Josh Diaz has probably never been in as many pictures as he was Tuesday, but you have to forgive his family and friends for being shutter-happy. Supporters of the 6-footer who led the Jags to the playoffs this season were proud as could be to see him sign a letter of intent to attend Lindenwood University on an academic/basketball scholarship.

It’s a free ride to the next level (worth $64,000 for four years) for the smooth passer and defender who was first on his Econ team in assists and steals this season, but is second in line when it comes to hoops in the fam.

Older sister Becky, a standout with the Lady Jags two years back, is waiting for Josh once he gets up to Missouri. She put in a solid season last year for Lindenwood, expects to battle for a starting role in 2010-11, and was on hand with a couple dozen folks Tuesday to see her younger bro wrap up high school and start planning for the future. Younger sister Jasmine, a senior-to-be for the Lady Jags, was also all smiles at the signing ceremony.

Diaz’ coach, Lalo Rios, knows all about making the steep climb from the prep ranks to college basketball, as he came out of Edinburg High to become one of The University of Texas-Pan American’s most competitive guards ever, in the mid 1990s. After Diaz did what he needed to do to bring the Jags back into the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, Rios knows that if he works hard, the protege can follow in his footsteps.

“Josh was our only senior starter and he really played unselfish basketball, finding the open man and running the team,” said Rios, who celebrated sending the first Jag to college in his four years as head man. “His situation reminds me a lot of mine, in that he is going to have to prove himself up there, dedicate himself to getting better, and show he belongs. There are no guarantees, but I think he can do it.”

The coach noted two differences between his road to college and the one confronting young Diaz.

“First, he’s got a scholarship while I was a walk-on at Pan Am,’” said Rios. “Also, he’s a lot stronger than me, he has the physique already. Now he needs to work hard. Josh is the type of kid who will do that. If a coach asks him to do something, he’ll do it, no questions asked, he’s got a great work ethic, and we’re proud of him. He just needs experience, that’s all.”

Lindenwood has become a frequent destination for Valley athletes, as along with Becky Diaz, former Econ great Morgan Brown played volleyball for the St. Charles school. Recruiter Ben Lopez Jr., who works tirelessly to give locals a chance at the next level, praised Josh Diaz’ spirit and said that the university is happy to have him.

Though he averaged just 6 points per game in 2009-10, Diaz was the steadying force on a team of youngsters who broke through to the playoffs. He becomes the first Jag to move on to college ball since 6-8 post Pablo Cruz, who played at Oklahoma Christian after his Econ days back in 2004.

As his teammates gleefully hogged the cookies and took tons of pics of their pal, Diaz noted that he’s ready to take the leap, far away from home and with a talented group of older players.

“No, I’m not nervous, I’m excited,” he said, admitting when asked that of the three Diaz ballers, Becky used to get the best of the other siblings when they were growing up. “I think what I will take away with me from high school is learning how to be a team leader. I wasn’t doing that before this season, but I was able to work hard enough to get the ball to the open man and not worry about scoring as much.”

While parents Rolando (himself a high school basketballer at Mercedes) and Norma looked on, the senior, who will graduate June 6, noted that he is proud to be representing the Valley on the college scene.

“It was all worth it, getting the chance to keep playing,” he said, glancing over at his former coach, Rios. “Maybe I can be better than him someday, who knows.”

NOTES: This has been a banner year for city kids moving on to college, after North’s Brandy Garcia signed to attend Texas A&M-Kingsville, where EHS football receiver Manny Menchaca will also play. Garcia was the MVP of the East-West All-Star Game recently.