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Headline: The Upper Echelon
(From Dec. 2005)
By Kyle Lamb
In Upper Sandusky's run to a Division II state title this past March, a lot of players stepped up their individual and collective games. However, probably none were more prominent than then-sophomore guard Jon Diebler, who issued a verbal commitment to Ohio State in September.
Diebler put himself on the upper tier in the class of 2007 by helping to lead the Rams to the school's first state championship and a 27-0 record.
The 6-7 guard averaged 26.3 points a game in becoming a second-team All-Ohio selection in Division II. Earlier in the winter, Diebler had already secured his future by joining his older brother, Jacob, in committing to Valparaiso.
But after Upper Sandusky tore through the Division II tournament, Jon Diebler was having second thoughts about going to Valpo. He completed that title run on a real tear for the Rams. The Dieblers, playing for their father and coach Keith Diebler, helped Upper Sandusky average a lofty 88 points per game.
In the regional tournament, Jon Diebler tallied 37 points in an 83-74 semifinal win over St. Mary's Memorial. He then had 33 points in an 85-55 regional final win over Akron St. Vincent St. Mary.
Those games set the stage for the state tournament, where Jon Diebler had 29 points, seven rebounds and three assists in a 95-90 semifinal win over Dayton Dunbar and 32 points and 14 rebounds in the 94-86 state championship game victory over Wooster Triway.
"He really did make some noise (last) year," Jacob Diebler said. "I think he established himself as one of the best players in the state, regardless of age."
Accordingly, Jon Diebler started to believe he could aim higher than Valpo, one of the leading programs in the Mid-Continent Conference.
"I think after the state tournament is when I started having second thoughts (in my commitment)," Diebler recalled. "I think I had a lot more confidence in myself after playing Dayton Dunbar, which is a tough team. It gave me more confidence in playing the level that Ohio State plays on."
Ohio State plays in the Big Ten – the national stage and the upper tier of college basketball. Especially under Thad Matta.
While Diebler was resting most of the latter half of the summer because of mononucleosis, he was pondering what life could be like on that very same stage. By July, he told Valparaiso head coach Homer Drew he was ready to take a few visits and look around.
Drew handled the news about as well as anyone could expect. He gave his blessing on Diebler visiting Ohio State, N.C. State and Michigan.
"The thing Ohio State, Michigan and N.C. State didn't do was they didn't to hurt Valpo because they all knew I was committed and they didn't want to do anything to intentionally hurt that commitment," Diebler said of the decision to open his recruitment.
"When I told Coach Drew I wanted to visit, they all kind of said ‘OK' and I went to them to let them know I was interested and wanted to take a visit."
Starting in early August, Diebler began making visits, starting with a trip to Raleigh to see N.C. State and a pair of trips to Ann Arbor. The month culminated with a trip to Columbus to see Ohio State.
By the second week of September, Diebler was starting to fall in love with Ohio State all over again, despite being a lifelong Buckeye fan. He made a visit on Sept. 10 for the Ohio State-Texas football game, where he got to tailgate with Ohio State commitments Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook, David Lighty and B.J. Mullens, as well as 2007 Ohio targets Dallas Lauderdale, a 6-9 center from Solon, and Kosta Koufos, a 7-0 power forward from Canton GlenOak.
He walked away feeling rather good about the visit.
"At that point, I still wasn't sure what school I wanted to go to," Diebler explained. "At that time, Valparaiso was still No.1 option. I got to see some great places. Michigan was great and N.C. State was great.
"After I finally told the coaches I wasn't going there, I was leaning towards Ohio State. But I wasn't 100 percent sure," he added.
But it didn't take long before he was sure.
Before committing 13 days later, Diebler felt relatively certain that playing for the hometown Buckeyes on the biggest stage was the best preference. But there was still lingering doubt if he should renege on his commitment to join the Crusaders and his brother at Valparaiso.
That proved to be a decision that haunted him until the very final days before committing to Ohio State.
"It was tough. He's my brother and I care for him," Diebler said of the decision to not attend Valparaiso with his brother. "He was there with me the whole step of the way. He told me I should do what I needed to do and not make the decision because of him. Family comes first, but he said don't go somewhere just because he's there.
"Playing with him was awesome. He made me the player that I am, so it's really tough not to go to college with him."
Finally, Diebler overcame enormous indecision and made what seemed to be the best choice he could make for himself. On Sept. 23, he committed to Ohio State.
"I think I made a good decision," he said of his choice. "Ohio State is a program on the rise. You always want to play for a national championship and we have the chance to do that."
Keith Diebler supported his son's decision to change his commitment. (He won't sign a binding letter-of-intent for Ohio State until November 2006.)
"His mother and I appreciate the care and thought he put into what he's doing," Keith Diebler said. "We're going to support whatever he decides. But it's a decision he had to make. It couldn't be made by his coach, his dad or his mother or brothers."
Aside from Matta's influence on that possibility, Diebler credits the players he will be playing with for why he can accomplish those goals. To get on the upper echelon of basketball schools, you have to play with the best players in the country. Diebler believes he will be doing just that.
"It's always good to play with great players, and you always want to play with good people," he explained. "I knew Daequan already, but I had never met Greg or Mike. Getting to hang out with them kind of helped my decision."
Diebler possesses a quick release and can hit shots from well beyond the three-point line. In addition to being a good shooter, he has the quickness and ball skills to beat his man off the dribble, although sometimes he doesn't use that ability often enough.
Being 6-7, he has great size for a two-guard, and defensively, Diebler can play well when tested as evidenced by the job he did guarding Cook in the state semifinals.
Although Diebler now has the confidence to play at the highest level, he's not taking things for granted. He still is working hard.
"(I'm working on) everything," Diebler acknowledged. "You always have to keep working, but I am trying to improve my foot speed and quickness, and obviously I really need to get stronger."
He has done something that few ever do – he has made his dream a reality.
Diebler raised his level of play, and now he will reap the benefits because of it. There was little doubt in his mind what he dreamed about.
"Things happen for a reason," he said. "I have always wanted to play for a national championship, and I've always been a Buckeye fan. This has been my dream and I've wanted to do this."
In Upper Sandusky, at least one player has arrived on the upper echelon. And there are still several more tiers to go as far as he's concerned.