Diego Campos: The soccer star from America's top basketball factory

diego campos d'angelo russell

Diego Campos knows what it’s like for life to change in an instant.

He experienced the sensation as a teenager leaving his home country, and again last year when the Chicago Fire selected him in the MLS SuperDraft. His journey has also afforded him the opportunity to see the dreams of friends and classmates come to fruition.

And so when the 2019 NBA Draft tips off at Thursday night, the 23-year-old midfielder/defender will be keeping a close eye on Duke University star R.J. Barrett for exactly that reason.

Barrett, like Campos, is a product of Montverde Academy, a private high school located in central Florida. He’s expected to be taken early on Thursday night following a consensus All-American freshman season at Duke.

“I believe he’ll go top three for sure,” Campos said.

When he hears his name called, Barrett will represent the latest in a long line of high-profile prospects to turn pro following time spent at Montverde. For Campos, the ties to the Academy remain deep. After immigrating from Costa Rica to attend the school, Campos credits his time there with his acceptance at Clemson University to play collegiately, as well as with his eventual rise to the Chicago Fire and MLS.

“If it wasn’t for Montverde, I wouldn’t be where I am right now,” he said.

(Campos during his Montverde playing days)

Campos’ path altered permanently in 2012 when a teammate in Costa Rica told him he was leaving the country to study and play soccer at a school in the United States, and that there was interest in bringing Campos along.

“It happened very quick,” he said. “I went and told my parents and at first they were – especially my mom – they were scared. They didn’t know if it was real. They didn’t know anything. I just had this guy I’d never seen before who came and talked to me saying, ‘We’ll take you to the States, this is the high school, they want a forward, and we think that you fit perfectly.’

“He met with my parents at my house, told them everything about the school, and at the end we accepted. In the next couple days, I had to do everything for the visa and thankfully got it. I moved just like that.”

Over the next two years, Campos became an integral part of a pair of unbeaten national championship sides. His play would set him on his path to Clemson, then onward to the 2018 MLS SuperDraft in which he got the call from the Fire.

While Campos' first love was always soccer, his time at Montverde resulted in an appreciation and passion for basketball. While enrolled, he brushed shoulders and developed friendships with 2019 NBA All-Stars Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers) and D’Angelo Russell (Brooklyn Nets).

“I’d never seen competitive basketball before,” Campos said. “Moving from Costa Rica and then seeing all these guys playing amazing basketball, it was pretty shocking. In Costa Rica basketball is not big at all, so going from seeing nothing to seeing all these potential superstars was amazing.”

He and Russell have remained particularly tight after their time at Montverde together, a relationship that formed after discovering an interest in each others’ respective sports.

“It’s funny, because he loves soccer,” Campos said. “He would always come to the soccer games and I would go to the basketball games. During the World Cup, he would call me or we would FaceTime and watch the games.

(Campos and former classmate D'Angelo Russell pictured center)

“And it’s definitely because of him that I started following the NBA,” Campos added. “I remember when he committed to Ohio State, he gave me a hat. I had no idea about Ohio State and college basketball and all that (laughs). But I kept following him in Ohio and now, of course, being a pro and seeing him in the All-Star Game was pretty impressive to me.”

Ahead of Thursday night’s NBA Draft, Campos will be proud to see fellow Montverde product Barrett realize a personal dream. That's the kind of camaraderie that exists between alums, regardless of what year they graduated.

“It was the best decision of my life.”