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Roll 9-year-old to compete at NBA All-Star Weekend
Jonah Hernandez in finals of Dribble, Dish and Swish contest
Jonah Hernandez is having a very busy year.
Since August, he has undergone major surgery on his lungs that required a nearly two-month hospital stay. Then moved from the Phoenix area to Roll.
Now he is one of two finalists in his age group for a national basketball skills contest.
And he's nine.
Hernandez is heading to Los Angeles to compete in the NBA's Dribble, Dish and Swish National Finals, part of the league's All-Star Game weekend. He'll compete against Hector Balderrama from Houston for the 9-10 year old age group title.
Hernandez hadn't played basketball competitively until October, when he entered a youth league in Queen Creek then promptly won the league's qualifying contest. He won the regional in December at the U.S. Airways Center, home of the Phoenix Suns and his favorite basketball player, Steve Nash.
Hernandez said he hopes to meet the Suns' point guard on Saturday.
“It's going to be really fun with my dad, to spend a lot of time with him,” Jonah Hernandez said. “We can buy like mostly anything because expenses are paid. We don't know if we can sit on the basketball court with the players, but we might get to meet Steve Nash.”
His mother, Liz, said officials said to “bring a Sharpie” because of the chance of meeting basketball players.
The contest consists of first making a layup, then a free throw. The contestant then dribbles between cones set up on the court to midcourt, then turns around and passes the ball to a coach on the court, who quickly dishes the ball back. The contestant returns through the cones and attempts a final layup. Every missed shot or knocked over cone is a two-second penalty. According to a press release, 40,000 children between seven and 12 years old participated in the obstacle course during 375 competitions in nine cities and six age groups — three boys' division, and three on the girls' side.
Hernandez's time in the regional was 19 seconds, and that final was barely three months after he was released from the hospital.
His mother said that he was frequently battling pneumonia. After an incorrect diagnosis, doctors finally discovered that the bottom of one of his lungs was full of cysts. What was supposed to be a week-long hospital stay at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa became almost two months after complications with the surgery, Liz Hernandez said.
“He's been doing it very well,” said his father, Gustavo Hernandez. “After his major surgery, at first he as a little down. There was a nurse that helped him and pushed him to get out of bed. That was his issue — he didn't really want to get out of bed. He was scared to move. But they pushed him, got him out of bed. A week after he had his final checkup, the doctor said he was good to go. He even asked the doctor ‘Can I go back and play soccer now?' As soon as I heard that, I said ‘Man, that's awesome.'”
Jonah Hernandez had been playing soccer since he was four and baseball since age six, but decided he wanted to try his hand at basketball.
“He's very, very active,” Liz Hernandez said. “And it's his first year playing basketball. He asked me ‘Mom, can I play basketball?' He's only played baseball and soccer. And I said ‘Let's put you in basketball.' ...And now we're here.”
The younger Hernandez said that he was looking forward to both soccer and eventually basketball during his hospital stay.
“My lung was really bad, and my finger was broken too and I had a pin stuck in it,” Jonah Hernandez said. “I play soccer too, and once I got out of the hospital I went back to playing sports again.”
He picked up the sport quick enough to earn the trip to Los Angeles. He won a plaque in addition to the trip. His mom said he's also getting a custom uniform — shoes, shorts and a shirt — to wear in the contest, plus tickets to not just All-Star Saturday Night, but also the game Sunday.
He could only bring one parent, and dad won that contest. Gustavo Hernandez said that his son's success is more surprising given that he hasn't shown much of an interest in watching basketball.
“I can't wait. It's all I've been talking about,” said Gustavo Hernandez, whose promotion with RSC Equipment Rental moved the family from Queen Creek to Roll. “I think I am (more excited.) He wont really sit down and watch a game of this caliber, so he really doesn't know. But I've seen them before and know what happens throughout the whole weekend, and that's what's got me more excited.”
Liz Gustavo said both she and her husband are proud of their son.
“He's actually excited and we're excited for him,” Liz Hernandez said. “We're proud we're able to put him in activities like that and proud we can see him accelerate and do way beyond what we expect.”
As for Jonah, he has one pretty clear goal on Saturday.
“I expect to win,” he said. “That's the main thing.”
Edward Carifio can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6882.