AS the father of one of the country’s top girls basketball players, Ron Patberg has been asked how old his daughter Ali was when she made her first basket.
Ali was 4 when she first connected on a 10-foot jumper. Ron was the Columbus North boys freshman coach at the time, and Ali would accompany him to practice on Saturday mornings.
“She was at practice, and she would try all day to make baskets,” Ron Patberg said. “It didn’t matter if it didn’t go in, and eventually, she made it.”
Ali Patberg has made numerous baskets in the 12 years since, including some big ones for the North girls in last year’s run to the Class 4A state title game and this year’s 25-0 season. The 5-foot-10 sophomore will likely need to come up big again today when the top-ranked Bull Dogs play No. 2 Bedford North Lawrence (24-0) around 12:30 p.m. in the semifinals of the Bedford North Lawrence Regional.
No. 9 Franklin Central (19-4) and Castle (19-4) play in the first semifinal at 10:30 a.m. The championship game will be at 8 p.m.
While Ali attended practices with her father, who is now an assistant for girls coach Pat McKee, she also drew basketball genes from her mother, Julie Davis. Davis was a 1,000-point scorer at Cambridge City Lincoln High School and played at Hanover College. Ron Patberg helped Southridge High School to the state’s final four in 1985 and 1986 and also played at Hanover.
Davis, who works for Hospice of South Central Indiana, coached at Southside and St. Bartholomew elementary schools before Ali was born. Ron Patberg, who works at First Financial Bank, was a coach at Central Middle School, where Ali played and where younger sister Kenzie is the leading scorer on the seventh-grade team.
“It’s come naturally,” Davis said. “She’s been around it since she was 2 years old. She’s kind of lived in this gym.”
“I was with him more in the gym because he coached,” said Ali, who committed to Notre Dame on New Year’s Eve. “I guess I just always had a basketball in my hand. They both taught me how to play the game right. He’s kind of more (about) the game, and my mom’s kind of like the attitude, the way I carry myself.”
After scoring 12.9 points a game last season, Ali has increased her average to 18.2 this year. She is shooting a team-best 52.2 percent from the field.
“She’s playing with a lot more confidence, and she really understands the structure — not that she didn’t understand last year, but it’s very instinctive now,” McKee said. “She’s very aware of the things she needs to do to become even better. She’s worked dilligently on improving some speed, quickness and strength issues.
“Then, I think the thing that probably shows up most on the floor would be her perimeter shooting,” he said. “Last year was a lot of drives and layups, a lot of drives and pull-up jumpers, which are still certainly part of her game. If she can make some outside shots, then they have to step out and respect her, which in turn makes the drives to the bucket even easier.”
That’s a concern for Bedford North Lawrence coach Kurt Godlevske going into today’s showdown.
“I just think Ali Patberg is a problem in all its own,” Godlevske said. “She’s able to beat you off the dribble and pull-up jumpers.”
Ali is also tied for the team lead with 6.1 rebounds and leads the Bull Dogs with 4.1 assists. One drawback has been her turnover rate (3.9).
“Toward the end of the season, I’ve kind of cut down turnovers,” Ali Patberg said. “The coaches have told me that I have too many turnovers, and I need my assist-to-turnover ratio (up).”
Ali, who said she watches a lot of basketball and enjoys hanging out with friends and family in her spare time, also was a high-scoring soccer player for the Columbus Express. She gave up the sport after her eighth-grade year.
“I decided just to focus on basketball,” Ali said. “It was a hard decision because I really liked soccer. I just knew I needed to work on my (basketball) game year-round.”
Today’s semifinal game will be a reunion of sorts for Ali and three of her travel basketball teammates — Bedford North Lawrence sophomores Jenna Allen, Dominique McBryde and Alexa Bailey. Ron Patberg and Bailey’s father, former Bedford North Lawrence and Indiana University star Damon Bailey, coach the travel team.
“It’s cool,” Ali said. “For both of our teams to have as much success as we have had, it’s good for them and it’s good for us. It’s going to be fun because we’re all competitive, and we all want to win.”