Just like the boys, it’s also down to six who can be considered finalists for a prestigious honor that lists winners back to 1972. Unlike the boys, though, it’s two seniors making the cut with four juniors. This year’s Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year will be announced on Monday, April 13.
Note: All six players obviously also will be chosen to at least one of our all-state teams, which will be the 35th one that Cal-Hi Sports has compiled for California girls basketball. To get all of our all-state basketball content, a subscription to our Gold Club is required. Take a moment today to join our team. For details, CLICK HERE.
Congratulations to these six players for being considered as a finalist to be the 2015 Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year, a selection that goes back more than 100 years. All are listed in alphabetical order.
Kennedy Burke (Sierra Canyon, Chatsworth) 6-3 Sr.
There was a reason this versatile UCLA-commit who can play any position on the floor was chosen for the USA U17 Team that won gold last summer and did well seeing action in every game. Burke was Cal-Hi Sports All-State First Team as both a sophomore and a junior. Besides national and international attention, her skills have been on display on the statewide level in leading Sierra Canyon to three straight state titles in Division V and IV and again in Division IV this season in a 69-56 victory over Brookside Christian of Stockton. Not only did Burke handle the ball in the backcourt in the state title game win, she dominated the glass and finished with a double-double 14 points and 14 rebounds with six blocks and three assists. This past season, Burke had per game averages of 18.2 points, 3.5 assists, 3.3 steals and 3.2 blocks.
Mi’Cole Cayton (St. Mary’s, Stockton) 5-9 Jr.
When a team has eight girls where the three non-starters conceivably could be big stars on any other team, the stats get spread around. Cayton’s averages of 12.0 ppg, 3.0.rpg, 2.5 steals and 2.4 assists were limited by playing sparingly in the 23 of 35 games played this season in which the Rams won by 25 points or more, so Cayton didn’t lead the team in any category other than leadership and taking charge in the biggest games. She had 24 points and five rebounds in a win over Long Beach Poly, 16 points and five steals in a win against St. Ignatius, 19 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals in the NorCal semifinal win over Sacred Heart Cathedral, and capped the season by taking charge in the Open Division state title game win against Mater Dei with team-highs of 21 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and three steals. Several D1 schools have already offered the lightning quick Cayton, including Nebraska, Arizona State, Pacific, San Francisco, George Mason, plus more.
Valerie Higgins (Chaminade, West Hills) 6-1 Jr.
This talented junior wing and her junior teammate, Leaonna “Neah” Odom, are in a similar situation to last year’s finalists and current Cal freshmen Gabby Green and Mikayla Cowling of Berkeley St. Mary’s. The similarities are Higgins and Odom had comparable individual numbers on a team that like St. Mary’s had multi-stars, but the differences are this duo are juniors and their team advanced further in the playoffs after making it all the way to the CIF Southern California Open Division title game, where they lost to Mater Dei after beating the Monarchs twice earlier, including once in the CIF Southern Section Open Division championship. This past season, Higgins was second on the team behind Odom in scoring at 14.9 ppg, and led the Eagles with 9.8 rpg, 5.9 assists, 5.3 steals and 1.8 blocks per game.
Sabrina Ionescu (Miramonte, Orinda) 6-0 Jr.
Of the four juniors out of six finalists for this year’s Ms. Basketball, Ionescu, the USA U17 Team Gold Medal winning member and 2014 State Sophomore of the Year had the gaudiest numbers this season and set a ton of single-season school records along the way. Her 23.0 ppg (760 points), 8.9 rpg (294 rebounds), 7.3 apg (241 assists), 5.0 spg (165 steals), 144-of-170 free-throws (84.7 percent) and 86-of-220 on 3-pointers (39 percent) were all school records and came against some formidable competition, but did include 20 games of limited action where the Mats won by over 25 points. Of Sabrina’s two years on the U16 and U17 USA Teams, she was a key contributor both years and last summer led the team in steals and was second in assists. Ionescu has over 20 Division I offers and the list starts with Connecticut and Duke, and includes almost every other major program including almost every Pac-12 school as well.
Leaonna “Neah” Odom (Chaminade, West Hills) 6-2, Jr.
The other half of the Chaminade duo led the team in scoring at 17.5 ppg and was third in rebounds at 6.6 per game. Odom is the ESPN No. 1 rated wing in the nation from the Class of 2016 and No. 7 rated player overall. She was the No. 2 player behind Sabrina Ionescu in the latest Cal-Hi Sports Class of 2016 player rankings. Odom was an all-state freshman two years ago at Los Alamitos, went to Mater Dei last season (but she didn’t play much due to injury and ineligibility) and had a breakout junior season at Chaminade.
Katie “Lou” Samuelson (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) 6-3, Sr.
The State Junior of the Year and runner-up last season to Ms. Basketball and current UCLA freshman Jordin Canada did everything but bring home a state title to Mater Dei, but she played her heart out doing it. Even when the Connecticut-bound do everything wing played poorly, as she felt she did in the Open Division state title game loss to St. Mary’s of Stockton, Lou has the kind of game that some girls only dream about. In the state championship loss, Lou finished with a double-double 19 points and 11 rebounds with four assists. On the season, and including a number of games when head coach Kevin Kiernan pulled her early in blowouts, Lou finished with per game averages of 29.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.2 assists. She shot 41 percent from three-point range and made 115 of her attempts. Her overall field goal percentage was 51 percent and she shot 84 percent from the free-throw line.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend