State’s top honor goes to point guard from Chino Hills whose statistical dominance is only matched by his team’s success. Becoming state’s all-time assist leader and leading the Huskies to the mythical national crown helps the UCLA-bound 6-foot-6 dynamo edge future college teammate T.J. Leaf.
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 an otherwise hot and non-descript summer day at the L.A. Fairfax gym back in 2013 for the annual Fairfax Summer Tournament when we approached Chino Hills coach Steve Baik and made an unusual request. We asked for his contact number and told him that, as keepers of the state record book, we’d like him to start tracking the assist and steal totals for then sophomore-to-be point guard Lonzo Ball.
We saw him play a few games as a freshman and were well aware he was a first-year player with great potential, but the progression he made that summer was tremendous. We knew if Ball continued to develop and stayed at Chino Hills, the gifted point guard would end up high on the state’s all-time list for career assists and steals.
What he did at that tournament, however, won’t soon be forgotten by anyone who witnessed it. Full-court length passes, explosive rebounds and 35-foot 3-pointers were commonplace. A former all-state level player (who is now on a college staff) who was in attendance when we saw a Chino Hills game in 2012-2013 remarked, “This is not the same player we saw last season.” A current high school coach remarked that day, “He’s the best point guard in California since Jason Kidd.”
Three years later, the Ball and Kidd comparisons are now done on a grander scale and are just as common as Ball throwing a 75-foot pass to a streaking teammate for a lay-up. At times, the comparisons are social media hyperbole, but it doesn’t change the fact Ball is definitely SoCal’s best point guard since Baron Davis at Santa Monica Crossroads in 1997 and perhaps the state’s best since Kidd finished up at Alameda St. Joseph in 1992. After the senior season Ball had in leading Chino Hills to a CIF Open Division state title and No. 1 final national ranking by credible polls, it’s no surprise today he’s been named Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year.
Ball, who averaged a triple double of 23.9 ppg, 11.3 rpg and 11.7 apg for the 35-0 Huskies, is the first state player of the year from the Inland Empire since current San Antonio Spurs standout Kawhi Leonard (Riverside Martin Luther King) in 2009. If you consider the San Gabriel Valley as part of the greater Inland Empire region along the 60-71 corridor, Ball joins Corey Benjamin (Fontana ’96) Casey Jacobsen (Glendora ’99) and Scott Williams (Hacienda Heights Wilson ’86) as winners of the state’s most prestigious honor from the vast region in the last 30 years.
“You know it’s great to be honored and to get national awards, but at same time, I have got to thank my teammates and coaches; I wouldn’t be getting any of this without them,” Ball said.
“I feel it’s a great honor for him,” Baik said. “I’m so happy all the hard work has paid off. He wants to be the best he could be and wants his team to be the best they could, more than any kid I’ve ever been around.”
It’s hard to imagine Chino Hills could be better than it was, especially a team with a relatively short bench, and Ball is the main reason. In addition to his triple double averages of points, rebounds and assists, the UCLA recruit averaged 5.1 spg and 2.0 bpg for a Huskies’ club that did not taste defeat in 35 outings against some of the finest competition in the nation. The way Ball played alongside his younger brothers Li’Angelo (a junior and Chino Hills’ leading scorer), La’Melo (a freshman), and newcomers Eli Scott (a junior and fast-rising prospect) and Onyeka Okongwu (another freshman who was dominant at times down the stretch), Chino Hills was a hot ticket all season long.
After Chino Hills’ state No. 1 vs. No. 2 game with Bishop Montgomery of Torrance was live-streamed by Ballislife.com at the Fairfax State Preview, the Huskies’ following grew nationwide as the focus to finish the season ranked No. 1 in the country became a realistic goal. After that game, Chino Hills played in front of turn-away, standing-room only crowds and the team that eventually tied a state record with 18 100-point games became a phenomenon.
“After we won the tournament in Florida (City of Palms), there was no looking back,” Ball said. “The goal was to finish it out (undefeated).
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go out the right way on top with my brothers. I was not surprised by how Melo played, but Big O (Okongwu), man. I’ve known him most of my life, but being just a kid coming out of eighth grade on a national team, to perform like that, was amazing.”
Ball’s spectacular performances became somewhat rountine, but his combination of statistical dominance and team success was the reason he earned this honor over future UCLA teammate and 3,000-point scorer T.J. Leaf from Foothills Christian of El Cajon. Many are calling Leaf San Diego County’s best player since Bill Walton came out of La Mesa Helix in 1970. We’d be remiss not to mention Leaf, because in many seasons in the past 30 years, he would be the hands-down Mr. Basketball winner. That’s how special a player Ball has been in his four seasons at Chino Hills, especially the last two when he did things from the point guard position we haven’t seen in our time covering the state’s best athletes.
“At that Fairfax tournament, we were going to play Lawndale with Chimezie Metu (now at USC), and Gelo had a broken foot and Nnamdi (Okongwu) sprained his ankle read bad, so I’m thinking Chimezie is going to kill us on the boards,” Baik said. “Without those two guys, we didn’t have any size and not a lot of guys with experience. Lonzo got caught in a switch and we just decided that he’d stay on him. He ended up with 20 rebounds to go along with the 40-point games he had throughout the tournament.
“That was off the charts. At that point, I was in awe and I knew this guy was going to do whatever it takes to win.”
Ball averaged 11.3 rebounds per game both his junior and senior campaign, while his assists shot up to 11.7 this season from 10.1 in 2014-15 when the Huskies lost in the D1 state final and lost seven other games on the court. His 408 assists as a senior puts him high on our all-time single-season mark, while his newly-tabulated career total of 1,214 assists places him No. 1 all-time in state history. On the other end of the floor, his 592 steals put him at No. 2 on the all-time career list behind Kidd at 719.
Ball’s play was so unique and dominant for the first team from the Inland Empire to finished ranked No. 1 in the state and earn the mythical national title that we had to create a new record book category for him — most triple-doubles in a season. Ball recorded 25 triple doubles in 35 games, including an amazing eight in a row, beginning with a win over Bishop Gorman of Nevada at the Nike Extravaganza and ending with Chino Hills’ victory over Immanuel of Reedley in the opening round of the SoCal Open Division regional. That stretch, of course, included the CIFSS Open Division playoffs. As a comparison, Kidd was credited with 10 triple doubles his junior season at St. Joseph.
The son of Lavar and Tina Ball (both former high school and college athletes) also had a quadruple double versus Seattle Prep of Washington at the MaxPreps Holiday Classic and missed two more by one steal in the season-opening win over San Bernardino and the rout of Santa Ana Mater Dei in the CIFSS Open Division semifinals. His season highs were 38 points, 17 rebounds, 22 assists, seven blocks and 10 steals. Those spectacular numbers wouldn’t mean as much if they weren’t done within the context of winning. It makes Ball’s unique style of play, and this season in particular, so special because Chino Hills exceeded preseason expectations and made history among Inland Empire programs in the process.
As he proved in those summer games at the Fairfax Tournament, and during his junior season when an undermanned Chino Hills club took Oak Hill Academy (which finished ranked No. 2 in the country) to the wire at a tournament in Missouri, Ball saved his best for the big games. He also left an indelible mark on those who watched him play and made believers out of doubters by not losing any games in his senior year.
Some of Ball’s success was foreshadowed that day at Fairfax, but we’d be lying if we said we expected the high level of individual production, combined with team success, that he and his teammates at Chino Hills enjoyed this past season. It forever puts him in exclusive company among those honored as California’s best, but also cemented his status one of the very best over the past 25 years while giving high school basketball fans memories they won’t soon forget.
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.
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.