Center Grove’s girls basketball record book is a flurry of names and numbers representing generations of former players.
From the sleeved-jerseyed variety of the 1970s on up through today, only the best manage to elbow their way into this exclusive club.
Twenty-seven years have passed since Nikki (Anderson) Cerbone fashioned not one, but two jersey numbers — No. 20 for home games in the old West Gymnasium, No. 21 if the Trojans were on the road.
Yet the former 5-foot-8 forward’s ability to endure in various statistical categories is nothing short of impressive.
“I never really thought I was a great player. I played hard and just tried to do whatever needed to be done for us to win,” Cerbone said. “I’m really surprised I’m still the career scoring leader because we didn’t have a 3-point line, and I only played in 81 games.”
Cerbone produced 1,347 points from 1983-87, the aforementioned 81 games second-lowest among the program’s five 1,000-point scorers: Jenny Martin (1,275 in 89 games), Emily Butler (1,124
in 97), Liz Stansberry (1,112 in 91) and Lisha Robertson (1,032 in 73).
She’s tops by a wide margin in career field goals (522) and free throws (303) and fourth in total rebounds with 712. Cerbone in time might drop from being among Center Grove’s all-time leaders in steals; for now she sits at No. 9 with 186.
Cerbone is the second of Center Grove’s five girls Indiana All-Stars, her No. 5 jersey framed and hanging in the gymnasium’s northeast corner along with those of ex-Trojans standouts Robertson (1979), Martin (1997), Stansberry (1997) and Butler (1999).
“Nikki was always really positive and didn’t care about personal goals. She was more about the team,” remembered 1987 Indiana Miss Basketball Lori (Meinerding) Morris-DeVries of Fort Wayne Northrop, who led the Hoosiers girls to a two-game sweep of Kentucky.
“Nikki was easy to get along with and her non-selfish play was definitely contagious across the team.”
These days Cerbone keeps plenty busy as a wife, mother and coach. She and her husband Bob, a 1985 Center Grove graduate, reside in Franklin Township in Marion County and have three teenage sons who are all involved in organized basketball.
The oldest, 17-year-old Anthony, is a junior on Franklin Central’s regional-bound boys basketball squad.
Cerbone also serves as a varsity assistant coach for the Franklin Central girls basketball program, assisting third-year coach Brian Hacker. The Flashes have won 37 of 47 games the past two seasons and are two-time defending Class 4A sectional champion.
Winning then. Winning now.
With Cerbone, competitiveness never takes a holiday.
HER BROTHER’S SHADOW
Cerbone’s four varsity seasons of exhibiting the desire to succeed in gyms throughout central Indiana first began showing itself in the family driveway.
It’s there Cerbone’s lone sibling and his friends often engaged in heated basketball competitions.
“My brother, Terry, was a year ahead of me in school. I basically followed him around, and whatever he did I wanted to do,” Cerbone said. “I grew up in a neighborhood full of boys and we had a goal in our driveway. They had no mercy on me when we played. That really helped me in the long run.”
Cerbone collected 10 varsity letters at Center Grove — four as a middle hitter in volleyball, four in basketball and the two in track and field from her ninth- and 10th-grade years.
The Trojans won four sectional titles prior to Cerbone’s varsity basketball debut and have captured 13 in the years since she left. She never got to experience such magic as part of four sectional runner-ups.
Cerbone to this day can walk to the spot in Greenwood’s gymnasium where in 1986 Franklin guard Michelle Baker caught a pass from Debbie Pruitt and delivered a 15-foot game-winner at the buzzer in the championship game.
She and Baker eventually became teammates on the Indiana All-Stars team and remain close friends today.
“On the court, yeah, we went at it. Off the court we had no issues,” Cerbone said. “Now she’s one of my dear friends.”
Two weeks in June as a member of the Indiana All-Stars included playing for former Rushville High School legend Cinda Brown, whose 25 seasons produced a total of 448 wins.
“It was a great experience. Cinda had us come to Rushville a week earlier to learn all the plays. We spent three days in the Rushville gym and stayed with some of Cinda’s players,” Cerbone said.
“Cinda made us all feel like we were her girls and that we were all in this together. We got along great and had good chemistry as a team.”
Recruited by Russ Safarty to play at Butler University, Cerbone played only her freshman season for Safarty, who departed following the 1987-88 season.
The Bulldogs then finished 9-17 under first-year coach Paulette Stein but bounced back strong Cerbone’s junior and senior seasons, going 20-9 and 21-8, respectively.
Cerbone played more guard than forward at the collegiate level. The position change didn’t hinder productivity, however, as she graduated from Butler having scored a total of 1,128 points.
“I enjoyed my high school and college basketball experiences differently,” Cerbone said. “Back then we had the one-class system in high school, so it’s hard to compare to today. At Butler we had the families that followed us, so it was kind of a unique experience. We just loved playing the game.”
STILL A COMPETITOR
Still very fit at 44, Cerbone will take the court without a hint of hesitation if the Flashes girls team needs an additional body in practice.
One such sequence in January forced Hacker and his players to view his assistant coach in a whole new light.
Cerbone was cutting to the basket when she wound up hitting the hardwood face-first. The mishap chipped off half of one of her two front teeth.
Hacker, who anticipated the sight of blood, instead got calm.
“Nikki just picked up the piece of tooth and moved on. She is just so competitive, and that’s good for our kids because she’ll get into their grill a little bit,” Hacker said. “Nikki is a great role model for the young ladies in our program.”
Players who anytime they’re at Center Grove make it a point to stop by the hallway dedicated to honoring its outstanding athletes of the past.
“Our players find her picture. They get a kick out of it. They call it the big-hair picture,” Hacker said, laughing.
Motivating and encouraging players from the Franklin Central bench during a game comes much easier to Cerbone than cheering on any one of her sons during one of their basketball games.
“It’s much harder watching your kids,” she said. “When you have no control and you sit back and watch, it’s tough. I get nervous with all the boys.”