For the better part of the last two decades, the Palmers have dominated the Faribault basketball scene.
It started with Billy, Chris, Maria and Hana playing for Bethlehem Academy, where Chris broke the program’s scoring and rebounding records and Hana helping the Cardinals qualify for a state tournament. It continued at Faribault High School with Elana, Joe and John, the last of who just wrapped up his senior season this winter and departs with the honor of Faribault Daily News All-Area Player of the Year.
All that familial basketball success originated organically, as their father Brad played rugby, and mother Michelle was a softball player.
“I don’t know how that happened,” John said. “Billy, my oldest brother, kind of started the way with basketball and then we all just followed him I guess.”
“They all had great careers,” Faribault coach Eric Hildebrandt said. “It’s just a big basketball family, and you can tell John grew up around hard workers that knew how to play the game. That’s really characteristic of the Palmer boys that I grew up playing with, Billy and Chris, and I’ve obviously had the pleasure to coach Joe and John. They work incredibly hard, they love basketball and it’s fun to be around.”
John said he’s loved basketball longer than he can remember. Whether that was battling Joe, who’s two years older and the closest sibling in age or traveling to Billy’s and Chris’ AAU tournaments throughout the spring and summer, there was never any doubt basketball was the sport he wanted to play the most.
“I always just loved going to shoot around, and going out there and playing,” John said. “I liked the fast-paced tempo of the game and always moving around. I love football and baseball, too, but I don’t know why, (basketball) just kind of came to me.”
Even though Joe and John grew up battling each other on the court, the two didn’t share an lot of time together playing organized basketball. During Joe’s senior season in 2018-19, John emerged as a role player and 3-point specialist down the stretch.
After Joe and the rest on the 2019 senior class graduated, however, a void was open for John to step into.
“I knew I had to step up, hit the weight room and shoot a lot more and expand my game,” John said. “I worked really hard and it started to pay off. I just saw we were graduating a lot of people and that someone had to step up and be the next guy in line. I made the sacrifice to make that me.”
While his game took a big step as he entered his junior season, it took an even larger leap entering his final year of high school basketball. After a summer spent working out with a thrown-together weight room in his basement, John was suddenly more than just a threat to pull up from behind the arc.
With his newly acquired speed and strength, John was able to blow past guards on the perimeter and challenge defenders at the rim. That all allowed him to finish with the best season of his career, as he averaged a team-high 23.3 points a game, shot 35.3% from behind the arc and 83.7% from the free-throw line.
“It just accelerated his basketball growth so much,”Hildebrandt said. “He had a really good year for us as a junior after he improved tremendously from his sophomore year to his junior year, and then maybe even more from his junior year to his senior year.”
“I didn’t do much inside the paint, but I worked on that a lot over the summer and getting more athletic and stronger and faster,” John said. “That really helped me get to the lane more, and Joe taught me all the time how to get to the line more. There’s ways to get fouls more, and that helped me a lot.”
Next season, Joe and John will team up again, this time on the men’s basketball team at Augsburg in Minneapolis, where Joe is in the midst of a truncated sophomore season and averaging 18.4 points a game.
Before last summer, that wasn’t a possibility for John. That was until his summer weightlifting sessions started to take effect, and he enjoyed a successful AAU season with the Minnesota Selects. Now his dream of playing college basketball has the added bonus of the Palmers sticking together on the court.
“Me and Joe have always wanted to play together,” John said. “We never really got to play a lot together in high school because he was always a couple years older. Right after he committed he was like, ‘You’re coming here next.’ He wanted me to come and I just kept getting better and better and finally got Augsburg texting me. Ever since they started texting me I just kept trying to get better so I can play with him.”