I was nervous.
I don't know why, but I was.
What if I made a fool of myself with a dumb question?
Or what if asked something that demonstrated how little I knew about him?
These were the things that were running through my head as I stood before the state's high school player of the year, after they dispatched another team on their way to a state title.
To watch him play was a treat. It's clich, but he was a man among children and that's saying something since he played with other guys who were going to college on athletic scholarships.
When Shane Battier came up to me in the Detroit Country Day High School locker room, he was one of the nicest kids I'd ever met. He spoke with the maturity of an adult and played far larger any 18-year-old I'd ever seen. He treated the intern from the local paper like I was a writer from the New York Times and in the process, left a mark on me that wouldn't soon go away.
I didn't realize that 10 years later, I'd be covering a kid that mirrored him in so many ways in Jon Diebler.
I had seen Diebler play twice his freshman year at Fostoria and was intrigued, but more impressed by the moxie his brother Jake showed on the court. That spring, the pair transferred to Upper Sandusky with their father Keith took the open boys basketball coaching job.
That sophomore year of Jon's was something special, as the Rams went undefeated, winning the Division II state championship.
While reporting on Upper Sandusky's epic journey in 2005, watching Jon's basketball maturation into a man in his three years as a Ram was just as thrilling.
After that year, Jon was the only one left from a starting five that all went on to play college sports. He was forced into a leadership. Unlike his father or brother Jake, Jon was never a vocal one on the court, letting his play do the talking.
While his father handled the theatrics, which were not only successful but entertaining, Jon led with his hustle, his shooting and his demeanor.
Upper Sandusky saw a far earlier exit from the tourney in 2006, but in 2007, Jon led the Rams back to Columbus. And along the way, he set the all-time Ohio high school scoring mark. Knowing that was coming down the pipe that year, I decided that we needed to have the winter sports preview cover feature Diebler and his assault on the scoring mark.
One of the most exciting plays in high school basketball is a dunk, largely because you don't see it happen most of the season. With his father's frenetic style of basketball, a quick steal could turn into a roof-lifting, crowd-cheering dunk by Jon on the breakaway. So that was my cover: Jon looking down on the camera, fresh off a dunk. I made him make an angry face. Dunk after dunk Jon performed until I got the exact picture I wanted. He was gracious but you could tell, he was not all about the hype this run on Jay Burson's scoring record was going to generate.
The interview was difficult because Jon wouldn't talk much about the record. While his father chatted about the potential accomplishment, Jon instead deflected the story back to the team and its desire to return to Columbus and the state championship.
In hindsight, that cover wasn't the right choice for Jon. It wasn't his style.
You'll never see Jon run down the court with his hand left up after draining a 3-pointer. You won't see Jon pounding his chest. What you will see is Jon hustling back as a defender, getting in position to make the next play and help his team win.
All those things are why I saw Shane Battier in him. I knew then, Jon was going to one day play in the NBA. So Tuesday night's second round pick by the Portland Trailblazers wasn't a big surprise for me.
For a kid who was more interested in Legos as a child instead of basketball, Jon has certainly spent an inordinant amount of time building his game to succeed in high school, college, and it remains to be seen, the NBA.
Last night as I sat in the newsroom, I found myself thinking about these memories from Jon's high school days.
I was at the school after practice to get together a preview story with Keith. Jon hadn't changed yet, still shooting in the gym. I talked to Keith and came back out, to find Jon still shooting. He was standing at the attack line on the volleyball court, well beyond NBA three-point range, firing basketball after basketball.
Swish. Swish. Swish.
We chatted for a while, and Jon, not paying attention to the basket, continued to swish 3 after 3 after 3. All that practice had developed him to the point where he could literally do it with his eyes closed.
At the end of the season, like Battier in Michigan in 1997, Jon took home the Mr. Basketball award. He beat out OJ Mayo, whose personality is the polar opposite of Jon, and who showed basketball fans that year just how classless a person can get, booting a ball into the stands at one point in the season.
In sports, it's so much about look at me. Look at what I can do.
Shane Battier was never like that.
And Jon Diebler hasn't been either.
So as Jon heads to Portland to start an NBA career, you won't see him leaving his hand up after draining another 3-pointer.
Leave that to the fans he's made back in Ohio, as we cheer him on.
Happy trails, Jon.
Thanks for blazing an example for tomorrow's stars to follow.