Though she may not have been born with a basketball in her hand, Annika Shah made it clear at a young age that she intended basketball to be part of her future. A big part.
With a basketball IQ in the 99th percentile, Shah made several decisions with her future in mind at an age when most children are happy digging their fingers into Play Dough.
Ellie Jeffries/David Hickey
Alena Abeyta/David Hickey
Shah hit her first three shots, all from beyond the 3-point line, and finished with 28 points as the Vikings protected home court with a 50-33 victory over Los Gatos on Friday night to assume control of the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division.
"I started playing on a team in the second grade and started playing with boys in the fourth grade," Shah said. "I played with boys through the eighth grade and when it came time for Palo Alto, I was ready for that."
Shah was limited to 26 points combined over her previous two games, both victories in which the Vikings (12-2, 4-0) found other ways to win.
"She loves to score but she's also a team player and gets shots in the flow of the offense," Paly coach Scott Peters said. "They doubled her at Cupertino every time she touched the ball. They took her out, which can happen, but we got wide open looks with others. The key for us is for the other girls to step up."
Palo Alto has seen productive offensive games from several others, including Carly Martin and Elif Turgut in the win over Cupertino. It's also been Ellie Jefferies and Thea Enache.
Shah featured a couple of creative layups in her arsenal against the Wildcats, the kind that had the student section roaring in appreciation. There was also an assist, to Martin, that would add to any highlight reel.
Shah and Martin continue to develop a relationship on the court that will only add consternation to opposing teams. Martin delivered several pinpoint passes that led to baskets and she was a defensive star, collecting five steals to go with five assists and seven points.
Enache, a freshman who is only going to get better as a post player, had five rebounds and blocked three shots.
Palo Alto took over sole possession of first place in the SCVAL De Anza Division a third of the way into the league season. The Vikings return to action with a 6:30 p.m. home game on Friday against Wilcox (13-3, 3-1), which slipped past the Wildcats into second place after beating Cupertino, 45-41.
The Chargers lost to Los Gatos by five and have beaten some good teams, including Leland and Carlmont.
"This is a tight league on the road," Peters said. "You can't take anything for granted."
As for Shah, playing five years with the boys toughened her up.
"It makes you faster and more physical," Shah said. "I wasn't scoring as much but I was developing my vision. Since I was young I've wanted to take basketball as far as I can. I know I still have to work hard and I want to improve every day. Things are looking up."