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Villanova’s Mary Gedaka has pivoted right into a big-time career | College basketball preview

"She has the quickest first step of anybody on our team. It’s close to impossible for a center facing up guarding her."

Villanova women's basketball player Mary Gedaka, right, with coach Harry Perretta.
Villanova women's basketball player Mary Gedaka, right, with coach Harry Perretta.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

The first pivot move had Mary Gedaka’s defender off stride. Second move, the defender wasn’t really defending anymore. Another Gedaka footwork clinic, in session.

This particular Big East game two years ago at Villanova featured more moves, the lasting memory of the afternoon. Mary Gedaka was a sophomore, not yet a starter, but on her way to being Big East sixth woman of the year. Last season, starting, she became Villanova’s leading scorer. As her minutes went up, so did her shooting percentage, to 66.1, tops in the Big East last season, third in the nation.

Ask Gedaka about the footwork, she pivots a bit away from the truth, making it seem like it wasn’t a particular skill, talking about the work she’s put in with Villanova assistant Laura Kurz, a former Wildcats star at the same position.

“She’s giving me way more credit,’’ Kurz says. “She’s been a 5-11 center her entire life, always been undersized, always had to figure it out.”

As soon as Gedaka arrived from Gloucester Catholic, a three-time South Jersey player of the year, Kurz saw it up close.

“I used to practice with them pretty consistently,’’ Kurz said recently. “I have 3-4 inches on her.”

A workout, Kurz quickly found out.

“I got embarrassed early on. She would blow by me,’’ Kurz said. “I had no idea how quick and athletic she was. She just has the ability to make multiple counter moves, pivot three or four times. She has the quickest first step of anybody on our team. It’s close to impossible for a center facing up guarding her. A guard has a hard time."

Genetics didn’t hurt her game. Gedaka could look up at the rafters in the Pavilion and see the retired jersey of a familiar name. Mom, then Lisa Angelotti, was once the Big East player of the year playing for a young Harry Perretta.

Interestingly, as much as Mom would have loved for it happen, she wasn’t completely sure Perretta’s offense was the perfect fit for her girl, since even the post players often are finding their mismatches outside, shooting long range.

Perretta remembers seeing that footwork when he was recruiting Gedaka. He translated it into mismatches.

“That’s what we live off on her,’’ Perretta said. “A bigger person is always guarding her. She has an advantage.”

“She totally has proven me wrong. … I wish I had that move when I played,’’ Lisa Gedaka said. “She really is crafty.”

Given that Mom was coaching high school ball right out of Villanova, Mary grew up in a gym. Did she love it? What choice did she have? Her competitiveness was obvious from a young age, the ups and downs based on wins and losses.

At an early age, Mary understood angles were important in this game, her mom said.

“She worked on knowing where she needed to be,’’ Lisa Gedaka said.

Having a mother who played the game was part of it all.

“Looking back, she did try to help me with just my game in general,’’ Mary Gedaka said. “At the time, I didn’t really realize, I thought she was more pitted against me. But I think that’s just the age. Now, looking back, I can be grateful to learn from somebody who really knew exactly what I was going through at the time.”

When did it dawn on her that mom had a special career at Villanova? Truthfully, Mary said, it was her freshman year. She had known before then about the jersey in the rafters.

“Once I actually put myself in those shoes and was able to understand what she was able to accomplish, that’s when I was able to realize, ‘Oh, wow, this is pretty significant,' ” Mary Gedaka said.

Mom and Perretta had stayed close, talking frequently over the years. If Villanova’s coach would veer into talking about his team, that part of the conversation ended when Mary headed for Villanova.

“That was kind of our pact,’’ Lisa Gedaka said of talking with Perretta. “We totally 100% have followed through on that.”

Mother and daughter had a different kind of pact when Mary played for Lisa at Gloucester Catholic.

“I’m intense. I said what I needed to say on the court,’’ Lisa Gedaka said. “Off the court, I was always mom. I never talked about any game after the game. I let her dictate it. That worked really well.

"For college, I’m able to be her sounding board. It’s tough. It’s a grind. I know it from experiencing it. The key is to keep everything neutral -- not too high, not too low.”

Now, when Mom hears Perretta yelling Mary’s name “19 times a game,’’ she laughs, since that used to be her name he was yelling.

“I’ve mellowed out,’’ Perretta said. “I was harder on her mom and those guys than I am now.”

During recruiting, mother and daughter both said, Mom encouraged looking at other schools. Perretta played it straight.

“He was himself, as if he didn’t know us,’’ Lisa Gedaka said.

That said, she doesn’t mind throwing a few stories to Mary and her teammates from the old days with Perretta.

“He was so young. He was crazy,’’ Lisa Gedaka said. “I know he’s still kind of crazy. He didn’t have Helen [Perretta’s wife], who dresses him now. He had this one suit he used to wear. As players, we truly didn’t want to take the court.”

The stories, more than anything, are a reminder of something special going on here. “It is so cool, so surreal,’’ Lisa Gedaka said.

Nobody pivots away from that idea. It’s one thing for a mother and daughter to play for the same coach at the same school. How many times have each been the leading scorer for a season?

“I thought she would get shots,’’ Perretta said of his senior. “Our forwards and our center get the easier shots. Did I think she was going to shoot 67%? … I never imagined it.”