Basketball definitely has roots in Dannielle Diamant's family. Her grandfather is Jerry Tarkanian, also known as "Tark the Shark," a former college basketball coach with a 990-228 career record. Tarkanian has been a positive figure throughout his granddaughter's life and played an influential part in her development in basketball.
"He would work out with me and tell me what I needed to do," said Diamant, a 6-foot-4 forward at Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, where Tarkanian made his impact in college basketball. "In middle school my team wasn't very good so he would tell me what I needed to do to just improve myself. His best advice was to just run the court and work 110 percent every time I am in."
Tarkanian was known for routinely chewing on a towel during games and his continual conflict with the NCAA. He started his coaching career at Long Beach State in 1968 and coached the 49ers for five years. But his legendary career began at UNLV where he coached the men's basketball team for 19 years spanning from 1973-1992. In 1995 he returned to coaching at his alma mater Fresno State until his retirement in 2002.
He basically built the basketball program and UNLV, which he led to four Final Four appearances, has him to thank for it.
It was an advantage that Tarkanian was an inspiration early in Diamant's basketball career.
"I learned that every coach has their own personality, their own way of coaching," Diamant said. "My grandpa was a more 'run-and-gun' type of coach and was always yelling.
"I wasn't able to watch him that much because when I did I was so young and I was more like 'ooh, basketball,' but now its more serious for me. But he was always there to help me."
Before the Nike Tournament of Champions last month, as well as last year, Tarkanian took time to come out to the Lady Gaels' practice and teach them new defenses.
"I hoped it helped," Tarkanian said. "I loved basketball when I did it but I did it a long time and I don't miss it now. I am totally retired, but I do enjoy coming to Dannielle's games."
Diamant is privileged to grow up around basketball and it is something that obviously runs in the family.
"It is something we are all interested in," said her mother, Jodie, who is Tarkanian's daughter. "When your kids are young they want to try different activities. Basketball was the one she wanted to try. It was enjoyable for us to take her and she enjoyed it and picked up on it. It was something that was always around."
It is apparent Diamant's parents and grandfather have helped shape the player she has become today -- aggressive in the post with a sweet perimeter shot.
"They are constantly pushing me to do my best, always there to take me to practices and workouts," she said.
In addition to basketball, Diamant also played middle blocker for her school's volleyball team, which lost in the first round of the playoffs this year.
Volleyball is Diamant's time away from basketball. It is her fun sport, something to relieve her stress. But basketball is her favorite and she enjoys it a lot more.
"She got to play both sports, but she clearly likes basketball more than volleyball," said Jodie. "I just don't know if it's because it is always around us. Obviously it influenced her but I don't think she picked it because her grandfather coached and her uncles both played."
"She clearly loves it," said her father, Zafi. "She had the choice of focusing more on volleyball or basketball, and she was the one who chose basketball."
A two-sport varsity athlete averaging 13.7 points this season on the court and an honor student with a 3.9 GPA, Diamant is a top 2009 prospect riding the ladder on her way to success. She is looking at some of the top schools in the country, including Cal, Northwestern, Duke, USC, West Virginia and University of Pennsylvania.
"I definitely want a good basketball program, but academics definitely come first," she says.
"Right now it's just so early," said her mother, Jodie. "We were kind of inundated in September with way more than I thought we would be with the attention she has gotten. We said over the Christmas break, we need to sit down and look at the schools and the coaches she has talked to that she feels a bond to. I think that's going to be a big point too -- who she feels comfortable with."
Diamant will finally have a break this winter to check out some schools, and her goal this year is to try and narrow the search down to five schools.
On the court she wants to work more on getting tougher in the post. Her coach at Bishop Gorman, Sheryl Krmpotich, believes Diamant has come along way since last season, especially on offense.
"She has worked on her conditioning and really stepped it up," Krmpotich said. "Dannielle is an offensive threat. She can shoot the three, she can post, she can drive. She is very versatile."
It is evident that Dannielle has matured a lot since last season -- on and off the court. After spraining her left ankle earlier last year, she made the decision not to play club ball FBC, Finest Basketball Club. Because practices were in California, she was only able to go to practices once a week.
"Last summer was kind of a mess," she said. "After I sprained my ankle, things kind of took a turn. I was young and wasn't tough in the post. There were so many good players and I was fighting for my spot."
After deciding to stop playing for FBC, she stayed in Las Vegas, working on her skills and getting stronger. She played in a tournament with Cal Swoosh and then when to Chicago with its sister team -- the Pacific Fury. She then began working out on her own, just going to camps and practicing.
"She has gotten stronger and finally matured into her body," said her father. "She was always taller and lengthier but now finally her muscles have matured and she has grown into her body. Her mind has definitely matured too. She has become a lot more focused on what she needs to do on the basketball court and off. She calls former club coaches to help her work out, without our influence, so she is working out with them as well."
Last summer, Diamant was working out with three different coaches at home. She practiced with her club team and then worked out with two other old club coaches, one for post and one for ballhandling. But now that the season is going on she hasn't had the time to continue the workouts. However, this summer Dannielle will be playing with the club team, West Coast Premier.
As for college, she hopes to major in sports marketing and definitely wants to play basketball at the Division I level.
"I used to say I wanted to grow up and be a WNBA player, but I don't know about that anymore," she said. "I definitely love the game with all my heart, but I just don't know if I want to pursue that goal."
This year, Diamant is realizing what needs to get done, on and off the court. As time is ticking, she is starting to pull it all together.
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