Diego Navarro sat on the bleachers inside Arizona College Prep’s gymnasium with his basketball team practicing in front of him.
Diego was deep in thought, recalling in his mind all of the great memories he and his father, Daniel Navarro, had shared together.
“It would have to be when we went to see the Cowboys play,” Diego said with a smile. “We are both big Cowboy fans. It was a really good day. We just spent the day together, talked about sports.
“He meant everything to me. He was my biggest role model.”
Daniel passed away last August at 48 years old after suffering from a rare brain disorder called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP). According to the Mayo Clinic, the disorder results in the deterioration of cells in areas of the brain that controls movement and thinking. It can also affect a person’s ability to speak and eat.
Daniel started showing signs of the disorder in the summer 2017. But with the rarity of the disease, it took time for doctors to properly diagnose his condition as PSP.
“He was diagnosed with PSP in March 2018 at Barrow (Neurological Institute),” Sylvia said. “Once you know what it is, you can identify symptoms.
As Diego entered his junior season at ACP, Daniel’s condition worsened. In Jan. 2019, he was placed in hospice care. But until he was physically unable to attend his son’s games, Daniel was always there, just as he was when Diego was growing up.
Diego was coached by his father until he entered the seventh grade. A basketball player himself growing up in El Paso, Texas, Daniel shared his love for the game with his son at an early age and it stuck right away. Sylvia Navarro, Diego’s mom, still recalls Daniel and Diego walking around the block with one hand in their pockets and dribbling a basketball in the other.
The drill was for Diego to improve his ball-handling skills. It was one of many the two did on a consistent basis, which helped formed their strong relationship.
“Danny always found ways to bond with the kids,” Sylvia said. “For Diego, it was sports. It was something they both loved and because Danny played basketball, it was easy for them to bond over it.”
With his father unable to attend games due to his condition, Diego spent much of his time at home by his dad’s side. Having been told about what Diego was going through, ACP basketball coach Clint Treadway wanted to give him space. But eventually, Treadway felt it was the right time to approach him.
“It was rough on him,” Treadway said. “I eventually talked to him about it and let him know I was here if he ever wanted to talk to me. I kind of noticed a change in his mood, like he felt the support after that.”
Diego and his family constantly felt support from Treadway and the rest of the ACP community. Father’s from the basketball team offered pointers and overall support for Diego, recognizing he was going through a difficult time. That support became key for Diego in August of last year.
As Diego was getting ready for school on Aug. 14, 2019, he felt like something was off. Normally, he would get ready and walk out the door. But on that day, something compelled him to go upstairs and say goodbye to his father.
“I had a bad feeling throughout the day,” Diego said. “I went home, and my mom told me today would be the day. It was hard.”
Pins in Daniel’s honor were created and have been worn by the basketball team since his passing. But the team wanted to find another way to honor a man that meant so much to one of their key players.
Treadway had already thought of hosting an awareness game this season. It only made sense to him and the rest of the team to do it in honor of Daniel.
The team came up with the idea of creating special teal uniforms for the game, which would represent the color of the ribbon for PSP. The team, however, settled on an electric blue jersey color. Players, including Diego, quickly came up with the design and were prepared to place the order.
But there was one other way Diego wanted to honor his father.
Normally wearing No. 24 for the Knights, Diego reached out to his teammate, senior Matthew Kearney, and asked him to switch numbers for the game. Instead of wearing his normal jersey number, Diego wore No. 11, the same number his father wore when he played in high school.
“We had the names on the back, and I heard his mom say it was just like seeing Danny on the court,” Kearney said. “I’m glad I was able to help make it even more of a special night.”
Fans packed ACP’s gym for the game to honor Daniel. As the Knights revealed their special uniforms, including Diego’s new number, fans quickly realized they would be a part of something special that night.
But what transpired during ACP’s game against St. John Paul on Jan. 9 was something even Daniel’s family didn’t imagine would happen.
“There was a different energy in the gym that night,” Sylvia said. “It all happened so fast. Every shot Diego took went in. At one point I even had to ask myself what was going on.”
Shot after shot, baskets kept falling for Diego. At the end of the first half, he had nearly eclipsed the 20-point mark. With just over a minute left in the game, he was at 34 points and at the free throw line shooting for two more.
Diego made both shots to finish with 36 points. On the same night his father was honored, Diego set a new ACP record for points in a game.
“All I could do was smile,” Diego said. “I was just thinking about my dad, my mom and how great it was that everyone came out. It was a packed gym. I just thanked God, thanked my dad for everything.”
Diego was met by Sylvia and his older sister, Daniela, after the game. Diego and Sylvia embraced for several minutes.
“I just told him how proud I was of him, and how proud dad would have been,” Sylvia said. “Danny was there that night. It was something all of us needed.”
The game and his performance was more than just a way to honor the man that meant so much to him and his family.
It showed that while he may not be with them in person, he will always be there in spirit.
“There were definitely a few shots I knew someone helped me out,” Diego said. “I could tell he was with me that night.”