There’s only two players, both from the Golden State Warriors, in this year’s NBA Finals from California high schools. Perhaps the most interesting connections, however, are on the coaching staffs.
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Going through rosters of teams in the NBA Finals and looking for players from California high schools is obviously a lot easier than either the Super Bowl or World Series. There’s usually a lot less players percentage-wise, too.
While California basketball does have its big-time alums – such as James Harden of Houston Rockets (Lakewood Artesia) and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Lawndale Leuzinger) – it’s still not as dominant a producer of talent as in baseball and many other sports.
This year’s NBA Finals, which begins on Thursday, only sees two players from the state from either the Golden State Warriors or Cleveland Cavaliers.
Both of those players are on the Warriors’ roster and only one of those – shooting guard Klay Thompson – figures to see major minutes. Thompson, who is from Santa Margarita of Rancho Santa Margarita, is coming off of an all-star caliber regular season for the Warriors as one of the Splash Brothers alongside league MVP Steph Curry.
Thompson suffered a concussion in Golden State’s clinching win last week over the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference finals. He should be okay to play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, reports indicated on Saturday.
At Santa Margarita, Thompson was a Cal-Hi Sports first-team all-state pick in 2008 after he led the Eagles to the CIF Division III state title. In fact, he had one of the most memorable outings ever seen in a CIF state final when he poured in 37 points in Santa Margarita’s 72-55 win at ARCO Arena over Sacramento.
In that state final, Thompson was particularly hot from the 3-point line and nailed seven of them to set a single-game record for a state final. It’s a record that still stands.
The other Warrior from a California high school is reserve forward Justin Holiday. He also was a standout in a CIF state final — in his case for Campbell Hall of North Hollywood in the 2005 Division IV championship. The most historical aspect of Holiday’s team, however, is that it finished 32-0.
Holiday’s younger brother, Jrue, was a freshman on that team and later became the Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year in 2008. Jrue is now the starting point guard of the New Orleans Pelicans. Holiday’s youngest brother, Aaron, was on this year’s all-state team. When Aaron played his last game at Campbell Hall in March, it ended one of the greatest runs by a family in state history. Justin, Jrue & Aaron also have a sister, Lauren, who had an all-state career at Campbell Hall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have no players on their roster from California, but one assistant coach is from the Bay Area and another had a son on this year’s all-state team.
Phil Handy, the Cavs’ player development coach, is from James Logan of Union City. Handy also is well-known in NorCal prep circles for his development of players through his own business he once had.
Larry Drew, a former NBA head coach, is currently an assistant under Cavs’ head coach David Blatt and is the father of 2015 L.A. City Player of the Year Lindsey Drew. Lindsey led Fairfax to the L.A. City Section Open Division title and will play next at Nevada.
The Warriors’ coaching staff is led by Californian Steve Kerr, who is still in just his first season as an NBA head coach. Before going to the University of Arizona as a player, Kerr starred at Palisades of Pacific Palisades. He is one of two prominent NBA alums from Palisades, the other being Kiki Vandeweghe.
If the Warriors win the title, Kerr would become the first NBA championship head coach from a California high school since K.C. Jones of the Boston Celtics from 1986. Jones is from long-closed Commerce of San Francisco.
One of the reasons for Kerr and the Warriors’ success has been the work of the assistant coaches. Three of them also are from California, including defensive expert Ron Adams. He’s from the small, farming community of Laton, located just north of Hanford and south of Fresno.
Luke Walton, of course, is the son of legendary Bill Walton (one of the greatest players ever from California) and was an all-state player at University of San Diego High (now Cathedral Catholic).
Jarron Collins, the former NBA player and twin brother of Jason Collins, also is on the Warriors’ staff as a player development coach. Jarron and Jason led Harvard-Westlake of North Hollywood to a 35-1 record in 1997, which was good enough for the CIF Division III state title and a State Team of the Year selection.