We decided to only choose three as finalists for this season’s Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year honor, but went with more normal total of seven for Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year. Winners will be announced near the end of next week.
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Congratulations to the following three players who have been chosen as finalists for the 2016 selection as Mr. Basketball in California. This is also the Cal-Hi Sports State Player of the Year, which dates back to 1905 and includes Tyson Chandler, Paul Pierce, Jason Kidd, Bill Walton, Paul Silas, Jim Pollard as Hank Luisetti as previous winners.
(All listed in alphabetical order)
Lonzo Ball (Chino Hills) 6-6 Sr.
A we’re writing and posting this year’s lists of finalists, Lonzo was getting ready for the McDonald’s All-American Game. He was the ringleader, of course, for a team that did more than just finish 35-0, win the CIF Open Division state title and will end No. 1 in every major national rankings. The Huskies captured the imagination of many SoCal sports fans from even beyond the usual high school scene. Pregame stories in Chicago for the All-American game listed Lonzo’s season averages at 25.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 12.9 assists.
T.J. Leaf (Foothills Christian, El Cajon) 6-9 Sr.
Already named as the CIF San Diego Section Player of the Year and being mentioned as perhaps the best player from San Diego in many years (going back to Chase Budinger of La Costa Canyon and Bill Walton of La Mesa Helix), Leaf averaged 28.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists for a team that will end up No. 3 in the final state rankings. Leaf’s season high of 44 points came in a loss to Chino Hills, which was led by T.J.’s future teammate at UCLA, Lonzo Ball. He ended his career with 3,020 points, which will be No. 7 on the all-time state list.
De’Anthony Melton (Crespi, Encino) 6-4 Sr.
Averaging just shy of a double-double with 20 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, he was the leading offensive weapon this season for a Celts team that captured the CIF Division I state championship. Signing with USC back in September, he scored at least 24 points in five of Crespi’s last six games, including a 24-point effort with 17 rebounds in the state final win over Berkeley. His season-high came during the regular season when he scored 30 points in a win over Viewpoint while his only higher rebounding night saw him grab 18 rebounds during a loss to Alemany of Mission Hills. Melton also displayed an uncanny knack at making a huge defensive play down the stretch in the biggest games. He had a blocked shot in the final seconds of the 2015 Division IV state final vs. Capital Christian and another big steal in the closing seconds of the 2016 Division I SoCal final.
Congratulations to the following seven players who have been chosen as finalists for the 2016 selection as Ms. Basketball in California. This is also the Cal-Hi Sports State Player of the Year, which dates back to 1972 and includes Diana Taurasi, Lisa Leslie, Cheryl Miller, Jackie White and Ann Meyers):
Aquira DeCosta (St. Mary’s, Stockton) 6-2 Soph.
We thought a lot about including DeCosta as among the finalists, but in the end the overriding factor is that the Rams were so dominant during most of the season that they deserved to have one of the finalists and then it became a question of which one. With a nod to seniors Mi’Cole Cayton and Kat Tudor, DeCosta from a talent standpoint is more in line with others from St. Mary’s who’ve been Ms. Basketball. She also was outstanding at the Nike Tournament of Champions. In the semifinals vs. Archbishop Mitty, she had 27 points, five rebounds and eight steals. And in the final vs. Riverdale Baptist of Maryland (in that team’s only loss it suffered) she had 22 points, 19 rebounds and three steals. DeCosta also had 24 points vs. Oakland Bishop O’Dowd and 26 points when the Rams were upset by Pinewood. She averaged 15.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game and has been ranked as the ESPN No. 1 player in the nation among sophomores.
Valerie Higgins (Chaminade, West Hills) 6-1 Sr.
Many would be surprised how many coaches we’ve talked to about Higgins just love the way she controls things for the Eagles and how she does such a great job setting up her teammates. She was obviously part of a great 1-2 punch for a team that ended up winning the CIF Open Division state title. The USC-bound Higgins finished with averages of 20.4 points. 10.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game. She had 24 points and five assists when Chaminade beat Long Beach Poly in the CIF Southern Section Open Division final.
Sabrina Ionescu (Miramonte, Orinda) 6-0 Sr.
A few weeks ago, Ionescu was the clear favorite to be Ms. Basketball but after last Saturday when the Matadors lost to Chaminade in the CIF Open Division state final let’s just say it’s not as clear-cut. Ionescu still had a triple-double in that game with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists and that in fact may be the first triple-double by anyone in a major division state final. The McDonald’s All-American who already has been named Gatorade State Player of the Year had averages of 26.5 points, 9.0 assists, 7.5 rebounds and 5.5 steals per game.
Destiny Littleton (Bishop’s, La Jolla) 5-9 Jr.
Just being named as the CIF San Diego Section Player of the Year would have been enough to get Destiny listed as among the finalists. That’s because she legitimately beat out one of the strongest groups of top players in San Diego in many years. Littleton, one of the top juniors in the nation and the reigning State Sophomore Player of the Year, ended the season with 1,178 points (35.7 ppg) after 28 points in the Knights’ 57-52 loss to Oaks Christian of Westlake Village in the CIF SoCal Division I playoffs. She also has 2,934 points already in her career and will start next season only 903 short of the Cal-Hi Sports state record of 3,837 set in 2004 by San Diego High’s Charde Houston.
Minyon Moore (Salesian, Richmond) 5-9 Sr.
Based only on what she did when Salesian knocked off nationally ranked Archbishop Mitty in the CIF NorCal Open Division playoffs, Moore had to be mentioned as a finalist. The USC-bound Moore poured in 40 points and had nine steals, five assists and four rebounds to lead the Pride. Moore is a smaller version of her sister Mariya Moore (now a starting sophomore at Louisville) who two years ago was a runner-up to current UCLA star Jordin Canada for Ms. Basketball.
Leaonna Odom (Chaminade, West Hills) 6-0 Sr.
The other McDonald’s All-American this year along with Sabrina Ionescu certainly elevated her candidacy for California’s top honor by scoring 33 points and pulling down 15 rebounds to lead the Eagles past Miramonte (and Ionescu) in last Saturday’s CIF Open Division state final. Who will also never forget her game-winning 3-pointer at the final horn in the SoCal title game vs. Long Beach Poly? With several games still to go, Odom (committed to Duke) was averaging 21.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.4 steals per game.
Reili Richardson (Brea Olinda, Brea) 5-7 Sr.
After two huge outings to end the season in which the Ladycats finished as the CIF Division I state champions, Richardson earned her way onto the Ms. Basketball finalist list. In the CIF SoCal D1 final, she hit for 27 points and made 17-of-17 shots from the free throw line. Then in the CIF state finals, she led the way with 26 points and had nine rebounds as Brea beat St. Francis of Sacramento for the program’s 10th all-time state title. For the season, the Arizona State recruit was simply sensational for head coach Jeff Sink. She finished with averages of nearly 22 points and six assists per game.