The fresh kids corner: Max Dorward

Josh Yuen, Author

Participating in a varsity sport, under the stress and spotlight of high-pressure games and tournaments, can be daunting, especially to those with little experience playing at the level. In this first installment of a three-part series, The Paly Voice features the youngest and least-experienced members of the Palo Alto High School varsity basketball teams: the freshmen.

This year, the girls’ team features two freshmen, while the boys’ team has just one – the first freshman to make the boys’ varsity team since alumnus E.J Floreal, who currently plays for the University of Kentucky, during the 2009-10 season. All three players possess critical roles for their respective teams, just a handful of months into their high school careers.

Recently, The Paly Voice sat down with the lone freshman on the boys’ team, 6′ 2″ forward Max Dorward, to discuss his brother’s guiding influence, his current role on the team and his bright future in the sport he loves.

Freshman forward Max Dorward boxes out his Wilcox opponents during his team's 71-56 win on Jan. 30. Dorward is the lone senior on this year's boys' team. Photo by Josh Yuen.
Freshman forward Max Dorward boxes out his Wilcox opponents during his team’s 71-56 win on Jan. 30. Dorward is the lone freshman on this year’s boys’ team. Photo by Josh Yuen.

The Paly Voice: Freshman year. Varsity basketball. Tell us what that means to you.

Max Dorward: It’s a huge accomplishment for me. I’ve been playing basketball my entire life, and I worked really hard to get to this point. I’m thankful that I made it onto varsity, but I still would have been very proud of myself if I had made it onto JV. Varsity is a huge, huge accomplishment.

TPV: There are a lot of experienced players on the varsity team: Kevin [Mullin] and Johnny [Rojahn] in particular, Alex [Dees] as well. Who do you look up to most playing-wise and leadership-wise?

MD: I think all of our seniors are really good. They’re undoubtedly the leaders on our team. Kevin has his traits of leadership while Johnny has the other traits and Alex has some of his traits as well. A combination of all three is really great. Juniors are also a big part – Oliver [Svirsky], Justin [Hull], Mikey [Grandy], they all possess aspects of leadership. Rather than look at individuals, I really like to look at our entire team and really take a little bit of something from everyone.

TPV: What is your take on Coach Sax developing you into not just a basketball player at Paly, but also as a student in high school? What has he done to help you transition from the middle school to the high school level?

MD: Knowing that we are all just in high school, he relates to me and everyone else by bringing in these quotes that really help us just play our games. In practice he also brings in quotes from Macbeth and other novels that he really likes. He can really relate to us well that way.

TPV: In terms of your current role on the team, you realize that being a freshman means you probably won’t get as many opportunities as you will as later as an upperclassmen. This year, though, what do you want your role to be the rest of the season? You’re playing a healthy amount for a freshman.

MD: I was coming into this year expecting to not play at all, similar to how Kevin didn’t really play his sophomore year. That year was more of a developing year for the coming seasons. That’s what I was expecting. I was really taken back when I began getting a lot of playing time as a freshman. This year, I’m still taking it as a stride for future years to really develop myself and get better as a player.

TPV: Think about the professional level, just for a moment. Out of all of the NBA players that you could choose from, which one do you look up to most? Not just playing-wise, but also think about who you want to become as a person.

MD: There’s a lot of great players to choose from. People may right away think about Kobe [Bryant], LeBron [James], Kevin Durant. For me, Stephen Curry is my guy. I really like him a lot because he’s a leader as well as a great player. He also kind of started out with nobody knowing who he was, and he’s worked really hard to get to where he is. I look up to him more than the other great players.

TPV: You started playing basketball at an early age. Your brother [Lukas Dorward] currently plays over at Gunn. How early did playing varsity basketball become a real possibility in your mind? When did that hit you?

MD: Over this past summer, I played for Coach Sax over summer league. I thought I had a small shot making varsity then. I later found out that I was being asked to try out, and really try and be on the team. That’s when it really hit me that I had a really good shot at making varsity.

TPV: Take the fact that Kevin, who’s averaging more than 20 points per game this season, started playing varsity as a sophomore and didn’t play very much at all for a moment, and combine it with the fact that you’re a freshman already integrated into Coach Sax’s rotation. What does that right there say about what you can become?

MD: I have really high hopes, honestly. Looking up to Kevin, who’s a great scorer and a great team player, I really hope to one day exceed Kevin’s playing ability. Right now, though, I’m just really focusing on developing and improving my skills.

TPV: Outside of the school and the team itself, who has helped you the most get to this point?

MD: Definitely my brother. I look up to him so much. He’s been a great mentor to me, having played basketball his entire life, too. This in addition to other sports that he’s played, as well. I really look up to him, and he’s given me a lot of good advice.

TPV: Best thing about high school so far?

MD: Definitely the freedom. No question.

TPV: Okay, then. What’s the worst thing about it?

MD: I would have to say Mondays. I just don’t like the seven period schedule.

TPV: What is one thing that Paly should know about you as the school gets to witness your growth and potential over the next few years?

MD: I’m just a young player trying to develop and trying to be the next big guy during my senior year.

Dorward and the boys’ varsity team is currently in first place in the De Anza League, with a league record of 7-2. Their next game is at 7:45 p.m. Feb. 13 at Homestead High School.