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Center of Focus

Times Staff Writer

Amanda Maddahi’s backing down from the physical play she faces as a center for North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake is about as likely as her basketball team’s losing a game.

In fact, it’s less likely.

The Wolverines are 24-3 this season, so they’ve lost. But Maddahi doesn’t back down from anyone.

Nor does she have to. Watching her under the basket confirms that she is as tough as nails, probably because away from the court, Maddahi can break wood blocks with her bare hands.

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A black belt by age 12, she is a top international age-group competitor in the U.S. National Karate Federation.

Her knowledge of martial arts virtually guarantees success if rough stuff ever breaks out around the basket, but she said its influence has helped her in ways that don’t involve hand-to-hand combat.

“It helps me so much,” she said. “One, my perception of the whole floor is better.

“Two, my center of balance is greater because I work with the floor. I know how to stand my ground better, how to get in position better, and I know where the floor is.

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“Three, it’s given me experience with teams. Leadership is a big aspect of karate and I brought that to basketball.”

Maddahi says she’s “very goal-oriented.”

She took up karate when she was 8 at her own insistence, and the following year was teaching other students at United Martial Arts Center in Beverly Hills when she was a mere orange belt.

“That maturity helped me become a better captain,” she said. “It helped me mature much quicker, and I’m able to help my teammates with my insight. It’s a lot about optimism and attitude.”

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Her mother, Angela, also sees the benefits. “The thing she took most from karate into her basketball and her life was the ability to focus on a particular task and a particular goal,” she said.

The goal now for the Wolverines, ranked No. 24 in the Southland by The Times and seeded third in the Southern Section Division III-A playoffs, is to win a section title. They are led by Washington-bound guard Stefanie Clark, and their starting lineup includes freshman YoYo Greenfield and sophomore Nikki Sisto.

To win their quarterfinal game tonight at Orange Lutheran (20-6), which has three players 6 feet or taller, Maddahi’s presence will need to be felt.

Maddahi, 5 feet 11, started on the varsity basketball team as a sophomore but took last season off to raise her grade-point average so she could apply to UCLA. Her GPA is 4.2.

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On the court, she’s contributing five points and 10 rebounds a game.

On the mat, Maddahi won a gold medal in Kumite, or sparring, in her first international competition at the Pan American Youth Championships in Caracas, Venezuela, in the summer of 2002.

“I remain humble in the fact that if I ever got in a fight outside the gym I could defend myself,” she said. “Inside the gym, I don’t think of kicking people’s butts, but it helps me stay focused and stay strong out here for my team.

“I think my teammates take comfort that I can physically handle big people. I’m fearless in that aspect. But I’m not here to start fights.”

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Her passion is to heal.

“My No. 1 goal in life is to become a pediatrician,” she said. “I feel after my high school career is over, it is time to shift my focus to the next goal.”


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