When you’re surrounded by greatness, you feel a difference in the air. A feeling of awe almost, mixed with the same numbing silence that you hear the night of a fresh snowfall. It’s like everything else around you disappears—and all that’s left to marvel in is the greatness right in front of you.
The same can be said about Diego Maffia when he steps onto the basketball court.
When the ball floats out of his careful hands, it seems to take flight with tiny wings that perfectly guide it into the hoop with a swish, again and again.
The chants of “Overrated!” drown in the subtle sound of each swish, adding endless threes to the scoreboard. Screaming fans from the opposing team open their mouths to yell, but nothing can be heard over the noise of the ever-swishing net. Until it’s nearly the end of the game and Maffia sits on the bench—no cocky smile or evil glare towards all those who chant against him.
It’s an atmosphere that Maffia has become accustomed to. As he racks up the points for the Oak Bay Bays, the indifferent audience roots against his gift.
It happened this year at the Legal Beagle Tournament, when Maffia stunned the home-team Terry Fox Ravens with a buzzer-beater three to send his Bays to the next round. Defeat in the eyes of every Raven, both player and fan; the word ‘overrated’ may just haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Maffia has always had this unique presence about him that draws you in, though.
Just over one year ago, I met Diego Maffia for the first time at the Western Canada Basketball Tournament in Kelowna. As a fresh, inspired reporter for BC Sports Hub, it was only fitting that I interviewed Maffia, a kid who had barely scraped the surface of greatness in BC high school basketball at the time. I remember reading an article written by Howard Tsumura, someone who I dearly look up to as a writer. His clever headline, “Diego en FUEGO!” caught my attention:
“Who is Diego Maffia?” I thought.
Maffia’s background was also intriguing. He came to Canada from Brazil in 2015—his parents hoping to give him and his brother, Lucas, a better life by moving to Vancouver Island. While Maffia grew up playing soccer, he had a deep connection to all sports. And so, when he first attended Oak Bay High School in Grade 9, he tried out for the basketball team.
Surprisingly, Diego did not make the cut.
Flash forward to the 2019 Western Canada Basketball Tournament: Diego “en Fuego” Maffia broke BC’s all-time scoring record in one game by putting up 96 points. 96 POINTS. Let that sink in for a minute.
He hit 16 three-pointers, was 20/20 from the FT line, and outscored the Thunderbirds on his own—they put up just 88 to his 96.
Fun fact: Diego was also recently featured on Overtime’s Instagram page, where he apparently even broke American basketball star LaMelo Ball’s single-game point record of 92.
Alright, so there’s a bit of a dispute over just how many points Maffia actually scored in the Bays’ final game of the tournament against Edmonton’s Ross Sheppard Thunderbirds for 7th place.
The official box score has a cute little “96 points!”—exclamation mark included—at the end of a long trail of points next to Diego’s name on the sheet. Some who have counted the tedious box score say it was actually 94 points, but regardless, Diego destroyed the former record held by Greg DeVries of the LV Rogers Bombers (in Nelson) all the way back in 1991. DeVries put up a shiny 82 points against the Grand Forks Wolves.
But 28 years later, Diego Maffia wanted to go higher. And oh boy, did he ever.
“Before the game we were talking and I needed like 27 to break the tournament record,” Maffia said after the game against the Thunderbirds. “So I was shooting for that."
During the third quarter; however, teammate Jaime Palamos told Maffia that he had 73 points already. With the team realizing that he was living out something very special on the court, the boys rallied around him to feed Diego the ball nearly every possession.
“I think I was just in a groove…I don’t know,” Diego recalled. “I’m so shocked that even happened.”
Maffia credits the ‘groove’ to his confidence in himself as a shooter.
“Having the confidence to shoot is something that you can’t be taught. You just have to know that you can shoot and have to know that you’re going to make it every time, no matter if you miss or make it. You have to think you can make it every time. I think that’s my mentality going into every game.”
Following the standing ovation that he received after the game, Diego and the Bays headed to the locker room where his teammates wrote the number 96 all over the whiteboards around him.
“They were just so happy. They’re an amazing group of guys. Like, last year’s team and this year’s team—both teams—have amazing chemistry. And being with them, even though we’re a small group, being tight I think is important. They were really happy for me, which is amazing,” he said.
And while the celebratory moment with his boys felt unbelievable, the moment Diego picked up his cell phone and saw a message from his mother Wendy was one he’ll never forget.
“She was like, ‘Call me’, so I called her in the locker room and her words were, ‘Holy f***!’…That’s what she said!” Diego laughed. “And after that, she had no words. That was the first time ever—she always just speaks and asks how it was. But she had no words.”
Wendy rarely misses Diego’s games. Given that the Western Canada’s start on a Thursday, she was unable to take the time off work to watch her son in action.
Regardless, she was with Diego in spirit, as always. And thanks to a live stream of the game, was able to watch from afar.
“My first reaction was that it wasn’t really happening,” Wendy said. “It was just too crazy. I have to admit that I cussed him for taking some bad shots as I was watching, though. I’m sure he’d tell you I’m his biggest fan, but also his biggest critic!”
Despite the bad shots, Mama Maffia was in her feelings about not being at the game.
“I was so upset that I wasn’t there in person—this is the only tournament I couldn’t attend this season.
But that was short-lived when he called me immediately after the game and I heard how excited and happy he was.”
Humble: it’s a word that isn’t thrown around often when you think of the greatest athletes of all time. But when I look at someone like Diego Maffia—when I speak to him, with his eyes glazed over while talking about his mother and father (who he also spoke with on the record-breaking day), it’s evident that family is everything to him. And while 96 points is an absolutely incredible accomplishment, Diego’s humbleness is something that you can’t practice towards.
No, Diego Maffia was born with it.
Pair that with his undeniable sharp-shooting on the court, his inclusivity amongst his teammates, and his love for the game and all of those around him who support his every move (even before he hit 96 points), Diego Maffia is the greatest high school basketball player in BC—maybe even Canada—of all time. Sorry, Steve Nash.
I think sometimes, we choose what we want our eyes to see. While some people may look at an athlete like Diego Maffia and think he’s overrated, I’m choosing to see him as so much more than just another high school basketball player on a hot streak. Honestly, one day we’re all going to look back on this moment and feel blessed that somehow, we were able to watch one of the greatest ballers in high school basketball history—right before our eyes.
Isn’t that what defines the word in the first place? Someone who makes us think—debate, even—about greatness; who makes us want to be great, too? I know I’m one of the lucky ones who have had the chance to experience Diego’s greatness. As a reporter, I look forward to the day when I reminisce about that freezing cold day in Kelowna when Diego Maffia scored 96 points in just one game.
And the smile he wore on his face as he told me all about it.
“To be the mom of a record-breaking scorer? I can’t put into words how proud I am of him. I know how hard he works on his game and the adversities that he has overcome this season,” said Wendy.
“I am so very proud to be his mom because of the wonderful young man he is and he just keeps surprising me with his actions and accomplishments.”
Keep shooting for the stars, Diego.
Written by: Crystal Scuor