Dionne Hasn’t Let Guard Down : Basketball: But former Hart High standout says it’s not always fun and games at Oregon State.
Four years ago, the basketball player rode away, toting glossy per-game averages of 23 points, seven assists and seven steals, Valencia in the rear-view mirror of her family sedan.
To Central Linn High School.
To Oregon State University.
What Anjanette Dionne left behind was a legacy: three years as a starter at Hart High, two of those years as the point guard on an Indian basketball team that won Southern Section championships, a team that before her arrival had played in only one postseason game ever--and lost.
Now she was gone, when even greater acclaim awaited in her senior year.
“My folks gave me the option to stay and finish up at Hart,” said Dionne, now a junior at Oregon State. “But I wanted to be with my family.”
Her family includes an older brother and three younger sisters who attend all of the Beavers’ home games, with the youngest--twins--being ball girls. Of course, Dad is the reason the Dionnes now reside in Brownsville, a blip-on-the-screen community halfway between Oregon State’s Corvallis campus and Eugene, home of intrastate rival Oregon.
Ken Dionne, who claims distant kinship to hockey legend Marcel Dionne and the Dionne quintuplets, chose to leave the Santa Clarita Valley after retiring from the Los Angeles Police Dept. He was chasing an urban dream of owning a ranch and decided on Oregon, Portland being his place of birth.
Ken Dionne spent 21 years on the force. Had he only gone for 22. . . .
Among the “about 64" schools that recruited Anjanette were UCLA and USC. Their chances to land her, however, diminished about as swiftly as the family caravan’s descent out of the Cascade Mountains separating California and its neighbor to the north. She narrowed her choices early to be close to her adopted home.
“I wanted to go someplace where I could make a difference, and Oregon State has been perfect for me,” Dionne said. “I knew I’d get an opportunity to play because the program there had been a little down.”
Eight games into her freshman season, Dionne moved into the starting lineup. Fifty-eight games later she’s still starting, and averaging 32 minutes.
From a professional standpoint, one of the bigger losers in the Dionne family migration was Pam Walker, Anjanette’s coach during the 1988-89 season that brought Hart its first section title.
“A.J. was the final piece in the championship puzzle,” said Walker, who left after that championship season to become an assistant at UCLA.
“She was the one kid--and a freshman to boot--who refused to lose. All she did was score four of our final eight points in the Buena game (a playoff semifinal at Ventura). She fully believed she was going to win, and she just wouldn’t let the other players think differently.”
Buena, then as now, was a girls’ basketball titan, a school with a glorious championship history.
“Oh, and yes,” Walker said as an afterthought, “we’d have taken her at UCLA in a heartbeat.”
Aki Hill is in her 17th season coaching the Beavers. “When the tough times come, she wants the ball because she’s a tough player herself,” Hill said. “And she’s the best we have at breaking the press.”
For Dionne, points are unimportant. Only victories matter. At USC last week she put up a modest scoring line of six, but her two baskets came in the final two minutes on layups following steals as the Beavers rallied from a 13-point deficit to win.
Two days later at UCLA she tied a personal college high, scoring 16, but the Beavers squandered a 17-point first-half lead before losing.
“I always enjoy coming down here,” Dionne said after that game in the presence of a well-wishing group that included former Hart teammates Kim Posey and Nikki Brodowy. “I still have a lot of friends in the area.”
She added: “I get that special edge of competitiveness and I want to do well against my old coach,” looking toward Walker. “It may sound strange, but I want to do well for her, too.”
Walker countered: “I want her to do well, too, and I’m happy when she does, but it’s OK with me if she stops a little short of beating us.”
Dionne, 5-8, one of eight juniors on a senior-less team, is not a prototype point guard. Being the best dribbler, she pushes the ball up court and, if there are no fast-break opportunities, makes the first pass beyond the center line to start the half-court set.
Then she becomes part of the offense, and playmaking chores fall to the “other” point guard, Boky Vidic of Croatia, who is one of four foreign-born starters. California-native Dionne was born in Lakewood.
She pops out on a wing, or runs the baseline and rubs off a screen for an open shot--moving, always moving. Occasionally she plays with her back to the basket, posting up a surprised opponent. “I’d like to see her shoot more,” said Hill, the Beaver coach.
“I get as much enjoyment out of an assist or a steal as I do out of a basket,” Dionne said. “Besides, I don’t think Coach Hill really meant that,” she added, laughing.
Dionne’s come a long way from the youth leagues, where she played against boys to get better competition, when she didn’t really have a plan, when she was more interested in track and cross-country, when she didn’t think there was a scholarship future for female athletes.
“I’m going to use my fifth year to get my degree (in sports science),” she said of her current future, “then go over to Europe to play, then hopefully get into college coaching.”
And hook up with Sara Wilson, who played on those Hart championship teams with Dionne before forging a solid career at Oregon? Wilson is now enjoying professional ball in Sweden.
“I think it would be great.” Dionne said. “We won a bunch of games together in high school.”
But first is the matter of helping the Beavers win a bunch of games, and as Walker summarizes the Dionne grit: “A.J.'s a survivor. If I had to be lost, I’d want to be lost with her because I know she’d find a way back.”
The victory totals, which have shown a steady increase, bear out student and teacher. The year before Dionne arrived in Corvallis, a downtrodden Oregon State team ended 8-20. Her first year, the Beavers improved to 15-12, then 17-11. This season they are at 9-2 and have been projected as third-place finishers in the difficult Pacific 10 Conference.
Said Hill, with candid realism: “I’m glad she came with the ranch.”
Anjanette Dionne has little trouble dribbling through the media press, either. She does it with assured, Quotes-R-Us, plug-in answers. But all the testimonials to her maturity and resolve notwithstanding, she oddly conveys vulnerability.
Perhaps it’s the contrast. On the court, on her turf, she moves confidently, with an athlete’s grace, even a slight swagger. Yet off it one is drawn to the high-cheekboned, delicate Dresden features, the pale blue eyes, the long blonde tresses, all under a cap turned jauntily backward and evoking an adolescent persona.
Perhaps also it’s because she rarely smiles. Perhaps this cop’s kid, a year removed from her teens, is determined to fulfill what she perceives are the expectations of others.
Or perhaps it’s what she says in some of those rare, unguarded moments. “I saw the Hart (girls’ basketball) game last night,” she noted wistfully in the aftermath of the Bruin loss. “It reminded me how much fun high-school ball was. This is more like a job.”
Then this woman-child, who for 2 1/2 years has unblinkingly challenged the best Division I players in the land, embraced her interviewer, turned and left.