Phoenix’s finest: Ahead of Final Four, NCAA honors Valley community leaders with Legends and Legacy Community Award

The NCAA men’s basketball championship trophy is showcased at the Heard Museum during the awards reception honoring the recipients of the NCAA Legends and Legacy Community Award. (Photo by Grace Del Pizzo/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Ahead of the Final Four this weekend, the NCAA held an awards reception Tuesday evening at the Heard Museum to honor this year’s recipients of the annual NCAA Legends and Legacy Community Award.

The award “acknowledges and celebrates the determination of living legends who are making a difference in and around their city. The award recognizes local community builders who commit their time, resources and influence to improve and invest in their local communities; the Final Four host cities for Men and Women’s Basketball,” according to the NCAA.

Tuesday’s reception honored five Valley locals for their contributions to the greater Phoenix community: Diana “Dede” Yazzie Devine, CEO of Native American Connections; Reyna Montoya, founder and CEO of Aliento; Jacob Moore, vice president and special advisor to the president on American Indian affairs at Arizona State University; David Solano, elementary teacher, youth basketball coach and president of Solano’s No Limit Hoops; and Christina Spicer, co-CEO of Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council.

“I still can’t believe it. The NCAA knows my name,” Solano said. “When I first got the email, I thought it was spam, and I was thinking my computer might die and I was worried about it. So I googled the award right away, and well, I saw the Houston winners. So I guess this is real.”

Solano runs Solano’s No Limit Hoops, which he founded in 1998. Every Tuesday and Thursday evening from February to May, kids from ages 12-17 converge on Castro Middle School to play basketball. The objective is to keep them off the streets and keep positivity in their lives.

“I started it in ‘98, wanting just to keep some kids out of trouble, and it’s evolved into something bigger now,” Solano said. “Those kids in ‘98 that I had been trying to get out of trouble, now watching them become a dad and volunteering with their kids? I donated my time to you guys, and now you’re donating to your kids.

“Some of them didn’t have dads, and now they’re donating and being a dad. So I think that’s my biggest takeaway. We taught kids how to be dads. And in our community, that’s big.”

Moore, who works directly with Arizona State president Michael Crow on American Indian affairs, has been working at the university for 15 years, but his parents encouraged him to prioritize volunteer work long before that.

“From the beginning, it’s always been about supporting those that don’t have a voice,” Moore said. “It’s one thing to make sure that you’re taken care of, but beyond that, there’s, I think, a greater value in ensuring that others are taken care of. I think over time, it comes back in different ways.

“Giving to others almost gives back more than what you put in.”

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The NCAA’s selection of Arizona to host the Final Four this year means a great deal to Moore because it sheds more light on the state’s 22 tribal nations and communities, whom he works with closely.

“It’s extra special, because it’s a part of the fabric that we have in Arizona, and to be recognized is very important,” Moore said. “Not for me, but for the communities in Arizona.”

Spicer was a Girl Scout in elementary school until she moved to Arizona in fourth grade. Since Girl Scouts weren’t as established in the area yet, she couldn’t find a troop, and she didn’t reconnect with the organization until after college. Now, as co-CEO of the Arizona Cactus-Pine Council, she’s spearheading local development, and she’s discovered that there’s a difference between a job and a calling.

“I think that this is just something that I was designed to do,” Spicer said. “I think when you’re designed to do something, no matter which direction you go, you’re always gonna end up back there. And so for me, the ability to watch the girls and be part of that and know that in the same way they’re returning it back to me, it’s definitely reciprocal.”

The award recipients are chosen by a selection committee that partners with the NCAA to select the honorees. Emphasis is placed on the members of the selection committee being based in the city in question — in this case, Phoenix and Glendale.

“One of the important things that we do when we go to championship sites for the Legends and Legacy recognition is to make sure that the city is in the room,” said Felicia Martin, NCAA senior vice president of inclusion, education and community engagement. “That the local folks are the ones who are leading us and guiding us on the work that’s being done.”

Martin’s favorite part of the process, which spans multiple months, is the honorees’ reaction to the initial notification that they’ve not only been nominated for the Legends and Legacy Community Award, but that they’ve been selected to receive it.

“The men and women who receive the Legends and Legacy recognition are so stunned because they do not do this work for awards or honors,” Martin said. “They’re so shell-shocked. It’s the humbleness, it’s a heartfelt, ‘Are you sure?’”

The next celebration of the group of honorees will take place at halftime of a Final Four game, where they’ll be honored on the State Farm Stadium court and be recognized by both the NCAA and the Phoenix community they’ve collectively worked so hard to improve.

Grace Del Pizzo(she/her/hers)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Grace Del Pizzo expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in music theater. Del Pizzo has interned with SABR and Crossing Broad and is program director at Blaze Radio.