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All in the (Paye) family for CIF girls finalist Menlo School

ATHERTON — Thirty years after John Paye coached his youngest sister Kate to a California Interscholastic Federation state girls basketball title as a sophomore at Menlo School, history could repeat itself Saturday afternoon at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
Except, this time it is Paye’s youngest daughter, Georgia, in the starting lineup for the Knights in the Division II state final.
“It does feel like a long time ago,” said John Paye, who teamed up with Kate for three straight Division V titles from 1989-91. “I’ve been around Menlo for so long, I know we’ve had a lot of special boys and girls teams since then. But now what you bring it up, yes, it’s been a long 28 years.”
A three-sport athlete at Menlo, where as a senior the Knights claimed the CIF state Division II boys basketball championship, John Paye was drafted by the San Francisco Giants out of high school, but instead opted to play quarterback and point guard at Stanford.
“We each did successfully four-year stints at Menlo, then four-year stints at Stanford, but we never overlapped with each other,” Kate said of her older sister Amy and John. “My mom planned it that way.”
Not sure if mom planned what happened after the San Francisco 49ers selected John Paye in the 10th round of the 1987 NFL Draft.
“The impetus was my rookie year with the 49ers, Steve Young and I were roommates, actually living at my mom’s house and the players went on strike after our first game,” he said. “The two of us would picket the 49ers’ facility in the morning and in the afternoon we were looking for something to do, and my old high school coach (Ron Bryant), then the athletic director at Menlo, he encouraged us to come out and coach the girls basketball team. And when the strike ended, I was on IR — injured reserved — so I had more free time and I continued coaching through the season. I had every other weekend off because I didn’t go on the road with the team.”
He added: “It was a neat year working with the girls as a 22-year-old coach, and still today 30 years later I’m having a great time coaching high school basketball.”
“He took the opportunity, saw a need and kind of ran with it,” Kate said. “At the time it was very unusual. He was a young, talented, male athlete who was very successful and he was going to spend his extra time coaching girls high school basketball, so as a sister looking back on it I’m very appreciative. John really knows the game and I got great coaching for four years.”
Kate Paye spent her next four years on The Farm, initially a member of the 1991-92 women’s basketball team that claimed a national championship.
Currently the associate head coach at Stanford, this is her 12th season on staff under Hall-of-Fame coach Tara VanDerveer.
“I remember talking to Tara VanDerveer her first year at Stanford, I think I was a junior,” said John Paye, a freshman in 1979 at Menlo, the first year they allowed girls at the school. “I played football and basketball, so I would see Tara a lot. We were talking basketball and I remember her telling me that girls basketball in California wasn’t anything like it was in Tennessee in the country in the 1980s.
“And I haven’t talked to Tara recently about it, but I would argue now that California has the best players in America, just as evidenced by players at least in our own Central Coast Section like Haley Jones and Hannah Jump going to Stanford (in the fall). And a lot of it does start with Tara and the success she’s brought to Stanford, which has seeped down to everybody else here in Northern California really improving the game of girls youth basketball.”
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John Paye is used to being around a female environment after growing up with two younger sisters, then raising three daughters — Emma, Hannah and Georgia — along with his son, Jack.
Kate wasn’t apprehensive about her older brother assuming an authoritative role on the bench as a freshman during the 1987-88 girls basketball season at Menlo, or the years that followed.
“I was a quintessential tomboy and loved all sports from a young age,” Kate said. “I grew up following and really idolizing my brother and watching him play football, basketball, baseball. Tagging on to practices and games, I was the kid underneath the bleachers running out at halftime to shoot shots. So it wasn’t unusual at all, he’s always included me in his athletic endeavors and it wasn’t a big transition.”
John Paye returned to his alma mater for the 2008-09 girls basketball campaign, with oldest daughter Emma as a sophomore on varsity.
“It was very, very similar, because with Kate we’d have dinner every night after practice or after games, and the same thing with my daughters,” John said. “I’d take Kate home after school in the car and I’ve done the same thing with each one of my three daughters.”
From left, Kate Paye, Georgia Paye, Sylvie Venuto and John Paye pose for a photo after the Menlo School girls basketball team booked its first trip to CIF state final in 28 years on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (Pam McKenney/Menlo School) 
The only other time the Knights reached a NorCal final after the three-peat at state? In 2016, during Hannah’s senior year.
“I tease him a little bit sometimes,” Kate said. “I think that I recognize the play calls that he ran 28, 30 years ago, but at the same like any good coach he also has adapted his system and tries to stay current with different things. He always asks me what we’re doing at Stanford and I know he studies what the Warriors do. And he always tries to look at the players on his Menlo team to adapt his system to best take advantage of their strengths.”
After the loss of six seniors to graduation, John Paye expected growing pains this season. Instead, it turned into a trip to the state finals with a junior, three sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup.
“I’m most impressed with the great chemistry and camaraderie that the girls have and genuine enthusiasm for each other on the floor, on the bench,” said Kate Paye, who’s witnessed a few games from the stands. “I think that’s probably why they’re having such a special year.”
She added: “Obviously very proud of Menlo as an alum and a proud sister with my brother John being the coach and a proud aunt because I have two nieces on the team — Georgia Paye, my brother’s youngest daughter, and Sylvie Venuto, my sister’s oldest daughter.”
Sylvie Venuto, a freshman, got a postseason promotion to varsity and currently sports a familiar No. 10 jersey.
“Kate’s jersey is actually retired, but she acquiesced to Sylvie wearing her No. 10 this season,” John said.
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Kate won’t be able to attend the state final.
Instead, she’s in Las Vegas for the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament, with seventh-ranked Stanford (26-4) in Saturday night’s semifinals.
“I don’t think they’re taking bets in Vegas on high school California state championships,” John said. “But I know she asked about who we’re playing and that she’ll be following our team.”
Kate added: “The plan is for both Stanford and Menlo to have a very successful basketball weekend.”
Then, the focus can turn toward the Cardinal at Maples Pavilion, with quite possibly the newest members of the Paye family enshrined as CIF state champions in the stands.
“It definitely becomes a family affair with the Payes throughout the year, and then especially during the NCAA playoffs,” John said. “By that time usually my high school season is over and we like cheering on and sitting behind the Stanford bench with Tara’s mom and all the other Stanford fans.”
It’s almost as if someone planned it this way.

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