South Sound basketball coaches who have worked with Zack Paulsen can populate a long list of the ways the Curtis High School senior can contribute on the court.
Paulsen is an efficient scorer. Last week, in a rout of Emerald Ridge, the four-year varsity player joined an elite fraternity, passing 1,000 points for his career. Two days later, he scored half of the Vikings’ points — a career-high 41 — in a blowout win over Rogers.
Entering the week, Paulsen was averaging a team-high 21.8 points per game, and has scored double digits in each game Curtis (10-3) has played so far this season.
“He’s smart,” Curtis coach Tim Kelly said. “He doesn’t get himself into trouble on the floor. He doesn’t get himself into situations where he’s trapped. Zack is a guy who doesn’t really take bad shots or force shots. I think that makes him a good player.”
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Paulsen is a versatile player. At 6-foot-4, he has often functioned as a guard for the Vikings, is confident in transition, and has a solid jump shot. But, Kelly can play Paulsen in the post, too, and Paulsen is just as aggressive with his back to the basket.
The options are endless, and the flexibility in position will likely continue to benefit Paulsen — who signed with Greater Northwest Athletic Conference power Seattle Pacific in November — in college.
“He can play anywhere on the floor, and he can guard anywhere on the floor,” Kelly said.
He can take over from anywhere on the floor, too, including above the rim. Tuesday in Port Orchard, Paulsen displayed how far he can extend, taking off from several feet away from the hoop, and throwing down a vicious dunk — surprisingly, the first he’s attempted in a game for Curtis — over a jumping South Kitsap defender.
“I was pretty hyped,” Paulsen said. “And my team was hyped, too, so that was cool. I think it kind of shocked me a little bit. I wasn’t like, ‘I’m going to go dunk this.’ I was just up there and like, ‘Well, I’m up here so I’m going to do it.’ It took me a little while to believe I actually did it.”
Paulsen can also be a role player. He averages 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game for Curtis. And, he leads the Vikings in charges drawn — with 14 in just 13 games.
Carl Howell, who coaches Paulsen in AAU basketball, said Paulsen was a defensive key to Washington Supreme’s success last summer. When Supreme played at the Under Armour Association Finals in Las Vegas in July, Howell estimated Paulsen drew about eight charges in three games, while also locking down some of the country’s top recruits.
“He shut down top-50 kids in the country,” Howell said. “He’s fearless. I think he got a lot of confidence that way, knowing he can play with those guys. Everybody judges people offensively so much, but he does all of the dirty work. He has all of the intangibles, and he just does a great job.”
“He’s a good all-around player,” Kelly said.
But, perhaps the most important quality coaches can evaluate in Paulsen is this — the reigning Class 4A SPSL co-MVP knows how to win.
“He just has a super high basketball IQ, and he’s tenacious,” Howell said. “He does everything you need guys to do to win.”
Supreme has had success with Paulsen on the court. So has Curtis. The Vikings are the four-time defending 4A SPSL champions, and Paulsen fully expects to help lift the Vikings to another title, despite trailing league-leading Olympia by two games midway through the season.
“I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter what your name is, or who you are, you just have to find a way to win,” Paulsen said. “You have to be a winner. And that’s what I pride myself on being, and that’s why it’s so hard to lose those games, but winning is definitely the only goal.”
Curtis opened the season on a four-game winning streak before dropping back-to-back 4A SPSL contests to Puyallup and Olympia in December — the program’s first consecutive league losses since 2011.
“I think we came into the season with a lot of high expectations, but we also had the mindset that those were just going to come, and we weren’t prepared to work for them in the beginning,” Paulsen said. “After we dropped those two league losses, we had to reevaluate and we had to get back to how we were playing in the summer, and have fun.”
The uncommon adversity for a Curtis team that has won a league title each year Paulsen has been there, gave the senior an opportunity to showcase another way he can contribute on the court — as a leader.
“They look up to him, and they do as he does,” Kelly said. “He’s a leader by example. He’s one of our hardest workers, if not the hardest worker.”
Paulsen said he and senior Jordan Parker have started to take a more vocal approach with their teammates, instead of solely relying on coaches to do the talking, which has generated a productive response.
“I think we kind of started to step up and hold people more accountable, and take more of a leadership role on, and turn this around,” Paulsen said. “I think we’ve succeeded for the most part. We still have a long way to go, but we’ve shown glimpses that we can get there.”
The Vikings traveled to California during their break from school in late December, and played nationally ranked competition at the Mission Prep Christmas Classic. Curtis won three of its four games, and Paulsen averaged 21.8 points per game for the tournament.
And then last week Curtis responded with wins over Emerald Ridge and Rogers. Against Rogers, Paulsen said the Vikings finally found their rhythm.
“It was a fun game,” he said. “I think it was the first game — I think coach and our team would agree — that we played like I think we know we can.
“We played together and did things right. We saw what we have the potential to do, and that was probably what was most satisfying. ... We were unstoppable that night. That was really encouraging for our team.”