Her favorite parts of the game are defense and offensive rebounding, and this Garden State standout hopes to be a college coach one day.
New Jersey high school hoops fan Bill Schmertz, who sees about 100 games each season, nominated Jessica DePalo of Red Bank Catholic High School for our Hero page. The 6-0 center led the school to the state championship during her junior season, and just missed adding another one this past year.
"Jessie helped the Caseys to win everything in the Shore Conference, the New Jersey Parochial A Group, and the Tournament of Champions during her four years as a starter," Schmertz says. "This past season, RBC was again ranked number one in N.J. almost for the entire season and as high as 15th in the country by USA Today. RBC lost to Christ the King (New York, N.Y) by just 3 points, which was their only loss all year until they lost in the Tournament of Champions semifinals to Sterling.
"Jessie broke RBC's girls' and boys' school scoring and rebounding records," Schmertz continues, "and she is an excellent student and role model for all of the younger kids around town -- they just love her."
DePalo's head coach at RBC, Joe Montano, also attests to DePalo's character. "The best compliment that I can give her is that she's without a doubt the hardest-working player I've ever coached," he says. "She's not to be denied -- she's tenacious in her work ethic and her desire to improve on a daily basis is great."
Montano adds: "She was captain for two years, and she's been an outstanding role model.
She's definitely the consummate team player -- she's always the person in the locker room who's positive and helping to get somebody through a tough spot."
Besides setting school marks in scoring and rebounding, DePalo also holds the record for best field goal percentage and blocked shots. But she's never been concerned with her stats, according to her coach. "There's been many times that she's come off the floor knowing that she could've scored more points or set a record, but she'd rather see her teammates getting a chance to play," Montano says. "Out of 30 games, maybe in 12 of them our best players play a good amount of minutes. The rest, if they play half the game it's a lot."
DePalo averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds per game as a senior, and she says her favorite parts of the game are defense and offensive rebounding. "I see myself as someone who is aggressive and works hard for a rebound, and someone who works very hard all around," she says. "I don't look up at the people who are the biggest names or 40-point-a-game scorers. My role models are people who work hard and don't have a lot of attitude, they just do rebounding and the other important things."
DePalo began playing basketball when she was seven, and for years relied on her height to dominate games. "But by the time I was freshman I was no longer the tallest girl," she says. "I couldn't just grab the ball and hold it up and shoot anymore, I had to get moves. So the summer of my sophomore year is probably when I worked the hardest on my game. And starting last season, I tried to bring my game outside more."
After returning to play AAU ball with the New Jersey Demons this summer, DePalo will attend Lehigh University, a Pennsylvania school in the Division I Patriot League. "I just walked on the campus and I knew," she says. "I just had a great feeling for the school-- the coaching staff was amazing and they have a nice program there."
DePalo plans to study business at Lehigh. "I'd like to do marketing or advertising for a major sports company, like Nike, and travel around for them," she says. "But the main thing I want to do is coach on the collegiate level. Hopefully, after my four years I can become a graduate assistant and then get my masters' degree and then continue coaching in college."
Does she feel that she's ready to play NCAA Division I hoops? "That's something I'm working on right now," she says. "College is a big step from high school ball, so I'm working really hard this summer. I'm going to be training and playing a lot of ball."
Montano is optimistic about her likelihood for success. "It's going to challenge her both athletically and academically," he says. "But knowing her she's going to be up to the challenge, and I think she's going to do real well."
Article written by Gball Associate Editor Jim Catalano.
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