It’s probably safe to say that Michael Escobedo is more artistic than the average high school senior.
He grew up with a love of calligraphy. He’s a fashion designer for an independent street-art clothing company, Gilded Youth, which he recently started with the financial blessing of a local pastor.
And a year ago, he had his last name tattooed across his back shoulders, in what he calls a Michelangelo-influenced style, in which the letters are like individual sculptures.
But Escobedo’s true canvas is a basketball court.
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“I’ve always just loved basketball,” Escobedo said. “It’s an art to me.”
The 6-foot, 185-pound Arroyo Grande point guard is averaging 13.5 points per game, with single-game outputs of 32, 29 and 26 — all while also serving as the Eagles’ primary distributor. He has led Arroyo Grande to a 15-3 overall start (including a 4-0 mark in PAC 7 league play) and a No. 5 ranking in the CIF-Southern Section Division III-AA poll.
Eagles in search of first league title since 2001
Ever since being moved up to Arroyo Grande’s varsity squad as a freshman toward the end of the Eagles’ postseason run in 2006-07, Escobedo has stared at the banners in James Gym. The boys basketball flag marks the most recent time the school won a league title, in the now-defunct Northern League, in 2001. That squad was led by Phillip Johnson, a 6-11 center who played at Cal Poly, and 6-9 teammate Ryan Zimmerman, who competed in track and field at Arizona State.
“They’re well aware of it,” Arroyo Grande coach Ryan Glanville said of the title drought. “We’ve talked about it on a couple different occasions. The banner’s always right over our heads at practice as a constant reminder.
“They’re feeling that sense of, ‘It needs to happen now.’ ”
The Eagles, who went 20-9 last season and advanced to the divisional semifinals, were thrown an extra challenge heading into this year when senior center Tanner Hinek, a reigning all-league first-team honoree, suffered a knee injury during football season, forcing him to sit out basketball. Garrett Weinreich and Kelly Shepard have filled in nicely in his absence, while seniors Derick Beasley and Matt McAustin have provided complementary scoring.
“We know our potential, and we know how far we can go,” Escobedo said. “I know I’m going to push myself hard and push everyone else hard.”
The toughness of a football player
Escobedo also played football until giving the sport up prior to this season to focus solely on the hardwood. As a junior, he had returned to football after breaking an ankle during his sophomore year, requiring a metal plate to be inserted.
“Just the contact, the mindset — having no fear,” Escobedo said of what he carried over to basketball from the gridiron. “It goes hand-in-hand.
“I take a lot of pride in defense,” he added. “I’ve always liked watching people like (eight-time NBA all-defensive team selection) Bruce Bowen go at it.”
A year ago, Escobedo won the PAC 7 Defensive Player of the Year award while averaging 1.6 steals per game. After inheriting greater offensive responsibilities this year, he was named the tournament MVP at the Morro Bay Harding Invitational in early December, and made the all-tournament team at the Marin Catholic Tournament later in the month.
“He’s always been a guy who could score,” Glanville said. “It seems like when we get to a point in a game where we need a big shot, Mike’s not only not afraid to take that shot, but he wants it.”
Hoping to play at next level
Escobedo, who recently started training with former UC Davis player Justin Stearns, hopes that as the season progresses, he’ll be able to catch the eye of a Division I mid-major. He’s currently being recruited by MidAmerica Nazarene, an NAIA power in Olathe, Kan. West Coast NAIA programs Azusa Pacific and Point Loma Nazarene, as well as Division II UC San Diego have also been in the picture, although he hasn’t ruled out putting in a couple years at a community college.
“He has some unique ability,” Glanville said. “He has all the tools. He’s quick, he’s strong, he’s confident. We ask a lot of him. We always put him on the other team’s best player, and we ask him to run our offense and score.”
The Eagles’ playoff run a year ago ended in a 44-41 loss to Santa Margarita, which was led by Daniel Muñoz, now playing for USC, and Jessee Hazely, now at UC Riverside. Muñoz and Hazely were held to a combined 17 points in the narrow win.
“Just seeing we could compete with them gives us the mindset that we can play at that level, too,” Escobedo said. “It gives us something to work for, to show we’re at that level, too.”