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Bull Dogs senior basketball standout commits to Vermont

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The newest Catamount was asked the obvious question.

So Josh Speidel, what is a catamount?

“It kind of looks like a lion,” said Speidel, the Columbus North senior who announced Tuesday that he is verbally committed to playing basketball for the Vermont Catamounts. “I got online today to look it up because I was getting so many questions, but I don’t really know.”

Vermont museums claim that the catamount was a wild cat, similar to the cougar, that became extinct in the late 1880s. By all reports, it was ferocious.

Perhaps that is one of the many reasons Speidel was a good fit for Vermont. At 6-foot-7, he has built a reputation as one of the toughest high school players in Indiana.

“I thought Vermont was the right fit for me basketball-wise and academic-wise,” said Speidel, who turned 18 on Tuesday. “I think I see myself getting better there, and I see a chance to compete for (playing) time as a freshman.”

Vermont is coached by John Becker, who has led the team to three 20-win seasons in his first three years. Last season, Vermont was 22-11 with a 15-1 record (first place) in America East Conference play.

“Their coaches tell you how it is,” Speidel said. “I liked that. And I think I could go to them if I had a problem away from the court. It’s an open door.”

The University of Vermont is in Burlington.

“I would have never guessed that Josh would be playing in Vermont,” said his father, Dave Speidel. “But when we went to Burlington, we saw how similar it is to Columbus. It’s just a bigger version.”

Josh Speidel had cut the field to a final four — Vermont, Ball State, Illinois-Chicago and Loyola-Chicago — before deciding to spend his college days in New England.

“The campus is beautiful, and it is right by a lake (Lake Champlain),” Josh Speidel said. “It is a couple of minutes walk into Burlington, which is beautiful. And there in Vermont, basketball is their big thing.

“It came down to a place where I could see myself being.”

Speidel goes into his senior season at North as a player who can post up or even handle the ball at the perimeter if necessary. Bull Dogs coach Jason Speer said he sees Speidel having similar responsibilities at the college level.

“He is going to be a fantastic asset to Vermont,” Speer said. “It’s just the versatility that Josh has. And I know that Vermont was looking for high-character guys and Josh will fit in nicely.”

Columbus North Athletic Director Jeff Hester was proud that his school produced another scholarship athlete.

“It shows the reach of Columbus North basketball,” Hester said. “It also shows the relationship that Coach Speer has with collegiate coaches.

“I see us as another avenue to foster these kids’ dreams. That’s why we are involved in athletics.”

Speidel averaged 17.2 points and 9.3 rebounds for the Bull Dogs his junior year.

Dave Speidel said his son took 18 official and unofficial visits to different universities. “We left it all up to him,” Dave Speidel said. “We told Josh, ‘Look at the best fit for you.’

“We know he is going to be far away, but it’s for four years, and that’s not a lot of time. He is going to get to see a part of the country that a lot of people don’t get to see.”

The Speidels, Dave and Lisa, have three kids and when Josh gets to college, all will be or will have been athletic scholarship recipients.

Jamie Speidel, a Columbus East graduate, played soccer at Indiana Wesleyan and now attends Southwest Missouri as she pursues her doctorate in physical therapy. Micayla Speidel, another East grad, is a sophomore volleyball star at IU-Kokomo.

Josh Speidel now will concentrate on a big senior season at North.

“I enjoyed the recruiting process at the beginning,” he said. “But at the end it was getting stressful. It’s definitely a big weight off my shoulders.”

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