It was a small ceremony on May 29 that marked the ascension of one of the area’s top senior boys basketball players. In front less than 10 people, Central Noble’s Ridley Zolman signed his name to become the newest Saint Francis Cougar.
Not many players have the luxury to expand their profile as much as Zolman did during his senior season, wrapping up this past spring. Not an afterthought, but also not yet a star, Zolman took to the offensive during his senior season and led the Cougars to a second place finish in a loaded Northeast Corner Conference.
“He and his family trusted me and that is probably what I loved more than anything else. They trust me with him basketball wise, they’ve trusted me with him and trusted me through this whole process,” Central Noble coach John Bodey said.
In the meantime, he earned a slew of accolades in being named first team All-NECC and IBCA Small School All-State. He was also named IBCA Academic All-State, meeting criteria that includes a 3.5 GPA or higher on a 4.0 scale, a class rank in the upper 25 percent of one’s class, an SAT score of 1,100 (on the reading and math sections) or an ACT score of 24.
At the beginning of May, with his college decision looming, Zolman was named a recipient of the IBCA’s Marion Crawley Scholarship Award. He was just the second Central Noble player to ever earn the award behind his brother Reeve, a 2017 graduate.
Central Noble finished 16-8 overall and 11-3 in the conference while Zolman led the way for a team with quite a bit of youth, averaging 17.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
“I wanted to have at least a 15 win season, average over 17 points and see how far we could make it in the state tourney,” Zolman said of his preseason goals for his senior season. “We didn’t make it past Westview, which happens, but accomplishing two out of the three felt pretty good.”
Zolman was named the Outside the Huddle Fan Vote Performer of the Week for the opening week of January. That came after a 28 point, eight rebound and five steal game against Bluffton.
“He developed his basketball game and also his leadership and how to finish games and dominate down the stretch and he became pretty good at it,” Bodey said.
The attention Zolman got opened up as he put together a steady resume of quality games of being a diverse threat on both ends of the floor. Defensively, he was a stopper at the rim and it led to interior strength inside as well as one of Central Noble’s tallest players. But Zolman’s most credible threat may have been his increased consistency shooting the ball. He finished the season shooting 49 percent from the field and 35 percent from behind the three point arch, while hitting a team high 62 three pointers.
“I hadn’t really gotten much college attention until my senior year, so I truthfully believe it opened up so many college opportunities that I wouldn’t have experienced without it,” Zolman said.
“I have to give all the credit to coach Bodey. I wouldn’t be the player I am today without the amount of time and effort he put in with me. My shot wasn’t very good freshman year, but he changed my form and it instantly improved after that happened.”
Zolman played on the ‘C team’ his freshman year, which isn’t necessarily uncommon, but has become more rare when it comes to players who are standouts in the area and their conference by their senior year, especially in smaller schools like Central Noble. He only increased his profile in the years to follow. When Bodey took over the program when Zolman was a sophomore, he played junior varsity but really worked hard to increase his presence over the summer, Bodey says, and he was able to get some varsity minutes after Christmas his sophomore year.
“By the time he was a senior, he could shoot it, he could drive it, was able to find ways to get his own shot,” Bodey said. “He really became pretty good defensively. Never started him out on the opposing team’s best player but a lot of times by the end of the game, that is who he was on. He really got to the point where he could close out games for us.”
Bodey looks back at the Lakeland game, where the Cougars were down late, as a defining moment of Zolman’s senior season. The senior ended the game with a pair of made field goals, several steals and free throws to propel Central Noble to victory.
Since his time in a Central Noble Cougar uniform came to a close, Zolman has had the chance to weigh many future options, including the chance to play on a Division I level. But all roads eventually led to choosing the University of Saint Francis, where he can stay a Cougar for four more years.
He officially signed with Saint Francis on May 29 in Albion.
“I really like their style of play and their coaching staff is really good,” Zolman said of Saint Francis. “The location was a big deal. It was one of my top priorities and it really helped me narrow down my college decision.”
Zolman says that Saint Francis associate head coach Luke Cummings, who was in attendance at his signing, and head coach Chad LaCross have expressed to him how they like his size and how he shoots the ball as well as his defensive potential. He says he also paid attention to how well local players have recently fit well into the style of the Crossroads League.
Zolman already took to the Saint Francis home court once this offseason, as a participant in the annual Nancy Rehm Border Wars game. While Zolman and team Indiana ultimately lost to Ohio on April 28, Zolman’s hot shooting was in full effect and it showed off his still developing upside to an even larger base. He scored 11 points, hitting a trio of three pointers, and added six rebounds in the game.
“The Nancy Rehm All-Star game was a blast. Playing with talented Fort Wayne players that I’ve never played with before was a really fun and great experience,” Zolman said. “It’s nice to see the different type of play styles that each kid brings to the table, and I would do it again in a heart beat.”
Six Northeast Indiana area players were on Saint Francis’ roster this past season.