Miguel Arnold left his hometown of San Juan, Puerto Rico to pursue his dream of playing basketball three years ago.
Barely speaking a word of English, Arnold struggled both on and off the court.
But developing chemistry with his teammates at South Miami didn’t require any language skills.
“I taught him a few things when we first started playing on the same team,” said South Miami star senior guard Zack Dawson. “I let him know I got your back no matter what, don’t worry about it.”
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The Cobras became Arnold’s extended family ever since.
And Arnold made the most of his opportunity, quickly becoming one of the best point guards in South Florida and the on-court conductor for the Cobras (26-3), who will make their sixth appearance all-time at the state final four Friday when they face Apopka Wekiva (25-5) at 4 p.m. in a Class 9A semifinal.
“I always had a dream I wanted to come here and have an opportunity to play and go to college,” Arnold said. “I’m trying to work hard to make it happen.”
Arnold is close to accomplishing both goals.
The 5-10 senior has offers from a pair of Division-II schools in Georgia - Clayton College or Augusta University.
Arnold, who enrolled at Coral Park before transferring to South Miami shortly after he came to Miami, is averaging 15 points, four rebounds and 3.2 assists per game this season and played a pivotal role on a talented squad led by major Division-I signees such as Dawson and center Latravian Glover, who are both headed to Oklahoma State.
Conquering the language barrier didn’t take long either.
“I got a girlfriend not too long after I got here and she helped me learn English,” Arnold said. “She’s Dominican, but she was born here. She helped me a lot.”
South Miami coach Robert Doctor said Arnold also had help from tutoring provided to him at the school, which also helped him get his grades up to the academic standards necessary to qualify to go to college.
“Arnold’s been an inspiration on our team,” Doctor said. “Seeing how far he’s come and earning a scholarship now, that’s what it’s all about.”
In three years, Arnold has done so despite being apart from his immediate family, including his ailing father, Horacio.
Around the time of Arnold’s decision to leave, his father contracted a bacterial infection in his eyes that has left him almost completely blind.
Horacio, who worked at a factory in their hometown repairing trucks, was left without being able to provide for his family and under the care of his wife, Arnold’s mother, Rosalia, and his grandparents on his father’s side.
Arnold got some good news recently, however.
His parents and several other family members are making the trip to support Arnold in Lakeland.
After watching a fellow local Puerto Rican, Neftali Alvarez, sink a buzzer-beating three-pointer that secured a state championship for Miami Christian on Wednesday night, Arnold is hoping to finish his high school career on a similar high note.
“This is personal for me now and we really want to win this,” Arnold said. “I’m really excited because my whole family is going to get to be here to see me play.”