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Improvement of defensive specialist key to North’s success

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ALI Patberg remembers the first time she met Debie Gedeon.

Gedeon had just moved with her family to Columbus from upstate New York when she walked into class at Southside Elementary.

“I vividly remember her coming in halfway through fourth grade in a skirt, panty hose, high heels and a sweater vest,” Patberg said. “She looked athletic, so we started to become friends, and I asked her if she wanted to try out for basketball, and she did and she made

the team.”

While Patberg has been the star of her basketball teams, first at Southside, then Central Middle School and now Columbus North High School, Gedeon has made a slow but steady progression to become a starter as a junior for a Class 4A No. 3-ranked Bull Dogs squad that will host its own regional Saturday.

“Her level of improvement has been terrific, not only from a year ago until now, but going back farther,” North coach Pat McKee said. “That doesn’t mean there haven’t been some hard moments.

“She questioned whether she was going to get there, and we questioned it a little bit, too, but we never gave up on her,” he said. “We kept encouraging her, and look where she is now — she’s an instrumental player on a good team, and she can get better, still.”

Gedeon’s development hit a snag her eighth-grade year when she didn’t play at Central but instead was a manager for the North team. She returned to basketball as a freshman, playing mostly at the junior varsity level, and was in the 18-player pool that was on the tournament roster for the Bull Dogs’ run to the Class 4A state championship game.

Last year, Gedeon played mostly JV again while seeing a little varsity action. This year, she’s been a mainstay in the starting lineup.

“It’s a huge transition,” Gedeon said. “You have to be mentally focused every day. My teammates help me keep focused and keep me on track. You know that you’re a role model for the rest of the team, so you have to bring it every day. My teammates push me, and we push each other.”

“The biggest thing is her mental focus,” McKee said. “She has wonderful athletic ability, but she focused on improving some skills and focused on knowing exactly what we’re doing and what we’re doing when we do it. She’s matured, and she understands better the concepts and has done a good job most of the time.”

Gedeon credits having her mother, Rosalie Lolonga, an international lawyer who was in England for most of the past

three years, back in Columbus

for support.

“It’s great having my mom around,” Gedeon said. “Overseas, she supported me, and she supports me now. It’s great to have her here in the stands to watch me play. It’s motivational to look up and see my mom. It makes me want to play harder.”

While averaging 4.6 points and 3.2 rebounds a game, Gedeon’s biggest contribution these days comes on the defensive end.

“She may not score 20 points a game, but she does a lot of the little things that no one notices,” Patberg said. “She’s great on defense. She can jump. I don’t think we’d be where we are without her.”

“I go out into games knowing I don’t have to score 20 points,” Gedeon said. “We have great teammates, and they’re going to fill that role, so I have to go into the game thinking that I need to shut people down and help out on the defensive end.”

McKee pointed out that the 5-foot-9 Gedeon’s versatility has enabled her to defend post players, wings and point guards. Although she is listed as a guard, she normally plays the “5” position for the Bull Dogs.

“She’s very versatile, and her combination of strength and quickness and understanding, while not perfect, it’s gotten so good that we can put her on whatever we need her to be,” McKee said.

Saturday, those might be post players. If North can get past Franklin Central in the 10 a.m. semifinals, it would likely play Class 4A No. 2 and defending state champion Bedford North Lawrence in the 8 p.m. final.

The Stars feature 6-3 junior Jenna Allen and 6-2 junior Dominique McBryde, who have committed to Indiana University and Purdue, respectively. Both average 15.3 points a game.

“If we get to the second game, that would be exciting,” Gedeon said. “It’s going to be challenging, but it comes with excitement.”

Gedeon and the Bull Dogs gained valuable experience guarding tall, talented, athletic players in January during a 62-53 loss to nationally-ranked Columbia (Mo.) Rock Bridge in St. Louis.

“We were physical,” Gedeon said. “We made sure we fronted them.”

Last summer, Gedeon played in a couple of tournaments with Patberg on BNL coach Damon Bailey’s travel team. Bailey thinks North may be more athletic than the team that beat the Stars twice in 2012-13 and lost to BNL 71-45 in last year’s regional.

“They have a lot of the same players with Ali and Tayler (Goodall) and Kelsey (Cunningham),” Bailey said. “Those are the three kids that have been there the last two or three years and will look to score. This year, the team is a little bit different with Paige (Littrell) and Debie being in the starting lineup. They’re probably a little bit more athletic.”

That makes sense, considering Gedeon, having never run track before last spring, finished 13th in the state in the 100-meter hurdles.

“I had little experience,” Gedeon said. “I knew how to run, but hurdles was difficult. My brother (Joe) was a hurdler, so he showed me the ropes, and my (assistant) coach, (Jamie) Brinegar, everyone was supportive of me, and they took me under their wing and they taught me how to hurdle.”

Gedeon has heard from track programs at Harvard, Yale and some in-state colleges. But she is undecided on whether she will play basketball or run track in college.

“I haven’t looked that far yet,” Gedeon said. “I need to start thinking about that. I like both of them a lot. They’re very fun sports. I could go either way at this point.”

While she’s excited about track season, Gedeon hopes it doesn’t begin for her for another three weeks. She is focused at the moment on helping the Bull Dogs’ basketball team extend its season.

“The season starts right here,” Gedeon said. “Everything before was preparing for the postseason. Not only regional, but the postseason, getting to prove ourselves, we’ve been thinking about this one for a while now.”

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