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Nick King is The Desert Sun's Male Athlete of the Year

1:00 AM, Jun. 30, 2012 EDT

Nick King cramped up one day last summer after helping the Palm Springs High School football team win a passing league tournament in Beaumont.

He had played football all day, but he didn't have any time to recover. The basketball team was about to start a summer league game back in Palm Springs.

Indians' basketball Coach Dennis Zink had told King that he didn't expect him to play, but he arrived right after tipoff with his shoes laced up. Zink quickly put him into the game.

"I know that the guys on the team, they still wanted me to play, and I couldn't let any of them down," said King, a starting guard.

With seconds remaining in the game and the Indians trailing by one, King was double-teamed. He passed the ball to Brandon Rigg, who sank a shot at the buzzer for the victory.

But King, who graduated last month, doesn't see a future in football or basketball. He has chosen to pursue baseball, the third sport he played in high school, at Riverside City College.

For his all-around excellence, King has been honored as The Desert Sun's Male High School Athlete of the Year.

"I guarantee if he picked up a bowling ball, he'd bowl a 200," said Steve Fabian, who retired as the Indians football coach in January.

In an era when most high school athletes specialize in one sport, three-sport stars seem as obsolete as set shots or wooden tennis rackets.

"I pride myself on it because not a lot of people do it," King said.

King still can't figure out which of the three sports he played is his favorite. He wishes he could have tried every varsity sport offered at Palm Springs.

"I would always tease Zink about letting me wrestle," King said, "and during baseball, I would want to go run track."

King has immersed himself in Palm Springs sports since he went to Raymond Cree Middle School. He often boarded the public bus after school and got off at the high school to watch practice or attend a football, basketball or baseball game.

One night after basketball practice ended, Zink recalls turning off the lights and watching film with his assistants.

"I turn the lights back on and look up and Nick's in the back room watching film with us," he said.

It wasn't long before King was playing for the Indians. As a freshman, he started a few games for the varsity basketball team, and he was called up to the varsity football and baseball teams for the playoffs. As a sophomore, he started for each team, and as a senior, he was selected to the all-DVL first team in all three sports.

He has also showed off his versatility in each one. Last fall, as a running back and cornerback on the football team, he rushed for 793 yards and 12 touchdowns, caught 56 passes for 747 yards and seven touchdowns and had six interceptions. He was selected to the all-CIF Central Division team as the Indians advanced to the championship.

Five days after the football team lost to Rancho Verde in the title game, he played his first basketball game, scoring 10 points in a victory over Twentynine Palms. For his first three years, he was a shooting guard, but Zink asked him to switch to point guard last season.

"We had to ask him to go over and give up some scoring a little bit to make the team better, and he did a great job at that," Zink said.

King averaged 12 points, five assists and more than four rebounds per game, and in the spring, he batted .366 with 19 RBIs for the baseball team.

"It's a natural thing that occurs," Fabian said, "and not everybody's lucky enough to have that."

Heredity has influenced his athletic development. King's parents were both three-sport standouts for Palm Springs in the early 1980s. His mother, Laurie, played on the varsity volleyball, basketball and softball teams for three years.

King's father, Boris, starred in football, basketball and baseball before the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him out of high school in the sixth round in 1983. After his baseball career ended, he played basketball for UC Irvine in 1985 and Nevada in 1987 and 1988. He led the Wolf Pack in scoring in '86-'87 with 18.5 points. He is now a golf teaching professional in Los Angeles.

King and his father aren't close. His parents divorced when he was 1.

"A lot of people say, 'Oh yeah, you have good genes from your dad,' and stuff like that," King said. "I think I get it from my mom because she has taught me everything I know today. It is unfortunate that he's not in my life more because we have so much in common. It's a little sad that he doesn't want to make an effort to be in my life more, but I still love him."

Like his father, King has decided to play baseball exclusively after high school. He will play at Riverside City College, where Palm Desert graduate Ryan Garvey suited up this spring before getting drafted by the Colorado Rockies.

RCC assistant coach Rolando Garza has tracked King's improvement since the high school baseball season began in February.

"We're really looking forward to him devoting himself to baseball and hopefully develop that skill set," said Garza, a Coachella Valley High School graduate who was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the ninth round in 1997.

King hasn't attempted a free throw or caught a touchdown pass in months. He has only played baseball since February, and the athletic identity he established at Palm Springs has changed.

"Before I just looked like an athlete playing baseball," he said. "I didn't have the right mechanics down. I was just out there. Now I'm a baseball player that's an athlete."



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