From Paly to the Pros

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As the clock ticked down and the morale of their opponents faded, the Paly basketball players knew: they had won the first state championship in school history. The 2006 Paly basketball team was one that will be immortalized in school history for taking down a modern-day Goliath in the Mater Dei basketball team, who had been to two of the last three state championship games and would win in 2007 and 2008. 

But this state championship is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Paly’s athletic prowess. Throughout the years, Paly sports teams have dominated other schools, while consistently producing high-caliber athletes. Many of these athletes have gone on to make successful careers for themselves in a variety of different sports; the one thing they share is the title on their high school diploma.

JEREMY LIN

Notably, basketball star Jeremy Lin (‘06) made history by becoming the first Asian-American player to win an NBA championship, winning in 2019 with the Toronto Raptors. Although Lin enjoyed success at every level of play, he has consistently been underrated. Despite leading his team to win the state championship during his senior year of high school, he wasn’t offered any significant scholarship to play at a Division I university. Most schools thought that he wouldn’t be able to hold his own among the best athletes in college basketball, even though he had been statistically dominant. 

Notwithstanding, Lin elected to attend Harvard University and excelled as a point guard; he finished his college career with 1,483 points and became the first player in the history of the Ivy League to record 1,450 points. He was also named as one of the 11 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award (awarded to the nation’s top point guard), but was never seen as a top recruit out of college. 

This narrative continued at the professional level, where he went undrafted but was given a chance in 2010 by the Golden State Warriors. As a rookie, he rarely saw the court and was sent to the NBA Developmental League. He bounced between the D League and the NBA for 2 years on several different teams before landing a spot on the New York Knicks in 2012, 6 years after graduating from Paly. 

In his first year as a New York Knick, Lin found his groove and “Linsanity” was born. Lin finally won the job as a starter when dynasty player Carmelo Anthony’s injury. In a subsequent 9 game stretch, the Knicks reached the peak of their season, going 8-1 during this time. However, once player Carmelo Anthony returned to the court, the Knicks began to fall off. Over the next 10 games, they went 2-8 and all seemed lost for Lin. The teamed turned the season around after Head Coach Mark D’Antoni resigned. The Knicks rebounded during this time which arguably scored Lin a future in the NBA. Lin eventually led the 30-36 Knicks to a 54-28 record during his 2012 season, averaging 13.4 points per game. His success gave him more opportunities with other teams, and he eventually signed a 4 year / $30 million contract with the Houston Rockets. 

The Rockets hoped that the addition of Lin could turn their season around, but following knee surgery, Lin had trouble playing at full speed. Many thought that the Rockets had made a grave mistake. The Rockets were quick to ship away their once-coveted star. 

Lin was traded to the Lakers in July of 2014, although he was unable to reach the same level of greatness. The next couple seasons didn’t exactly pan out the way many expected. Battling a multitude of injuries, Lin bounced around between seven different teams in nine seasons, until he finally landed on the roster of the Toronto Raptors in February of 2019. 

This eventually led to Lin winning an NBA Championship that year, although he played a minimal role in the team’s success. During the offseason, he signed a contract with the Chinese Basketball Association team Beijing Ducks after not being offered a roster spot in the NBA. 

Despite his struggles, Lin has become an international sensation and was welcomed in China by thousands of fans. Lin’s former high school coach, Peter Diepenbrock, has followed his career and thinks that moving to China is the right decision.

“I think that it’s a real positive for his career because I think that he’ll get a chance to just play and not have to worry about any [pressure],” Diepenbrock said. “It will allow him to be a more solidified respected player and play his game”.

What many didn’t notice was that as the 2009 Paly Basketball season was ending, a new star was building on the baseball diamond.

JOC PEDERSON

Joc Pederson was born into an athletic family, with his dad playing professional baseball for the Dodgers and his mother working as an athletic trainer. His father Stu Pederson also had a pivotal role in Paly athletics, helping to bring Paly sports to new heights of success. 

Joc attended Paly from 2006-2010 and was a dual-sport star on both the football team and the baseball team. Despite his achievements on the football field, he was better known for his baseball brilliance. 

His senior year, Pederson led the team in average, batting .466 and gathered the attention of many scouts, both college and pro alike. His work ethic and excellence on the field led him to be drafted by the Dodgers out of high school in the 11th round of the MLB draft. 

In 2012, Pederson was rated the Dodgers Minor League Player of the Year, and their top prospect in the system. Two years later, he became the first player in 79 years in the Pacific Coast League to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases. He also led the league in runs, home runs, walks, OBP, and OPS. He was called up to the Dodgers Major League team on September 1, 2019. He began the 2015 campaign as the starting center fielder and has remained a starter ever since.

Over his seasons in the MLB he has scored trips to the All-Star Game and the Home Run Derby, some of the most exclusive events that the league has to offer. He also finished in the top of the league for home runs nearly every year of his career. The highlight of his career to date has been his appearance in the 2017 World Series, where he hit 3 home runs and 2 doubles in 18 at-bats. While the Dodgers ended up losing in seven games, it is widely regarded as one of the best World Series matchups of all time. 

Pederson has been a topic of discussion recently after going 6/6 in two games with five home runs, a stat line that is extremely rare in today’s games. Throughout his time with Dodgers, he has been an extremely consistent power hitter, and it seems the future will only bring more home runs.

OLYMPICS

Although Paly has produced many world-renowned talents in major sports, they also have lots of representation in the Olympics. Paly alumni and brothers Mark and Dave Schultz were among the Vikings wearing red, white and blue at the Olympics and are considered to be some of the most decorated wrestlers of all time. Their journey as famous wrestlers started at Paly, where they were a part of the varsity wrestling team all four years. Their winning tradition continued through their careers for both brothers due to their incredible talent and hard work. Together, the brothers racked up three world championships and an Olympic gold medal. 

Years later, after his brother boycotted the 1984 Olympics, Dave Schultz was murdered by John Eleuthère du Pont, the owner of Foxcatcher, the facility that the brothers were a part of. Even following this tragedy that struck his family, Mark Schultz is an active member of the wrestling community where he coaches and occasionally speaks for audiences about his experiences. This became the basis for the award-winning sports drama Foxcatcher, which released in 2014.

On the other end of the spectrum, table tennis player and youth Olympic medalist Lily Zhang (‘14) has represented the US on the national stage many times throughout her career. 

Even before she graduated high school, Zhang was winning medals and performing at a high level internationally. In 2012, she broke into the top 100 women for the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) rankings thanks to her sensational performance at the World Junior Championships in Hyderabad, India.

According to the official USA Olympic website, Zhang was introduced to table tennis by her parents and friends. Her success during her high school years translated to the professional level,  where she became the first-ever US athlete to win a bronze medal during the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics, and more recently, claimed the title of 2016 US Women’s Singles Champion.

Life at the professional level has not always been easy for Zhang, who has expressed struggling recently with her decision to dedicate her career to table tennis. But her hard work has paid off this year, as she helped the women’s team win gold at the Pan American Championship and won the women’s singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles. Zhang reflected on the past year in a September 10th Instagram post.

“It’s disheartening to feel stagnant, especially in something that you’ve put so much time and energy into, but I’ve learned that results do not come immediately,” Zhang said. “Hard work, time, and patience pays off in the end.”

JIM HARBAUGH

In the coaching world, Paly alum Jim Harbaugh (‘82) has cemented himself as one of the top football coaches in history, both in the NFL and NCAA football. Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines are currently tied for first place in the Big 10 East conference, starting the season with a 2-0 record defeating both Army and Middle Tennessee. 

His father Jack was a football coach for Stanford, and then Harbaugh moved to Palo Alto, where he began his high school football career. Jim Harbaugh attended Palo Alto High School and graduated in 1982 after becoming the football team captain and star quarterback. 

After his time at Paly, Harbaugh played quarterback for the University of Michigan, where he enjoyed success and was seen as one of the top prospects going into the 1987 draft. After a full 4 years at Michigan, Jim Harbaugh was drafted into the NFL by the Chicago Bears. Harbaugh ended his NFL career 14 years later, without a Super Bowl ring to show for it. 

While still playing in the league, Harbaugh took the strange role of assistant coach under his father at Western Kentucky University. Over the last 8 years of his playing career, Harbaugh recruited many players to the school, 17 of which would go on to win the 2002 Division I-AA national championship. He would move on to become the quarterbacks’ coach for the Oakland Raiders in 2002, only to be named the University of San Diego football head coach in 2004. 

The big break of Harbaugh’s coaching career came in 2007 when he became the head coach at Stanford University. He went on to revitalize the team, and in his first year the unranked Cardinal went on to defeat the #1 ranked USC Trojans, in a popular rivalry game. With USC being favored by 41 points, the game is considered one of the greatest college football upsets of all time. The team would go on to defeat USC in 2009 and reach a bowl game for the first time in 8 years. Harbaugh’s team, led by star running back Toby Gerhart, finished #21 in the AP Poll, a significant improvement from the last decade of Stanford Football. The 2010 season brought more success for the Cardinal, going 11-1 in the regular season and reaching the Orange Bowl ranked as the #4 team in the nation. Harbaugh was given the Woody Hayes Coach of the Year Award, and his quarterback Andrew Luck was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy award, given to the best player in college football. 

Four days after his team won the Orange Bowl, Harbaugh signed a 4 year / $25 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers. In 2012, Harbaugh coached his team into the Super Bowl, only to lose to his younger brother John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens. This brother vs brother narrative helped propel both coaches and the family name into stardom.

DAVANTE ADAMS

In arguably the biggest sports league in America, the NFL, Paly alumni Davante Adams (‘10) is one of the best. A wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers, Adams is ranked as the 17th best wide receiver in the NFL, per Rob Demovsky, an NFL reporter for ESPN. In terms of recent notoriety, Adams has made a name for himself in Fantasy Football, the virtual league that has millions of participants every year where players are compensated for the numbers of receptions they have.

“Adams should finish near the top of the league in [passing] targets,” Demovsky said.

Adams’ career all started in Palo Alto, where he was considered a two-star recruit for both basketball and football. He ended up choosing football over basketball and ended his high school football career with a total of 64 receptions for 1,094 yards. During his senior season, Adams committed to play college football at Fresno State. During his first year, he was withdrawn from all sporting events, including games, in order to develop skills and start the next year strong. At this point, his career took off. In his 2012 season, he had 14 touchdowns and 102 receptions for 1,312 yards, which led to him winning MVP at the Hawaiian Bowl, gaining the title of Freshman of the Year, and named a freshman All-American. 

The following year, Adams set new school records for Fresno State. Despite playing only two complete seasons with the Bulldogs, Adams set records of 233 receptions and 38 touchdowns. The Associated Press named him second-team All-American, and after his 2013 season, he declared for the NFL draft at age 21. The Green Bay Packers selected Adams in the 2014 NFL Draft and signed a contract with him on June 12, 2014. He was selected in the second round and was the 9th wide receiver to be selected in his draft class.

As each year passed by, Adams usually found an increase in his skill and became a household name for many Packers fans as he rose to the top of the Green Bay wide receiving core. In his second year in the NFL, 2015, Adams had a total of 483 yards and 96 targets, which is 28 more targets than his previous year. 

In 2016, Adams had a dramatic increase in production for his team. Adams received over twice as many yards as he did the year before, ending the year with 997 receiving yards and 121 targets. In his 4th season in 2017, he remained the top target for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and continued to produce for the Packers.

However, Adams’ best year of his career was 2018. He racked up 1386 receiving yards on 169 targets that year and increased his value to become Green Bay’s star player. This year, the Packers are not what they used to be, but he is still making a mark and reinventing the wide receiver position.

WHO’S NEXT?

The effect that these professional athletes have had can be seen at Paly today, where football receiver Jamir Shepard (‘20) is following closely in the footsteps of Adams after committing to play collegiately at Fresno State. Although these professionals may not feel impacted every day by their high school, athletes at Paly are inspired by knowing that their own journey to the professionals has already been proven possible.

 

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