As athletes come up through the ranks of the youth leagues to club to high school and beyond, talent usually is the determining factor in how far they can advance. Once they reach a certain level, all the talent is very similar, meaning the difference between good and elite players is in their mental makeup.
Having always been the tallest player on her teams, Menlo School center Drew Edelman has consistently worked on her mental approach to the game. Literally standing head and shoulders taller than just about anyone else on the court, the 6-4 Edelman is used to having to play a different game. Because of her size and strength, she tends to get beat up a lot by players without a lot of help from officials. They see defenders bounce off Edelman and tend to swallow their whistle, the common thought being, "Her shot wasn't altered, must not have been a foul."
"It's definitely frustrating," Edelman said. "It came to a point where I had to control my emotions. Last summer, my main thing was controlling my emotions and not letting it affect my play.
"Playing the post, it becomes a personal thing. I had to work on ignoring that personal fight."
Edelman's mental makeup was put to the test this season, all thanks to football. While messing around on the Menlo football field before a homecoming powder puff game, Edelman went up to catch a football and came down awkwardly on her right ankle -- re-aggravating an older ankle injury that resulted in, as Edelman put it, "[I] ripped a bunch of ligaments."
No surgery was required but it delayed her return to the basketball court. With a scholarship to USC already in hand, Edelman was looking to cap a brilliant prep career with a special senior season. Now, she was getting off on the wrong foot.
"I lost all my cardio (conditioning). I missed quite a few games," Edelman said. "I wanted to come back fast, but not too fast. I totally thought it was going to affect my season. It really took a lot out of me. At the beginning, I didn't think I was going to be that great."
The wait was worth it for Edelman and the Knights. Edelman averaged 20.5 points per game and pulled down 13 rebounds per contest. She also helped Menlo to its first Central Coast Section championship since 1995 and a spot in the Northern California tournament semifinals.
For her efforts, Edelman is the San Mateo Daily Journal's Girls' Basketball Player of the Year -- the second year in a row Edelman has received the honor.
Having already established herself as a dominating center and a Division I college prospect, Edelman had only one more goal for her high school career -- a CCS title. She knew she would need help and the rest of the Knights obliged.
"Yeah, we wanted to get a CCS title. ... I don't think we had accomplished everything yet (during my career at Menlo)," Edelman said. "I'm the only one going to play in college. I tried not to make it about me. I'm going to keep playing (after high school) and I wanted to make sure everyone was united and having a good time.
"There were a lot of people -- Maddie Price, Lauren Lete -- who could score. People, for the most part, all improved."
Most of Edelman's improvement came between the six inches between her ears. Her "don't take it personal" attitude can be seen in the number of games in which she fouled out -- one, a 47-45 loss to rival Sacred Heart Prep. The mere fact Edelman was available all game long had an impact on the game, whether she was dominating or not. There weren't too many games in which she wasn't dominant. Sixteen times she scored 20 points or more. In the rebounding department, she had 20 games of 10 boards or more and three times pulled down 20.
In the playoffs, Edelman stepped up her game, averaging 23 points and 14.5 rebounds in six playoff games. She had her best game of the season in the CCS Division IV semifinals against Scotts Valley, when she scored a season-high 30 points and grabbed 24 rebounds, also a season high. She followed that with a 23-point, 22-rebound performance against Sacred Heart Prep in the CCS championship game.
"That (Scotts Valley game) was the beginning of five games where our team was playing really well," Edelman said.
"I think we went out with a bang and we went further than anyone expected us to."