The lead ballooned to 18 points in the third quarter before St. Mary’s made a run to cut it to seven with 5:33 remaining in the contest. From that point, though, North went on a 17-4 run to close out the victory.
“A few bad plays, a few missed shots and everything snowballed,” St. Mary’s coach David Lopez said.
The Knights had a good postseason run, knocking off Hamilton, then No. 1 Mesa in succession to make the semifinals. But the bright lights of Wells Fargo Arena may have caught up to a St. Mary’s team that had only one player — George Matthews — with big-game experience.
“Talent-wise we thought we could really do some things, and we did, but the experience factor was a big one,” Lopez said.