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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 22 2011

DeGagne's mother's cancer battle hits close to home for Bison women's basketball team

There was a time not too long ago when Danielle DeGagne had to choose between hockey and basketball. In Brandon, Manitoba, that is never an easy choice.

She grew up playing hockey, of course, and got to be rather good at it, playing at the Pee Wee checking level with the boys. So tonight, when the North Dakota State women host Oakland (Mich.) in the first game of a women’s-men’s basketball doubleheader at the Bison Sports Arena and you see DeGagne is the only person back on defense against a couple of Grizzlies players, you can forgive her if she feels the urge to check one of them into the stands.

She has her skates, stick and hockey gloves in Fargo, but finding time to play at the Roosevelt outdoor rink near her apartment is not easy with school and Division I athletics. She got out once last year as a freshman.

“I miss it, a lot,” she said. “I grew up playing hockey and would go to a tournament for hockey and miss basketball. And it would be vice versa the next weekend. It got to be tough.”

Tough is something she can handle. Her mother, Colleen, is back in Canada battling cancer. They talk every day, and Colleen keeps in touch on game day by listening to the Bison on radio.

Bison head coach Carolyn DeHoff said Dani has her good days and her bad days in dealing with it, but is getting through it.

“Everybody has been really supportive,” Danielle said. “Family is good. Friends are great.”

She says playing well on the court and having it translate well over the airwaves is plenty of motivation. She’s done that at a much more successful clip this year, averaging 11.9 points and 5.3 rebounds. She had a career-high 24 points at South Dakota State in December to lead NDSU to its first win over the Jackrabbits in a few years.

On Monday, she had 22 points in a Bison win at Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis, hitting 10 of 13 field goals. She also added five steals.

“She’s just had more time on the floor this year,” DeHoff said. “And she’s understanding what we need to do defensively. She’s also learning offensively how to play within the system.”

And really, she’s relatively new to full-time basketball. She didn’t give up hockey until her junior year at Crocus Plains Regional school and she didn’t play AAU basketball in the summer at a young age like a lot of kids do in the United States.

She didn’t start playing basketball until middle school, yet made the varsity girls team as a high school freshman. At 5-foot-10 and good agility and strength, there’s no questioning her athletic ability.

At home, there was no shortage of basketball influence. Her father, Rick, is an international basketball referee, having officiated the 2000 Olympic Games, Pan American Games and World University Games.

So, the fact checking isn’t allowed in basketball has never been questioned.

“I was good at hockey,” she said with a smile, “but better at basketball.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 9-11 a.m. on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia