Mr. Basketball 2017: Ethan Thompson

One of the best games for California’s eventual Mr. Basketball came at the Galen Center against Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth. Photo: Dylan Stewart/@CIFSS (Twitter.com)

State’s top honor goes to versatile guard from Bishop Montgomery of Torrance whose skill level, work ethic and leadership led his team to coveted CIF Open Division state crown. Team success helps one of the best players ever from L.A.’s South Bay region edge UCLA-bound point guard Jaylen Hands and junior standouts Marvin Bagley and Jordan Brown.

For this season’s State Players of the Year in boys basketball among juniors, sophs, frosh and for each CIF division, CLICK HERE.

For a final look at where California teams landed in the final FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com, CLICK HERE.

Note: To read Gold Club content such as final expanded State Top 40 team rankings plus final divisional state rankings, class-by-class player rankings, state coaching records, plus additional features done throughout the year, take a moment to check out our Gold Club.

It was a memorable and magical season for the boys basketball team at Bishop Montgomery of Torrance. After knocking on the CIF Open Division door the past couple of years, the Knights finally broke through to capture the coveted CIF Open Division state championship and finish as the state’s top-ranked team. Although the season got off to a slow start, it theoretically almost never got off the ground.

Thompson gets a kiss from his mom while holding title plaque after leading Bishop Montgomery to win over Mater Dei. Photo: Twitter.com.

Doug Mitchell is a fine coach and has a fine program with good players, but there was a chance he could have been without his star player the past two seasons after former L.A. Crenshaw and Syracuse great Stephen Thompson Sr. took an assistant coaching position at Oregon State in the summer of 2014. Thompson’s relocation from Southern California to Corvallis (Oregon) meant a possible relocation for his wife Amy and their two sons, Stephen Jr. and Ethan, both starters on Bishop Montgomery’s 2013-14 team that won a CIF D4 state championship.

“Once Stephen took the job, all four of us sat down around the table to discuss it,” Amy Thompson said. “Junior said, ‘I want to stay.’ When it was time for him to move on, we revisited it with Ethan going into his junior and senior years. That’s when Ethan told me, ‘Well, he did, now it is my turn.’ Obviously, we can all move up there, but at the same time we knew Ethan was going to be challenged academically and athletically. Down here, you’re never hard pressed to find someone to challenge him. We gave it (all of us moving) a serious thought, but ultimately it was his decision and we accepted it.

“Every year Ethan progressed with hard work. He does everything with that passion, the motivation to get better everyday and to finish what he started.”

After losing its first game of the season when Bishop Montgomery came in as preseason No. 1 in the state, the Knights slowly got better as returning standouts Davy Singleton and Jordan Schakel rounded into form after suffering summer injuries. The Knights only lost one game the rest of the year and never lost again to a team from California. After deciding to stay put to grow and form a special bond with his teammates, Ethan Thompson was the one constant in the Knights’ lineup and his presence gave Bishop Montgomery a chance to capture the CIF Open Division title against steep competition. He took on the challenge of leading this team and passed it with flying colors, as Montgomery had to dethrone three of the nation’s best teams in order to finish what it started.

Combining dedication to teammates and leadership with a consistent high level of play against some of the nation’s top competition in the CIF Southern Section and state open tournament created California’s best player and today Ethan Thompson has been named Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year.

Both of Ethan’s parents and Mitchell were elated to hear the news of the Mr. Basketball announcement, and it was an especially proud moment for a father that was once considered for the same honor and has seen both of his children earn their own accolades and grow into fine young men that he’ll coach at the collegiate level.

“It’s been a long journey, to see him grow from a child into the Mr. Basketball of California,” Stephen Sr. said. “Our family in general, we believe in working hard. What I’ve always told my kids is you’re going to get what you deserve, in basketball and in life. It’s a tremendous accomplishment. It’s hard to describe what I’m feeling.”

Thompson is the first choice from the greater South Bay region covered by the South Bay Daily Breeze since Amir Johnson of L.A. Westchester in 2004-05, the third Comet to be named the state’s top player in a span of four seasons. If you’re talking about programs in the heart of the South Bay, you have to go back to Paul Westphal of now defunct Aviation of Redondo Beach in 1967-68. Thompson is also the third Mr. Basketball from a CIF Southern Section school in the past four seasons.

It’s easy to classify the Thompsons as quiet and unassuming, but the family is quite competitive among themselves. Stephen Jr. owns a state title and a multitude of local honors, including the 2015 John Wooden Award for his CIFSS Division (IV), an honor Ethan, who now owns two state titles, shared this season in D1 with Sierra Canyon’s Marvin Bagley (note that we never have ties for any of our honors, team or player rankings). Ethan is also this year’s Division I State Player of the Year, an honor his dad earned in 1985-86 when The Shaw won the second of back-to-back D1 state titles. The elder Thompson was also a finalist for Mr. Basketball as both a junior and senior, but was edged by Scott Williams (North Carolina/NBA) of Hacienda Heights Wilson his senior season. 

“Last season, I was rushing into plays and not taking my time with what I had to do or what I saw,” Ethan Thompson said. “I slowed the game down to do what I wanted to. I was bigger and I also was in a lot better shape this season. Playing in the Nike EYBL and on the Puerto Rican national team helped me with that.

“When I was young, I remember people coming up to me in the gym to tell me my dad could really play. It motivated me and I wanted to experience that feeling of people looking back on me and saying the same things when I’m his age. We’re competitive, so I can use some of these things to get an edge on my dad, brother and my mother!”

Thompson put in a lot of hours last summer to prepare for this season. Photo: Ronnie Flores.

At the dinner table, Ethan now has the Mr. Basketball edge on his father, the state title edge on his older brother and now has another endorsement he can point to.

“I have stated this several times…I think Ethan is the greatest player in the history of Bishop Montgomery,” said Mitchell, who was honored as the state’s coach of the year in Ethan’s freshman season. “We’ve obviously had a number of great players (including his own brother) but what separates Ethan is the completeness of his game. He has so many ways to beat you, can shoot it and attack off the bounce, scores in transition, is an excellent offensive rebounder and can take smaller guards in the post. He can really defend and I truly believe his greatest strength may be his passing and ability to create for others.

“I am very happy for him, (this honor) is much deserved.”

This year’s top individual honor came down to Thompson, Bagley (one of California’s most talented big men in quite some years) and explosive point guard Jaylen Hands from Foothills Christian of El Cajon. During the middle of the season, it looked like Bagley held the edge (and Sierra Canyon was the top-ranked team) after Hands had a terrific beginning to his senior campaign. The post-season is what separated Thompson, as Hands’ team tailed off and Sierra Canyon fell short against Bishop Montgomery.

Before over 10,00 people in the CIFSS semifinals, Thompson sparked a second half run and finished with 21 points to help the Knights knock off then state No. 1 and FAB 50 No. 2 Sierra Canyon, 70-63. Thompson scored 12 points in the final period and finished with game-highs in points (23), rebounds (8) and assists (5) in Montgomery’s 70-55 win over then state No. 2 Mater Dei of Santa Ana in the CIFSS Open Division championship game. The Knights also downed Chino Hills in the SoCal regional semifinals, 87-80, as Thompson finished with 23 points. He didn’t shoot well (13 points), but came up with some key rebounds and hockey assists in the pivotal final period in the SoCal regional final win over Mater Dei. He then came back strong in the 74-67 vCIF State Open final triumph against yet another FAB 50 ranked team and Mr. Basketball finalist (Woodcreek of Roseville and Jordan Brown) with team-highs in points (26) and rebounds (8).

For the season, the South Bay Daily Breeze and L.A. Times Player of the Year headed to Oregon State (along with his mom) to join the rest of the family averaged 22.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg and 5.4 apg. Bishop Montgomery finished No. 6 in the final FAB 50 National rankings, one spot higher than its preseason positioning.

“He had a great talent for lifting his game, a knack for making the big play when we needed it the most,” Mitchell said.  

MR. BASKETBALL 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.

Last year’s Mr. Basketball, Lonzo Ball of Chino Hills, scores during CIF state finals vs De La Salle. He’ll be in the NBA next season. Photo: Willie Eashman.

2017 – Ethan Thompson, Torrance Bishop Montgomery, 6-4
2016 – Lonzo Ball, Chino Hills, 6-6
2015 – Ivan Rabb, Oakland Bishop O’Dowd, 6-10
2014 – Stanley Johnson, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-6
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.

Ronnie Flores is the managing editor of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at ronlocc1977@yahoo.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores


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