SAN ANTONIO - Meet Diana Poplyaeva, a 5-year-old San Antonio girl who draws crowds at a local YMCA with her basketball skills.
Here’s what you should know about the young basketball star, Diana.
Love for the game
Diana loves to play basketball, and loves to watch it. Like so many San Antonio basketball players, her favorite team is the Spurs. Her favorite player is Tony Parker.
Diana has been to 20 Spurs games and has even met some of the Silver and Black legends. She has met such stars as Manu Ginobili, Becky Hammond, Danny Green and Pau Gasol. Diana even made sure to attend Tim Duncan’s jersey retirement.
Meet Diana, a 5-year-old girl with better handles than most basketball players I know. Check out her training, her skills and her connection to the @spurs Friday on @ksatnews at 6pm! pic.twitter.com/RdEwLcAB0g — Max Massey (@MaxMasseyTV) April 19, 2018
Diana’s father, Sergey Poplyaev, said that, when they go to the AT&T Center, Diana doesn't cheer or make a scene, but rather watches her idols and learns from their play.
Passion for greatness
Diana was born in San Antonio, but her father is from Russia. Poplyaev is a former track and field athlete who graduated from the Military Institute of Physical Culture, but he was never a basketball star.
He started training Diana when she was only 3 years old with dribbling drills, and in only two years, she has excelled. They practice three to four times a week at their local YMCA, and the sessions include dribbling two basketballs at a time around cones, catching a tennis ball while dribbling and dribbling while blindfolded.
Now, Diana also has a game coach, Antwan Johnson, who helps coach her on in-game techniques, such as evading defenders, getting to the rim and scoring.
"I was amazed because my son is 8. (He) plays basketball and he isn’t even close to that," Johnson said.
The practice session that KSAT's Max Massey and Azian Bermea watched lasted longer than an hour and consisted of nonstop work, during which Diana never stopped, pouted or complained.
Other than her size, the only thing that indicated Diana was a child were the wide grins she would make when her dad or Johnson tried to steal the ball from her.
She would spontaneously cross them up and dribble around them when they weren’t paying attention.
Diana may be only 5, but she puts in the hard work. Currently, she plays in a league with older children because her father said she was just too good to play with children her own age.
Poplyaev said it was unfair for the other players and it wasn’t challenging for his daughter.
"I see her going as far as the WNBA -- her work ethic is crazy," Johnson said.
For now, people who follow Diana can only imagine that, like most children wearing Spurs jerseys, she probably wants to play professionally. But her father said he just wants to take things one step at a time.
“My main goal is education,” Poplyaev said.
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