Proving his point well: Yanez’s solid play a big plus for GJ
The missing piece of the Grand Junction’s boys basketball team simply walked into coach Dutch Johnson’s classroom last spring.
Nate Yanez was a two-year starter at Palisade High School, and after attending Palisade as a part of District 51’s school of choice, decided to return to Grand Junction.
“He started to going to school here at the end of the year last year,’ Johnson said. “The counselors brought him in and said, ‘Here is your new teacher’s aide.’ “
Yanez smoothly made the transition to the Tigers, filling a much-needed void at the point guard position, and helping Grand Junction (16-6) earn a No. 8 seed in the Class 5A playoffs.
The Tigers host No. 9 Chatfield (13-10) tonight at 6 p.m.
“We knew the missing piece was our point guard,” Johnson said. “That’s what he brings to the table.”
At 6-foot-2, Yanez is big for a point guard, but has the ball-handling ability to make him competitive. He’s also a sharpshooter from deep, hitting three 3-pointers against Montrose in the season finale and five in one game against Montezuma-Cortez.
“He can handle the ball better than anyone we have,” Johnson said. “He has done a good job with the ball, and sees the floor well.”
Yanez can also score, averaging 11.8 points per game, second on the team.
“Coach (Johnson) has put me in a role where I have to be a leader on the floor,” Yanez said. “It’s boosted my confidence, where at the beginning of the year I was just trying to play with the guys and now I’m calling the shots.”
It was a tough decision to leave Palisade after developing a bond with teammates and having a breakout junior season. Yanez capped his junior year with a 24-point performance in the Bulldogs’ playoff game at Greeley Central.
“It was hard leaving the guys out there because I had some good relationships with them,” Yanez said. “But for the basketball move, it was the best move I could make at the time. It opened up a lot of opportunity for me.”
Yanez was familiar with his new teammates from playing with them when he was younger, and competing against them during the summer. He still felt he had to prove himself.
“I was working hard to show them what I could do,” Yanez said. “But they welcomed me while I was getting into the flow with them.”
Yanez’s move allowed Tyler Winder to move to shooting guard, where he has thrived. Winder has had games of 28, 27 and 22 points this season.
“He realizes that we have guys on this team that can score,” Johnson said. “He knows he doesn’t have to do it all.”
Yanez will play a big role in tonight’s Class 5A playoff game against Chatfield. The Tigers lost Dec. 11 to the Chargers 65-59, but had 25 turnovers in that contest.
Yanez said drawing Chatfield in the playoffs is exciting.
“It’s going to be fun getting to play them again,” Yanez said. “Our energy wasn’t there the first time we played them, but it’s going to be pretty packed in here because everyone wants to see what we can do.”
The past two seasons, Grand Junction has been bumped in its first playoff game at home, and Johnson is looking to ending that trend.
“We’re ready to win,” Johnson said. “We know this is a winnable game, and I’m sure they’ve gotten better, but so have we.
“So it would be nice to get a home playoff win; it’s been three years.”