The pride of Palo Alto is the rage of the sports world. We recall his senior year in high school and revisit all of the choices that had to made for the 2006 All-State Team.
Jeremy Lin’s incredible journey from NBA benchwarmer to worldwide sensation over the last two weeks seems even more amazing when you look back at what he did during his high school years at Palo Alto.
It’s not that he wasn’t a great player for the Vikings and later at Harvard, but there never was an inkling that he would ever score like he has over the last nine games as a starter for the New York Knicks.
On Sunday in a win over the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks and often in a head-to-head matchup against Jason Kidd, the greatest point guard to ever come from Northern California, Lin scored 28 points and handed out 14 assists. That boosted his scoring average to 25.0 since becoming a starter.
Compare that to Lin’s senior year at Palo Alto. His averages were 15.1 points and 7.1 assists per game. His career scoring average at Harvard was 12.9 points, although he did have a 30-point game in a nationally televised matchup against the University of Connecticut.
A common thought among many prep writers in Northern California at the time was that it was too bad that Lin wouldn’t be going to Stanford (literally across the street from Palo Alto High) or Cal or someplace similar, but that he probably had plenty of other options in his life other than basketball. His grades were perfect, he was going to Harvard and he remains one of the most impressive kids we’ve ever talked to in 30 years of covering California prep sports.
A Look Back at the 2006 CIF state playoffs
Even with just one loss on the season, many in the CIF Central Coast Section expected that Lin and his Palo Alto teammates would have a hard time in the Division II section playoffs due to the usual dominance of teams from the West Catholic Athletic League.
Archbishop Mitty of San Jose was regarded as the team to beat. The Monarchs were led that year by sophomore Drew Gordon, now starring at the University of New Mexico. Palo Alto not only knocked off Mitty in the CCS finals 50-40, but played the Monarchs again in the Northern California championship and won 45-43. The hero of that win wasn’t Lin, but teammate Brad Lehman, who made a game-winning 3-pointer.
In the CIF state final, we picked Palo Alto to lose 68-57 to perennial powerhouse Mater Dei of Santa Ana. Many others thought it was going to be worse because Mater Dei had a 7-foot, 6-foot-8, 6-foot-8 front line. Lin was solid in that game, but not sensational. He scored 17 points on 6-of-19 shooting and had eight rebounds and two assists. What he and his teammates did best was play defense, helping limit Mater Dei to just 29 percent shooting in a 51-47 upset win.
In the final overall state rankings, Palo Alto checked in at No. 5. The Vikings were not considered the best team in Northern California despite the Division II state title because that also was the year that De La Salle of Concord (32-1) had probably its best team ever and beat Clovis West of Fresno for the Division I state crown. Artesia of Lakewood (32-1) won the Division III state title and was named State Team of the Year.
Palo Alto perhaps would have been State Team of the Year if not for an early-season loss to Division V school Price of Los Angeles.
2006 Cal-Hi Sports All-State Selections
As a 6-foot-2 point guard in high school, Lin never had the problem of being too short to play at the next level. After leading Palo Alto to its second state title, Lin may have been overlooked by major colleges, but not by Cal-Hi Sports and other major media outlets. He was just one of seven in the state to be considered as a finalist to be Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year. Lin also was named player of the year by the San Jose Mercury-News and San Francisco Chronicle.
Joining Lin as first team all-state picks were the other six Mr. Basketball finalists – senior Ryan Anderson from Oak Ridge of El Dorado Hills, junior James Harden of Artesia, junior Taylor King of Mater Dei, senior Chase Budinger from La Costa Canyon of Carlsbad, senior James Keefe from Santa Margarita of Rancho Santa Margarita and senior Tre’Von Willis from Washington of Easton – plus senior De’Shon Jackson of Clovis West, senior Adrian Oliver of Modesto Christian and senior Alex Stepheson from Harvard-Westlake of North Hollywood.
Anderson, now playing well for the Orlando Magic, has a history with Lin because when he was a junior in 2005 his team at Oak Ridge beat Palo Alto 65-45 for the Northern California Division II title. Lin was out for the 2005 postseason after breaking his ankle in a pick-up game. Oak Ridge then went on to beat Mater Dei for the CIF state crown.
Budinger was the eventual choice as Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year. He also was co-MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game that year with Kevin Durant from Montrose Christian of Maryland. Budinger averaged 32 points per game with 10 rebounds and 3.4 assists and now plays for the Houston Rockets. Next weekend, he will be in the annual NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest.
King was the Division II state player of the year over Lin. Although Mater Dei lost in the final, King had a game-high 23 points and averaged 27 points per game. Harden, who now plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder, was the State Junior of the Year in a close call over King and the Division III MVP. Lin's overall play, though, did help Palo Alto's Pete Diepenbrock to be honored as the Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year. Diepenbrock traveled to New York during the weekend along with several other prep teammates of Lin's.
Several others who are currently in the NBA besides Lin, Harden, Anderson and Budinger also were on the 2006 all-state team. Lin was actually chosen at the time above such other notables as current Knicks’ teammate Landry Fields of Los Alamitos (second team), Russell Westbrook from Leuzinger of Lawndale (third team) and Brook Lopez of Fresno San Joaquin Memorial (third team).
Westbrook, now starring alongside Durant and Harden for the Thunder, was a UCLA-bound guard, but had not yet become a dynamic scorer and his high school team was not strong.
Lopez, now playing for the New Jersey Nets, was on the same high school team as two others who are now in the NBA. His twin brother, Robin, plays for the Phoenix Suns while San Joaquin Memorial teammate Quincy Pondexter is with the Memphis Grizzlies. That team lacking a point guard, however, prevented it from winning a CIF state title. Pondexter made the all-state second team and was the Division IV state player of the year.
Palo Alto on a roll
It’s been a great year for notable alums from Palo Alto. In addition to Jeremy Lin, other Paly grads making news include:
*Teresa Noyola, this year’s winner of the Honda Award in women’s soccer that goes to the country’s top player. She plays at Stanford.
*Jim Harbaugh, the NFL’s Coach of the Year for guiding the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC title game.
*James Franco, actor who starred most recently in big box office hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
All of this comes after the school’s girls volleyball team repeated in December as CIF Division I state champion. The football team also won a CIF state title in 2010.
Harvard Sure Loves Those NorCal Point Guards
This year’s Harvard basketball team starts this week at 23-3 and should be in the NCAA tournament, much like when Jeremy Lin was leading the Crimson.
The team’s co-captain is senior guard Oliver McNally. When Lin led Palo Alto to a CIF state title in 2006, McNally was a key sophomore player for Branson of Ross when it won the CIF Division V state crown. He would later make state history by being a member of three straight CIF state title teams. McNally also was the 2007 and 2008 Division V state player of the year.
We’re not saying that sometime in two years that Oliver McNally will be making a worldwide splash in the NBA, but just like with Jeremy Lin it couldn’t happen to a more impressive, humble young man.
Corrections or comments? Email Mark.Tennis@espn.com.