Pressure: Timothy Dietz’s Journey to Building a Legacy of Defensive Excellence

WHEN TIMOTHY DIETZ walked across the stage for his high school commencement, many emotions likely flooded his mind. Excitement was probably at the front of his thoughts, and maybe even a sense of relief. The one feeling Timothy didn’t have to deal with though was pressure. Coming off his senior basketball season the theme of pressure was prevalent. However, that theme was not how the pressure affected Timothy’s performance negatively. Instead, it was the relentless pressure he applied to his opponents on the court.

Tim, as many of his teammates call him, began playing basketball when he was still in elementary school. He played with his brother Biruk until Timothy’s 5th grade year when he began playing competitively. It was clear from a young age that Timothy played with a passionate attitude. He continued to play basketball throughout middle school and into his freshman year, all while playing soccer. Following his freshman year, Timothy had a difficult decision to make; whether or not to continue both sports he loved playing. He didn’t come to a decision quickly, but there were a few things that made him decide against continuing with basketball. Timothy said, “I already struggled with injury at a young age, and so I wanted to pursue my college dream of playing soccer. To do that I would quit until I received offers. I would play club and train every day for soccer. So that didn’t allow me to play basketball anymore”.

Timothy knew that if he was ever going to achieve his goal of playing collegiate soccer he would have to begin playing for a club team. The looming problem however was that he was already extremely far behind those who had been in the club scene for the majority of their lives. Yet, Tim took advantage of what he viewed as a special opportunity and made the most of it. As he said, “I started out pretty low in the club scene for soccer and then just moved up. I joined the club scene late, so I had a lot of catching up to do which is why I stepped away [from basketball]”.

Heritage Christian Academy Yearbook

One of the most apparent repercussions of the decision would be the discussion explaining his position with Heritage Christian Academy Men’s Basketball Head Coach, Evan Burns. Coach Burns called Timothy following the season to check in and discuss the spring workout schedule; a normal occurrence that he does for his players in the offseason. Timothy had to tell his coach that he would not be returning the following year for his sophomore season. The phone conversation that ensued marked what, at the time, was the end of Timothy Dietz’s basketball career. At that moment, he believed that unless offers came in for soccer, he would be done with the sport that he loved.

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Tim’s soccer career progressed over the next two years as he spent time working with his club and playing for HCA’s school team. Donning the number seven, Timothy developed into not only a high-level soccer player but also a leader on the field as well. His development and production on the field began to bring in what he had been waiting for, collegiate offers. These offers marked what was a major moment in Timothy’s athletic career bringing back the small possibility of returning to basketball. As Timothy looked back and reflected on his decision to leave the sport initially, he viewed it as the right decision. The amount of time and energy that would have gone into basketball over his sophomore and junior years would have likely prevented him from reaching the position he was at in his soccer career. All of that extra practice and time with his club and the HCA school team, allowed him to develop into a player that colleges would want on their roster. Tim knew that soccer was going to be a huge part of his future and that his career, with the prayer of health and durability, would continue into his collegiate time. But now that he had reached the milestone of receiving offers, playing basketball for Coach Burns solidified itself as an option on the table. The opportunity provided something that he had missed as well, playing with his brother again.

Timothy and Biruk Dietz had played sports together for years. When Tim was five years old they joined a recreational team. They received the endearing nicknames “Thunder and Flash” showing the tight bond and chemistry they had when working together. Regardless if it was on a court or a field when it came to sports, Timothy and Biruk were inseparable. Ever since the endearing nickname was coined they have been following through with it. Tim says, “Ever since then every single sport we’ve played, we’ve always played on the same team. Except for when he was in eighth grade. And I was in high school. It’s the only season we didn’t”. Only the requirements of high school athletics separated them, but it was a bond that was quickly rekindled when Biruk began his freshman year of high school. Even though it would become more difficult to continue, Biruk wanted to return to that bond and chemistry that had been prevalent for over a decade after a one-year hiatus by playing soccer in addition to basketball. For Biruk, basketball was and is his primary passion. Tim says that, “he stepped out of his comfort zone and played his sophomore year, my junior year. He played soccer, even though he wanted to step away from it”. Timothy recalls Biruk’s decision with fondness, realizing the sacrifice his brother made for him just so they could continue to build that relationship. Biruk’s decision was something that was at the front of Timothy’s mind as basketball became an option for his senior year.

Playing with Biruk had always been a passion of Timothy’s and he wanted to return the favor from his sophomore soccer season. When he decided to rejoin the HCA Basketball program, the decision had more to do with Biruk than anything else. His passion for his brother surpasses his passion for playing any sport, “It’s one of those things. It’s hard to put into words. But you would know if you did it. I’ve played with him ever since we both got into sports”. Biruk doesn’t take for granted the experiences he has had with his brother saying that that experience has, “been really special, because not a lot of people get a chance to play alongside their brother like I have for all these years. I think it’s been one of those things that have helped us get closer over the years. I’ve always looked up to him to because I have wanted to be like him because of his drive and hard work to get better every day”. For Biruk, having someone to look up to for so long has given him a model of who and what he wants to be, but none of that could have happened if Tim hadn’t taken a chance and played basketball in his final year of high school.

Timothy Dietz in foreground (Parker Johnson/IONYOU Media)

HCA Men’s Basketball was coming off a 2022-23 campaign in which a 73-66 second-round playoff exit against a talented Perry-Lecompton basketball team, simply didn’t justify the success and achievements of the year for HCA Basketball. That year, Senior Owen Evan broke the record for most three-pointers made in Kansas High School Basketball history, regardless of class, with 355 throughout his illustrious career. The team as a whole finished 18-5, the highest winning percentage in the half-decade since Coach Burns had taken over the program. The stories and legendary moments that came out of that season seemed to all come to a sudden close with the playoff loss, and the confidence in the program seemed to falter at least a little bit. The concern of many fans was where the production would come from. That 22-23 team graduated seven seniors and with the departure of those seven individuals, 90% of the offensive production also exited. The lone varsity returner was Biruk.

“I still had a love and a passion for the game of basketball. And with all the seniors who graduated, I felt that there was a void that I could fill on and off the court with the team” said Timothy. Even though he knew he couldn’t single-handedly replace all of the offensive production from the prior year, Tim knew he could contribute to a team that needed him, even though they didn’t know it at the time. The skills that Timothy developed in soccer became the heartbeat of an elite defensive team. He became infamous for his aggression and set a standard of what pushing the boundaries looks like. Coach Burns jokes that Timothy would go as far as the referees would allow him, but Tim doesn’t view the aggressive nature of his play the same way many would view it. He believes the way he plays is different, saying, “I wouldn’t say I’m like a lot of people who use aggression, I just say it’s passion. No one likes to lose the ball or have a turnover, but the only thing you can do is recover”. He was referencing his turnover ratio, which was the highest among HCA guards this year, but he made up for his mistakes and then some, averaging 3.5 steals per game. Burns described Tim as a “pit bull, wherever the ball is he is coming out with it”. His aggression fueled many fastbreak buckets and crucial threes that were born from him taking advantage of one careless dribble at a time. The thing that set him apart? “I just have a pretty good burst of speed because I worked on it a lot when I was training for soccer to go to the next level, just quick sprint starts, and that twitch I’d say helped me a lot”. The skills Timothy developed in his soccer career became the backbone of a historic defensive basketball season. The ability to read his opponent’s actions became Tim’s ‘upper hand’ as he would constantly analyze what his opponent was doing and then react accordingly. “When they take that extra dribble or slow dribble, you can kind of see it right before they do it, and then that’s the one I knew to step or jump on to kind of pick off if they dribble”. Timothy got to a point where he could, “see the moments as they develop” and trusted himself to “know that you have that twitch and acceleration”.

Heritage Christian Academy Men’s Basketball entered the Kansas 3A Regional Tournament as the 5 seed. Heading into the playoffs the Chargers were 10-10, a winning record in what many called a ‘rebuilding year’. However, the goals of the individuals on the team were higher than simply a ten-win season. The goal of advancing in the playoffs was on everyone’s minds, especially after the second-round exit a year earlier. If anybody outside looking in were to analyze the team they wouldn’t have high expectations. At one point HCA Men’s Basketball was sitting at an 8-9 record, including five straight losses that spanned from the end of January to February. The offense had only eclipsed 65 points three times during the year, something the 22-23 team did 13 times in their campaign. Yet, internally there was a lot of excitement, and with that came expectations. The team had a different style of play than the previous squad and it all came back to defense. A defense led by Timothy and Biruk Dietz. Together, the pair averaged 6.2 steals per game.

In the opening round, HCA traveled to Iola for a matchup against the Mustangs. Timothy Dietz played a great game, pulling together a stat line of 10 points, 5 steals, and 2 assists on Iola in a close 56-54 win. The first upset. Then came the #1 seed, the Humboldt Cubs in the semi-final matchup. HCA didn’t allow a second game to remain close, winning by a margin of 17 points (58-41) and securing a spot in the regional finals. While Timothy didn’t have an explosive offensive night, he did his part on the defensive side picking up 7 steals. His passing was also on point as he amassed 6 assists. Through two games, and the entirety of the year, it was clear who was taking charge on the defensive end of the court, and that was Timothy Dietz. The season came to a close the following match in the Sub-State finals against the Wellsville Eagles, a group that was graduating a total of seven seniors, drawing parallels to the 22-23 HCA team. Despite Timothy scoring the highest point total of his playoff career, the Chargers fell and his unique basketball career came to an abrupt conclusion.

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Timothy, while the loss may still hurt, now looks to the future and how he can apply the invaluable lessons he has learned from sports to help in the next seasons of life. Timothy’s plans bring him to Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas to continue his athletic career playing soccer for the Wildcats. He will study pre-law and business. Tim says that he is, “locking on academics and sports. I imagine that’s going to be most of my life for the next four years. So just sending myself into a good position to launch in a law school and hopefully have a successful career built on the values that I’ve learned through sports, while also getting a wonderful opportunity to play college sports”. Even though this is likely the official close to his basketball career, Timothy has left something that can not be ignored at Heritage Christian Academy, a legacy.

Head Coach Evan Burns called Timothy Dietz the “best defensive player I have ever coached” saying that, “the boys fed off his energy”. This is extremely high praise for someone who was only in the program for two years, but Timothy is more than deserving. His impact, which will be remembered for years to come, will not only provide a standard for defense at HCA, even though it will do that, but it will also provide a standard in other areas. These areas may not be praised as much as success on the court. Biruk says that Tim has taught him, “that hard work and perseverance pays off. The competitive spirit he has to win at all cost I’ve adopted too playing alongside him for so long. The lessons he’s taught me I’ll always carry with me”.

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HCA Men’s Basketball has a bright future. Coach Burns takes intentional time to train and mentor the younger generations of HCA basketball so that when they arrive at the high school level the standard and culture are already established. Timothy can see what his Coach is doing and it excites him saying that “Burns is starting so young. He’s building a culture that everyone wants to be a part of from fans to how they play and how they finish out games. I can’t imagine being a young guy and watching a team like we have now and not wanting to play basketball once they get to high school – He’s a genius on the mental and physical side but also on the actual basketball IQ side. I think he really has no ceiling for how far he could take HCA basketball”.

Even though Timothy will not be returning next year, the entirety of the rest of the team will still be intact. While the loss of Tim will leave yet another gaping hole, it will also provide an opportunity for someone to step up. Someone will need to fill those shoes just as Timothy did. Someone willing to accept the pressure.

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