December 15, 2010 10:02:00 AM
The waiting was the hardest part for Deon Bedford.
As difficult as it was to sit, to watch, and to train while the East Mississippi Community College men''s basketball team played games last season, Bedford was content with his decision.
After all, Bedford wasn''t looking for a quick fix or to race through his college eligibility. Instead, he wanted to do whatever he needed to take a step closer to realizing his dreams of becoming a professional basketball player.
Bedford is off to a good start.
The former West Oktibbeha County High School standout made the most of his redshirt season at EMCC and has matured into a key contributor for the Lions.
Through 11 games, Bedford, a 6-foot-5, 185-pound guard/forward, is averaging 7.8 points and 4.9 rebounds. He has appeared in all 11 games (two starts) and has been an integral ingredient to EMCC''s 10-1 record and its No. 19 ranking in the latest NJCAA poll.
"I am loving it," Bedford said. "I knew it was a good decision to sit back and to get better and to wait my turn."
Bedford completed two exams Monday to finish off his semester. He and the Lions will make the most of their time off before they regroup for a Jan. 5 home game against Shelton State that will kick off the second part of their schedule.
Don''t expect Bedford to be far from a gym during the break. Odds are the same drive that pushed him to improve in his redshirt year will motivate him to work out and to stay sharp in the next few weeks.
"Deon is one of the most improved
players in my 20-something years of coaching," EMCC coach Mark White said. "He is a strong testament to what hard work will do for a person because he deserves the credit."
Bedford credits former EMCC assistant coach Jeremy Shulman, who is now the head coach at Brevard C.C. (Fla.), for helping him understand what he needed to do to transition from a small high school to college. He said Shulman kept him in the gym day after day after day and helped him develop into a more focused player who is "10 times better" than he was in high school.
Bedford said he is so focused that his life revolved around academics and basketball last semester. He hopes to carry that mind-set over to next semester and to provide a defensive and rebounding complement to the Lions'' cadre of double-figure scorers Deonte Alexander, D.J. Evans, Joe McCoy, Donovan Walker, and Jonathan King.
"When coach White calls on me I am coming," Bedford said. "He has other guys he can call on besides me and the whole team is wonderful. Everybody is good. I have never played with so many talented people on one team. It is easy to get along with everybody when you''re with a whole lot of talented people."
Bedford said he has learned how to slow the game down and to use his explosive leaping ability and his fine perimeter shooting touch at the right moments. He said there are still plenty of things he needs to work on and that he is eager to reach those goals.
"The sky is the limit," Bedford said. "I can be as good as I want to be. The more work I put in the better I am going to get, and I am planning to put in a lot of work."
White loves to hear that kind of talk. He said there are so many players who are blessed with talent who don''t put in the time or the effort to realize their potential. He said Bedford went above and beyond the team and individual work required of players to get to this point. He sees no reason why things will change this season or next year, when he anticipates Bedford emerging into a bigger role and scoring double figures.
For now, though, White wants Bedford to play his role as a defensive "difference maker" and a shooter and rebounder to give the Lions another option on what he hopes is another special season. Last season, the Lions (27-7) recorded their first top-10 national ranking, their first MACJC North Division title, and won the NJCAA Region 23 title to secure their first berth in the national tournament (in Hutchinson, Kan.), where they went 1-2.
"(Deon) is so athletic from the guard position that we need him to be a great rebounder, and he has done that," White said. "Can he do better? Yes, but he has done well in his first year at this level. Defensively, he is very willing. ... He also is a good shooter, and we give him the freedom to shoot the three. He will continue to work on his ballhandling to become more of a complete player."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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