Every year, graduation opens up opportunities for new players to step into the spotlight. Foothill High’s Josiah Palumbo recognized that before last summer and took full advantage.
Playing alongside last year’s Shasta County Sports MVP Josiah Hutt helped Palumbo understood what it took to be the marquee man. An offseason dedicated to honing his craft, developing an aggressive mindset and becoming a leader turned Palumbo into a high-caliber performer.
“Joe Hutt was our go-to last year, he always took the big shots. But I knew he was gone and I wanted to do my best to step up and be that guy for our team,” Palumbo said.
The result was a dynamic point guard elevating Foothill to the top ranking in the Northern Section followed by another deep run in the state playoffs. He finished the year as the team-leader in points (12.8), steals (2.6) and assists (2.3) per game. Those efforts earned Palumbo the 2019-20 Shasta County Sports Boys Basketball Most Valuable Player award, presented by Clear View Auto Glass.
Palumbo was asked to handle an increased workload from his junior campaign. Already a tall order to run the offense and bring the ball up the court, coach Bill Elliott entrusted him with the ball in his hands and to be the intensity ignitor on defense.
“I knew he could score but he got other people involved and motivated others to play defense just as hard,” Elliott said.
A slow start to the season didn’t deter Palumbo’s mentality. He finished the first week with a nine-point average but Foothill was off to a 4-0 start. It wasn’t until the Cougars went to preseason tournaments in the Bay Area at Sir Francis Drake and Dublin that everything started to click for Palumbo.
“I think that’s when the trust factor happened … you saw him stepping up against D-I and D-II kids and playing to their level,” Elliott said. “By the end of December, we knew we had a special kid. And because of his productivity, he earned his teammates respect.”
Palumbo averaged nearly 17 points a game across those two tournaments and hit 17 3s in six games. A 21-point win over Enterprise in the EAL opener catapulted his confidence even more.
But his MVP resume took shape in the following game when he dropped 22 points on six 3s and eight rebounds in a 13-point road victory over Pleasant Valley as the Cougars proved they belonged in the No. 1 ranking in the section media polls.
“Our best players needed to be at their best in the big games and he was,” Elliott said.
Palumbo’s blazing speed made him a nightmare to guard. That quickness and ability to change speeds was picked up from now-Simpson University coach Todd Franklin’s basketball camp in sixth grade, he said. But what pushed Palumbo into the upper echelon of stardom was his ability to bury from long-range.
“I tried to improve my 3-point shot the most so I could hit a clutch 3 if my team needed me to,” Palumbo said.
Adding in his 3-point game, ability to create by driving to the rim or finding his stellar supporting cast of Luke Lindsey, Bekdoo Lewis, Brandon McCracken, Nick Dore and Hunter Edwards made Foothill lethal.
“I didn’t even realize he was going to be as good of a shooter as he was until I saw him consistently hitting those shots in practice,” said Elliott of Palumbo, who went from making 17 3s as a junior to 61 as a senior – second-most in Shasta County and sixth-best in the section.
“Giving him the green light was a valuable tool. If you tried to guard the 3 he’d blow by you with his speed.”
Palumbo one-upped himself the next time around against PV, pouring in a career-high 26 points on five 3s in the double-digit victory, causing Vikings coach Tim Keating to simply tip his cap.
PV would eventually get the last laugh, winning the D-III section final over Foothill 47-45. But Palumbo pushed the Cougars to three state playoff games, reaching the NorCal D-III semis for the second straight year. And during Palumbo’s two years as a starter, Foothill won 52 games — most out of any two-year stretch in program history, Elliott said.
But Palumbo’s playing career remains a question mark for now. He’s headed to Shasta College with hopes of eventually becoming an engineer or a park ranger and dipping into his roots to get a minor in Russian as a foreign language. Already a talented swimmer, Palumbo said he hasn’t made up his mind about which sport he’s going to continue in college. He was signed up for the summer basketball class before the coronavirus pandemic put everything in limbo, he said.
“I’m better at swimming than I am at basketball but I love basketball more,” Palumbo said.
Whichever way he decides, the Knights will be adding a determined and proven winner to their roster.