When Squalicum senior post Chris Paz decided to try out for basketball his sophomore year, there’s no way he imagined he’d be such a pivotal piece to a Storm Hardwood Classic team.
“My sophomore year it was bad,” Paz admitted during a phone interview. “I could barely dribble. All I could do is rebound and block shots.”
Football always has been Paz’s favorite sport. At 6-foot-6, 285 pounds, he was a standout on Squalicum’s state quarterfinal football team, earning a second-team all-state defensive line selection.
But Paz’s love for basketball began developing his freshman year when he’d play hoops at lunchtime with good friend Raja Sidhu, who’s also a senior Squalicum basketball player.
Paz eventually joined the Boys and Girls Club of Whatcom County’s high school basketball City Rock program.
“On City Rock all my friends tried out for the team,” Paz explained, “and I tried out and made it. I loved practicing and coming to every game. I didn’t even care if I played.”
Paz credited junior varsity coach Chad Herman for helping elevate his game, and after spending two years on JV, Paz has made a massive impact on Squalicum’s state tournament club, serving as the team’s top rebounder and paint enforcer.
He’ll be looking to help Squalicum (18-7) earn a win over Olympic (18-8) when the two teams meet in the state quarters at 12:15 p.m. Thursday, March 5, at Yakima’s SunDome.
Senior posts Harper Moore (6-foot-2) and Ben Tripp (6-foot-4) have done their best to play beyond their length, but with Paz’s height and size on a relatively small Storm team, his presence has been invaluable.
“Obviously, he’s been a big factor for us,” Squalicum coach Dave Dickson said in a phone interview, “especially in a loser-out game. To have a physical presence in the paint on both ends of the floor is money. It’s gold.”
Paz has played particularly well the last month of the season, Dickson said. He’s averaging 4.7 points per game this year, but his true impact is from gathering rebounds and altering and blocking shots. Last week during the Storm’s 68-59 state regional win over White River, Paz collected a game-high 14 boards.
And every once in a while Paz will surprise with an ultra-athletic move, like the double-pump layup he scored late in the contest against White River that pushed the Storm’s lead to a comfortable margin.
“That’s exactly Chris,” Dickson said. “The time you think you got him in a box, that burst will come, and I think that is why he is such a good football player. He has those (athletic) bursts.”
Transitioning from the gridiron to the court didn’t come easy for the lineman, though. Much of Paz’s improved play can be credited to both time spent learning under Dickson and conditioning at practice to convert his football muscles to the quickness and agility needed to excel playing basketball.
“A lot of it was different workouts,” Paz said. “Extra running, and all of the guys pushed me to go 100 percent. Training has been hard, but the guys always have my back.”
Paz should again factor largely into whether or not Squalicum experiences success against Olympic. The Trojans have two talented 6-foot-6 posts, so rebounding will be at a premium.
“With football it was great, coming off a losing season and to be able to lead us the furthest Squalicum has ever been,” Paz said. “That was a great experience to me, and basketball has been amazing this year, just keeping our hopes alive to win the big gold ball.”