We recently began a new yearly feature with Jason Kidd at No. 2 on the all-time boys basketball player rankings. It’s now time to present the best for girls. The first rankings should surprise no one with legendary Cheryl Miller at No. 1.
Note: All-time player rankings will be updated at the end of every season with players moving up and down based on continued accomplishments at the higher levels. These rankings are based on a 50-50 formula of high school and after high school accomplishments with some exceptions. We will present these rankings in football (after the upcoming season), boys basketball, girls basketball, baseball and softball. All of these features are part of our Gold Club subscription. Check out the first girls top 25 all-time and the first boys top 20 all-time right now by signing up today.
When contemplating the all time best female basketball players from California, using a combination of the players’ overall body of work in high school, college and professional basketball, and in some cases coaching and administrative work, one need only go back to the new beginning.
In the case of the best of the best, she exploded onto the scene one year after the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) ushered in California’s high school version of the “Big Dance” in March of 1981.
It was March of 1982, and yours truly was a political lobbyist for the old “telephone company,” when a local San Francisco Bay Area television sportscaster at the time I knew told me about the state high school basketball championships.
One year before, the CIF had re-instituted the state title games with two games, Division I boys and girls. Prior to that, the state championships had not been contested since the all boys games were suspended in 1928.
In 1982, the format expanded to four games that were also played in Oakland, adding a Division II boys and girls contest, but it was Division I that my friend said was getting all the attention.
“I’m going and you should come with me. Your alma mater is playing in the boys’ game and a girl that scored over a hundred points is playing in the girls game,” he said.
My alma mater San Francisco Washington lost a heartbreaker, 54-53 to Carson, and Cheryl Miller of Riverside Poly didn’t score 100 points, but she did score 41, and could have gone for more, in a 77-41 blowout of Los Gatos. That point total has stood the test of time as the most points ever scored in any game of any division of the girls’ state championships.
Despite not having a quality women’s pro league at the time to showcase her talents, and her Olympic career shortened by injuries, every girls basketball analyst polled for this feature unanimously anointed Miller as still the best player in state history.
Unlike on the boys’ all time best list, in which Bill Walton edged out the just-retired Jason Kidd, this choice was not as close.
Back in her day, Miller towered over other girls at 6-foot-2, but if rumor has it she could dominate brother Reggie Miller in the family’s driveway, and he’s the No. 3 all-time pick on the boys’ side and less than a year-and-a-half her junior. There’s no doubt Miller would be dominant today even with bigger girls aplenty.
Together with her brother, they are not only the greatest sister/brother basketball combo in California, but probably ever, anywhere, and in any sport.
Lisa Leslie from Morningside of Inglewood snagged the No. 2 spot, and although she was a major force for many years in the WNBA, her high school and college resume is not quite that of Miller’s.
Year’s ago in auto rental ads Avis used to say it isn’t too bad being No. 2 to Hertz, and for Leslie being second behind Miller and in front of so many other great players is not too shabby at all.
Besides me, who’s only missed the 1981 and 1997 state championships, input on this list came from a variety of sources, including two analysts that have attended just about every CIF state title game since 1981, executive editor and Cal-Hi Sports co-founder Mark Tennis, and Full Court Press analyst Clay Kallam, my fellow board member of the West Coast Jamboree, and the only person in Northern California with a vote for the McDonald’s All-America girls game.
Contributions also came from Steve Brand, a prep journalist for nearly 50 years, mostly with the San Diego Union Tribune, founder of the California Prep Sports Writers Association, and currently also the awards chairman of the San Diego Hall of Champions.
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Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend