State’s top honor goes to Archbishop Mitty of San Jose standout for the second consecutive year by a whisker over Mater Dei’s Stanley Johnson. Gordon is only the sixth two-time winner since 1956.
By Ronnie Flores
Contributing: Mark Tennis
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Aaron Gordon, a 6-foot-8 senior from Archbishop Mitty of San Jose, capped an excellent senior season with an MVP performance at the 2013 McDonald’s All-American Game. It was just the latest instance in which the Arizona-bound forward elevated his level of play above his peers.
For putting up dominant statistics on a team lacking overwhelming talent, leading Mitty to victories over more talented teams en route to the first CIF Open Division state title game, and living up to lofty expectations in every game he played, Gordon has been named Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year.
Gordon joins exclusive company as a two-time winner of the state’s most prestigious individual honor. He’s only the 10th player to earn it in back-to-back seasons and only the sixth since 1955, joining Tyson Chandler from Dominguez of Compton (2000-01), Jason Kidd from St. Joseph of Alameda 1991-92), John Williams from Crenshaw of Los Angeles (1983-84), Bill Cartwright of Elk Grove (1974-75), and Fred LaCour from St. Ignatius of San Francisco (1955-56).
Gordon already had become only the second player from the South Bay to be named state player of the year, joining former NBA player Dennis Awtrey (1966), who played at now-closed Blackford of San Jose. Gordon is considered the best player ever from the South Bay/CIF Central Coast Section and recently has joined the conversation as one of the best pure talents California has ever produced at the high school level.
“My initial reaction is wow, man, Mr. Basketball is the highest honor you can get,” said Gordon when told of the selection by Cal-Hi Sports on Sunday evening. “Because I love California so much, winning this two times is the best accolade in my career.”
“Whether he won last year or not, this is a pretty nice honor and a very nice title to have,” said Shelly Gordon, Aaron’s mother. “It’s really a great way to culminate his career in California.”
That statement also refers to the fact that the next step in Gordon’s career will be at the University of Arizona, which he chose during a press conference in Chicago last week, and not at a California college.
Gordon tops a group of five other talented finalists – Mater Dei’s Stanley Johnson, Salesian’s Jabari Bird, Sacramento Sheldon’s Dakarai Allen, St John Bosco’s Isaac Hamilton and Long Beach Poly’s Roschon Prince.
In reality, the award came down to Gordon and Johnson. We knew which of the two we picked would draw some criticism. Coaches and prep experts in favor of Johnson would point to his dominant season as the best player on the state’s best team, the one that beat Gordon’s Mitty club in the CIF Open Division final, 50-45. Those in favor of Gordon would point to that fact he was just as dominant, if not more, than last season when he earned the honor and led Mitty to the Division II state title.
In the five-point loss to Mater Dei, Gordon finished with 22 points and 20 rebounds. In three career state title games, in which Gordon’s team won two Division II state titles, the four-year varsity starter finished with 73 points and 61 rebounds, an average of 24.3 and 20.3 per game.
In our final analysis, the one rhetorical question that kept being asked was the overriding factor: “Where would Mitty be without Gordon?”
Gordon averaged 21.6 ppg, 15.6 rpg, 3.4 apg and 2.1 bpg for a team that finished ranked No. 4 in the state with a 29-6 record. Along the way to the NorCal Open Division title, Gordon had a signature performance (29 points, 22 rebounds, five blocks) in Mitty’s Open Division regional title game victory over a Sacramento Sheldon team that needed overtime to beat Salesian in the regional semifinals. Sheldon and Salesian both have multiple D1 recruits and every Mr. Basketball finalist, besides Gordon, played with a teammate who earned or will earn a D1 college scholarship.
For his career, Gordon ended his four seasons with the Monarchs with 2,386 points and 1,666 rebounds. His rebounding total ranks No. 4 on the all-time state list. His scoring total is a new record for the CIF Central Coast Section and gains him another mention on the all-time state list.
“Without question the pick should be Aaron Gordon,” said U.S. Basketball Writers Association Hall of Famer Frank Burlison of burlisononbasketball.com. “Mater Dei would still have a good team without Stanley Johnson. Aaron Gordon is the best player in the Western United States.”
“The numbers Aaron puts up day in and day out, and that’s going up against double and triple teams, he leaves the most imprint on the game,” Mitty coach Tim Kennedy said. “Stanley definitely does, but Aaron just does it at a bit higher level. These are two special players and from what I hear about Stanley, two high-character guys.”
It should be a testament to the kind of season Johnson, a 6-foot-7 junior forward, had for Mater Dei that he was even seriously considered alongside Gordon. As a freshman, he was edged out for player of the year honors by Loyola’s Parker Jackson-Cartwright and last year edged the Cubs’ point guard for sophomore player of the year. This season, however, Johnson zoomed past all other underclass players with dominant performances against some of the state’s best teams, using his unique combination of strength, intelligence, and outside shooting to lead Mater Dei to state team of the year honors. He had 26 points, 12 rebounds and four steals in the win over Gordon and Mitty.
“Stanley carried us; he did a great job this season,” said Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight, who vouched for his own player because of Johnson’s winning resume. “Stanley was consistent all year. Just winning our league title is something. He stood out, beating Bosco twice and Stanley is always on the side of winning.”
McKnight also stated Johnson has the “utmost respect” for Gordon and was quick to praise some of Johnson’s teammates. “Elijah Brown really had a breakout year and Jordan Strawberry is one of the most underrated point guards in Southern California.”
As a junior, Gordon said he was motivated by not winning Gatorade State Player of the Year, an honor that went to La Verne Lutheran senior Grant Jerrett. This season, he didn’t win it, either, as Long Beach Poly’s Prince earned that distinction. That award is given out before the conclusion of the season, and that’s one key difference that turned into an important factor. If we didn’t include Gordon’s performance in the regional final victory over Sheldon or his overall resume in state title games, the momentum could have swung back to Johnson.
Although Johnson wasn’t able to participate in the event because he’s a junior, it’s also hard not to overlook Gordon’s performance at the McDonald’s All-American festivities. Gordon set the tone during practice for his West team with his energy and dominance around the basket. He translated that to the actual game last Wednesday, leading his West team to victory with a 24-point, eight-rebound MVP performance.
Although Andrew Wiggins of Huntington Prep of Huntington, W. Va. remains the nation’s top overall prospect, multiple national analysts thought Gordon was the most impressive performer of McDonald’s week and we agree on both fronts. One analyst even went a step further with regards to Gordon’s season.
“I think Aaron Gordon is the national player of the year for his success without a lot of help,” said Rivals.com National Recruiting Analyst Eric Bossi. “I mean, look at Huntington and Simeon, they are loaded with other D1 recruits, plus Jabari Parker was hurt half the year. What Gordon meant single-handily to his team was incredible.”
Gordon’s accolades on a national level remain to be seen, but there is no denying his dominance among California players and his importance to Mitty’s overall team success.
“I would never say this to a media person or someone on the outside, but inside I think I’m as good or better than those players (mentioned as the nation’s best),” Gordon said. “I think the McDonald’s Game was my national coming out party. If I continue to play like that I think I can make people understand.”
STATE PLAYERS OF THE
YEAR ALL-TIME LIST
Note: All selections by Cal-Hi Sports; All-time list before 1978 compiled by our founder, the late Nelson Tennis, based on research.
2013 – Aaron Gordon, San Jose Archbishop Mitty, 6-8
2012 – Aaron Gordon, San Jose Archbishop Mitty, 6-8 Jr.
2011 – Ryan Anderson, Long Beach Poly, 6-8
2010 – Allen Crabbe, Los Angeles Price, 6-6
2009 – Kawhi Leonard, Riverside Martin Luther King, 6-7
2008 – Jrue Holiday, North Hollywood Campbell Hall, 6-3
2007 – Taylor King, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-8
2006 – Chase Budinger, Carlsbad La Costa Canyon, 6-8
2005 – Amir Johnson, L.A. Westchester, 6-10
2004 – DeMarcus Nelson, Sacramento Sheldon, 6-3
2003 – Trevor Ariza, L.A. Westchester, 6-8
2002 – Hassan Adams, L.A. Westchester, 6-4
2001 – Tyson Chandler, Compton Dominguez, 7-1
2000 – Tyson Chandler, Compton Dominguez, 7-0 Jr.
1999 – Casey Jacobsen, Glendora, 6-6
1998 – Tayshaun Prince, Compton Dominguez, 6-8
1997 – Baron Davis, Santa Monica Crossroads, 6-2
1996 – Corey Benjamin, Fontana, 6-6
1995 – Paul Pierce, Inglewood, 6-7
1994 – Jelani Gardner, Bellflower St. John Bosco, 6-6
1993 – Charles O’Bannon, Lakewood Artesia, 6-7
1992 – Jason Kidd, Alameda St. Joseph, 6-4
1991 – Jason Kidd, Alameda St. Joseph, 6-4 Jr.
1990 – Ed O’Bannon, Lakewood Artesia, 6-9
1989 – Tracy Murray, Glendora, 6-8
1988 – Chris Mills, L.A. Fairfax, 6-7
1987 – LeRon Ellis, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-11
1986 – Scott Williams, Hacienda Heights Wilson, 6-10
1985 – Tom Lewis, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-7
1984 – John Williams, L.A. Crenshaw, 6-8
1983 – John Williams, L.A. Crenshaw, 6-7 Jr.
1982 – Tony Jackson, Oakland Bishop O’Dowd, 6-4
1981 – Dwayne Polee, L.A. Manual Arts, 6-5
1980 – Ralph Jackson, Inglewood, 6-3
1979 – Darren Daye, Granada Hills Kennedy, 6-7
1978 – Greg Goorjian, Crescenta Valley, 6-2
1977 – Cliff Robinson, Oakland Castlemont, 6-7
1976 – Rich Branning, Huntington Beach Marina, 6-2
1975 – Bill Cartwright, Elk Grove, 7-1
1974 – Bill Cartwright, Elk Grove, 7-0 Jr.
1973 – Marques Johnson, L.A. Crenshaw, 6-5
1972 – Cliff Pondexter, Fresno San Joaquin Memorial, 6-7 Jr.
1971 – Roscoe Pondexter, Fresno San Joaquin Memorial, 6-6
1970 – Bill Walton, La Mesa Helix, 6-10
1969 – Keith Wilkes, Ventura, 6-5 Jr.
1968 – Paul Westphal, Redondo Beach Aviation, 6-2
1967 – Curtis Rowe, L.A. Fremont, 6-6
1966 – Dennis Awtrey, San Jose Blackford, 6-9
1965 – Bob Portman, S.F. St. Ignatius, 6-5
1964 – Russ Critchfield, Salinas, 5-10
1963 – Edgar Lacey, L.A. Jefferson, 6-6
1962 – Joe Ellis, Oakland McClymonds, 6-5
1961 – Gail Goodrich, L.A. Poly, 5-11
1960 – Paul Silas, Oakland McClymonds, 6-6
1959 – Steve Gray, S.F. Washington, 6-4
1958 – Billy McGill, L.A. Jefferson, 6-9
1957 – Tom Meschery, S.F. Lowell, 6-5
1956 – Fred LaCour, S.F. St. Ignatius, 6-4
1955 – Fred LaCour, S.F. St. Ignatius, 6-4 Jr.
1954 – Willie Davis, Alameda, 5-11
1953 – Bill Bond, Long Beach St. Anthony, 6-1
1952 – Willie Naulls, San Pedro, 6-5
1951 – Ken Sears, Watsonville, 6-7
1950 – Don Bragg, S.F. Galileo, 6-3
Note: List extends back to 1905 in the Cal-Hi Sports State Record Book and Almanac.