Palo Alto boys' basketball adjusting well despite losing last year's leading scorer
When junior standout E.J. Floreal left Palo Alto High last spring due to his family moving to Kentucky, there probably was concern how Floreal's departure would affect the Vikings' basketball team.
After all, the 6-foot-4 Floreal had led a Paly team that went 21-5 with 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds a game. Certainly, his departure left some big shoes to fill.
Well, those shoes are no longer empty as the Vikings have opened the season 10-1 following a 55-42 victory over visiting Milpitas on Wednesday in a SCVAL De Anza Division opener.
"We're adjusting pretty well," said 6-4 Paly swingman Aubrey Dawkins. "Filling the rebounding role (left by Floreal) was pretty important, but Keller Chryst — the football guy — has been doing a good job. As for points, we haven't lost that much."
With Floreal last season, Paly averaged 57.7 points a game. This season, the Vikings are averaging 63.8. Dawkins averaged 12.7 points and 5.1 rebounds last year, but is up to 18.5 points and 6.9 rebounds this season.
"I think we're doing fine," said Dawkins, who poured in 26 points against Milpitas as the Vikings won their eighth straight.
Perhaps the biggest change for Paly is a new offense, which doesn't focus as much on post play but utilizes the perimeter a bit more. Thus, senior guard Aldis Petriceks had raised his scoring average from 5.6 ppg to 15.5 ppg while senior guard Mathias Schmutz has gone from 6.4 ppg to 8.5. For just those three players, that's a combined improvement of 17.8 points a game.
The 6-4 Chryst has been a welcomed addition, as well. Despite a long and successful football season, Chryst has made plenty of early contributions while playing in 10 of the 11 games. He's averaging 6.6 points and 6.1 rebounds a game. He had seven boards against Milpitas.
Despite losing five players off last season's team, the Vikings are off and running.
"We're pretty fast," Dawkins said.
The Vikings continue to emphasize defense and have allowed an average of 47.9 ppg this season.
Prior to opening the division season, Palo Alto tuned up by winning the Windsor Holiday Shootout that wrapped up Saturday. The Vikings went 3-0, with Petriceks scoring 60 points and Dawkins 54. Petriceks was named the Most Valuable Player while Dawkins joined him on the all-tournament team.
The next test for Palo Alto will be Friday night when the Vikings visit Mountain View at 7:45 p.m.
In a SCVAL El Camino Division opener on Wednesday, Gunn sophomore Chris Russell knocked down four 3-pointers and finished with 16 points but the Titans (0-1, 3-8) fell behind by 14 after the third quarter and dropped a 65-48 decision to host Fremont. Patrick Skelly added 14 points for the Titans, who host Monta Vista on Friday at 7 p.m.
In other games Friday, Menlo School (4-6) will visit Harker in a West Bay Athletic League opener at 7:30 p.m., and defending champ at King's Academy at 6:30 p.m.
Palo Alto snapped a three-game losing streak by holding visiting Milpitas to single-digit scoring in each quarter and forcing 36 turnovers on the way to a 39-19 victory to open the SCVAL De Anza Division season on Wednesday. Freshman Maddie Atwater led the Vikings (1-0, 5-7) with 11 points.
Paly shot less than 25 percent from the floor through the first three quarters while pulling ahead to a 20-15 lead. The Vikings warmed up and made 61 percent of their shots in the fourth quarter while tallying 19 points.
Paly's vaunted defense did its job, holding Milpitas to just eight points in the second half.
In games Friday' Sacred Heart Prep (10-2) will visit Menlo-Atherton (4-7) for a nonleague game at 2:30 p.m. Menlo School (8-3) will visit Harker for a nonleague game at 6 p.m.
After starting the season with most of its starting lineup sidelined, the Knights have come on strong and most recently captured the Steve Geramoni Invitational last weekend with a 54-36 win over host Notre Dame-Belmont.
Menlo once again was led by 6-foot-4 senior Drew Edelman, who scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and was named the Most Valuable Player. She finished the three-game tourney with 70 points and 41 rebounds. Menlo freshman Hannah Paye added eight points and was named to the all-tournament team.
Palo Alto grabbed an early lead on a goal by Jess Branson in the ninth minute, but the Vikings couldn't make that stand up and wound up with a 1-1 deadlock with visiting Santa Clara in a SCVAL El Camino Division soccer opener on Wednesday.
Branson scored when the Bruins tried a pass back from a defender to the goalie, but Branson intercepted and tapped it in for the 1-0 lead for the Vikings (0-0-1, 1-4-2). Santa Clara equalized with eight minutes remaining in the half.
Palo Alto had numerous scoring opportunities in the second half, with Heidi Moeser firing a shot off the legs of the Santa Clara keeper and Branson missing a header on a corner kick some six minutes later.
Gunn opened play in the SCVAL De Anza Division with a scoreless deadlock against host Santa Clara on Wednesday. The Titans (0-1-1) moved to 1-4-2 overall and next will host Homestead on Friday at 3:30 p.m.