"I talked about the season and how we'd like it to be," Diepenbrock said. "I definitely pointed out the fact that we had a special makeup. We had seniors with a lot of experience and we had some new players I had never coached before. We talked about winning league and probably about winning CCS."
Diepenbrock and his players even joked about making up a T-shirt that said something like "Back to ARCO Again," the arena in Sacramento where Palo Alto had been beaten in the 2005 CIF NorCal title game.
There was no talk, however, about winning a state championship.
"That was too grandiose," Diepenbrock said.
But then Diepenbrock wanted to hear from his players and what they thought about the 2005 season and what they wanted from 2006.
"That's when Jeremy (Lin) stood up and said 'I want to win a state championship,'" recalled Diepenbrock, who wasn't too surprised with the pronouncement. "I'm a big dreamer, as well. And I'm very sensitive to never discourage a high school player's dream or aspirations."
At that point, the ball got rolling. It rolled through the SCVAL De Anza Division and finished with another championship. It rolled through the Central Coast Section, finishing with a second straight title. And it rolled right through the Northern California tournament, with Palo Alto winning its first title in 13 years.
And it rolled right into the CIF Division II state championship, where the team's dream was realized last Friday night with a 51-47 victory over Mater Dei of Santa Ana at ARCO Arena in Sacramento. Four busloads of Paly fans, cheerleaders and the school band made the two-hour trip and shared the excitement.
"We've been talking about this since our freshman year," said Paly senior Brad Lehman. "We had big hopes . . . and we made them come true."
Palo Alto did that with a perfect game plan, a choking pressure defense, unrelenting hustle and undeniable desire. It paid off with a season-ending 24-game winning streak to cap a 32-1 record, establishing a school record for most single-season wins.
Moreover, Palo Alto won its first state title since the 1993 team went 31-0 to capture the Division III crown with a 20-point win over the Morningside Monarchs. On Friday, the Vikings prevented the Mater Dei Monarchs from winning their sixth state crown.
Mater Dei came in ranked 11th nationally by USA Today. The Monarchs came in with a 7-1 center, three starters eventually headed to Division I schools on scholarship, eight players standing 6-7 or taller and bringing a reputation as a big-time basketball school -- as evidence of nine appearances in the state finals and an $18 million gym.
None of that mattered to Palo Alto.
"It's high school basketball," Diepenbrock said. "It's about competitive desire and the will to win."
Diepenbrock saw this desire in his team's only loss, a 54-49 setback last December to five-time Division V state champion Price in the Mission Prep Shootout in San Luis Obispo.
"That Price game had a huge impact on me," Diepenbrock said. "We were down 10 and we ended up losing. But watching this group play in the final minutes and how they reacted in the locker room really made me realize that this is a very, very difficult group to beat. It was how well they played in the final minutes.
"I remember looking over at the Price head coach and he's reacting like 'Is it over yet?' We were making a furious final rally at the end. That made a strong impression on me — the desire of this group to win. That manifested itself so many times after that, and is probably why they didn't let it (a loss) happen again . . . it's a group that refused to lose."
That's why Palo Alto took the court on Friday in the proper mindset. One game from a state championship? Hey, this team was not going to lose.
Diepenbrock gave his team the tools and the players constructed the perfect ending to a remarkable season.
"They said there was no way they could win in '93," Lehman said of the obstacles the Vikings faced then against a heavily favored Morningside team. David Jefferson, a member of that undefeated team, was a constant reminder that the bite of an underdog can be painful. "He said 'you guys can do the same thing.' We did."
It started with Paly's game plan.
"He (Diepenbrock) talked about how important the pace of game would be," Lehman explained. "We had to bring the shot clock down and control things. We set the tempo pretty well."
The five-time state champion Monarchs, ranked fourth in the state, came in averaging 79.7 points a game. Diepenbrock knew they liked to run and didn't want to get in a footrace with them. Paly came in allowing just 41.7 points a contest. Something had to give, and it wasn't the Vikings' defense.
"This was just an incredible defensive performance," Diepenbrock said afterward. "We kept them out of their transition game for the most part. This wasn't one of our best offensive games, but our defense was outstanding."
Palo Alto held Mater Dei to its lowest point total of the season while becoming the first team from California to beat the Monarchs this season.
"Peter did a great job preparing the kids for this game," said assistant Bob Roehl, no stranger to state championship games. He coached the Menlo School boys to the Division V state title in 1989. "They knew where to be and what to do . . . We just flat out-played them."
Bottom line, the Vikings were able to play their game while preventing the Monarchs from playing theirs.
Palo Alto held Mater Dei to just 29 percent from the floor, including a 27 percent effort from three-point range on 6-of-22 shooting. Paly wasn't much better at 37 percent from the floor (including five of 13 from three-point range), but those numbers were overshadowed by the Vikings' effort.
Mater Dei's 6-7 junior standout Taylor King, who already has committed to Duke for the 2007 season, came in averaging 26.6 points and 12.3 rebounds with the ability to score from anywhere inside the halfcourt line. While he did knock down four three-pointers while finishing with 23 points and 11 rebounds, he was held to just 3-of-12 shooting in the second half and just five points in the fourth quarter --- two coming after Paly already had clinched the victory.
With Paly leading 44-42 after King made a three-pointer with 2:43 to play, Steven Brown and Kheaton Scott forced King into bad shots. King didn't score again until just 1.4 seconds remained.
Before then, Lin banked in an NBA-distance three-pointer as the shot clock expired for a 47-42 lead. Mater Dei's Danny Campbell scored his only points of the game with another trey to close the gap to 47-45. After turnovers by both teams, Lin scored on a driving layin for a 49-45 lead with 30 seconds to play.
When the Monarchs missed on their next possession, Lehman went high for the rebound and was fouled. He made one of two for a 50-45 lead with 15.3 seconds left and the Vikings knew victory was just moments away.
An inconsequential layin by King was followed by a free throw by Scott and the Palo Alto celebration was on.
And there were so many things to celebrate.
The 6-1 Scott ("He's really only 5-11," Roehl admitted), was matched against 7-1 Alex Jacobson in what appeared to be a mismatch until Scott won the opening tip and outplayed the junior throughout. Jacobson exited with two fouls in the second quarter and never was a factor as he scored just four points and had just one blocked shot. Scott, meanwhile, scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds.
Cooper Miller and Brown were equally outstanding on defense while forcing the Monarchs into 17 turnovers. Brown added seven points and eight rebounds.
Fellow senior Kevin Trimble came off the bench for five big defensive rebounds and Lehman tossed in 10 points and five rebounds.
When Lin left the game with four fouls at the 5:19 mark of the fourth quarter and Paly clinging to a 40-38 lead, Lehman took control of the offense. He knocked in a baseline jumper for breathing room at 42-38. When Lin returned with 3:21 to play, Mater Dei had only closed to 42-39.
And then there was Lin, headed for Harvard in the fall. Coincidently, 1993 team leader David Weaver graduated from Harvard. Lin controlled the pace of the game throughout in addition to scoring 17 points, grabbing eight rebounds and playing through leg cramps.
The idea of facing a heavily favored team like Mater Dei was just more of a challenge for Lin.
"We weren't worried about what they were going to do," Lin said. "We just worried about ourselves . . . We knew what type of team we are and we're tough to beat."
By the end of the game, Mater Dei knew what Lin meant as he and his teammates celebrated.
"This has been my goal since last year," said Lin, who missed the NorCal playoffs with a fractured ankle. "It was my fault we didn't advance. Our goal this season was we wanted to go all the way to the top, and that was a state championship."
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