Boys BB: Best Publics from S.F.

Despite history-making season for Mission, San Francisco public schools have actually been even better in the past with some that were considered the best team overall in the state.

For more on Arnold Zelaya of Mission being named State Coach of the Year, CLICK HERE.

Note: This column appeared initially in SportStars Magazine. For more on SportStars and to check out its NorCal and SoCal digital editions, CLICK HERE.

Yes, it’s true that Mission High became the first public school from San Francisco to win a CIF state basketball title when the Bears turned back Villa Park 82-75 in overtime on March 24 in the CIF Division III championship at Golden 1 Center.

But that fact has way more to do with the CIF not having state basketball playoffs between 1929 and 1980 than it does for the city’s public schools not being able to compete. In fact, in the 1930s, San Francisco public schools had the best teams and players in the state and without question would have won numerous state titles had the CIF conducted state playoffs in those years.

Niamey Harris flies to the bucket during Mission’s win over Villa Park in CIF D3 championship. Photo: Willie Eashman.

One year before the CIF started basketball playoffs for the first time in 1916, San Francisco probably had the state’s best team at Lowell. The founder of Cal-Hi Sports, the late Nelson Tennis, once researched the 1915 season and listed Dick Berndt of Lowell as State Player of the Year and Lowell as State Team of the Year.

There also was one year in the midst of the first era of CIF state playoffs in 1919 when those playoffs were cancelled due to a worldwide flu epidemic. There were schools did play, however, and listed as State Team of the Year is San Francisco Poly at 20-1.

After the CIF stopped having state playoffs in 1928, it wasn’t long before the best era of San Francisco schoolboy hoops began. Lowell is shown as State Team of the Year three times in the decade of the 1930s for 1932, 1937 and 1939. It also was in the 1930s inside the gym at Galileo where a guard named Hank Liusetti became the first player to shoot jumpers. He is shown as State Player of the Year twice (1933, 1934) and later led Stanford to National Invitational Tournament titles. Liusetti also was one of the first inductees into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959.

But Liusetti isn’t the only State Player of the Year from San Francisco for that decade. Richie Hay of Lowell (1932), Teddy Giannini of Balboa (1935) and Don Burness of Lowell (1936, 1937) also are on the all-time list. And in 1940 it was Howie Dallmar of Lowell, who later became a longtime head coach at Stanford and in 1942 led Stanford to one of the first NCAA titles.

San Francisco wasn’t as dominant after the 1930s but remained among the top places for boys hoops in the state for many years. Lincoln had a State Team of the Year in 1948 that went 29-2 and Poly rolled up a 28-1 record in 1957 that also puts that now closed school on the all-time No. 1 list. San Francisco in the the 1950s also produced future NBA Hall of Fame head coach and player K.C. Jones of the Boston Celtics. He played and starred at Commerce (now closed).

Many may say that Wilson’s team in 1968 was perhaps the best in S.F. history, even including some of the recent Catholic school teams that have played and won CIF state titles. The Warriors that year went 27-0, won the Oakland TOC title and along the way beat a Berkeley team that had Phil Chenier (future NBA star) and a Oakland McClymonds team that had Nate Williams (also a future NBA star). The only reason Wilson wasn’t State Team is the Year is because that was when Compton also was unbeaten in Southern California and was in the midst of its state-record 66-game winning streak.

Of the two McAteer teams that went to CIF NorCal regional finals and lost, the one in 1989 was the best because that one went to the finals in Division I and lost to Skyline-Oakland. Although McAteer of 1989 didn’t have as good as a record as the team in 2001 that went 36-2 and lost in the NorCal final, the 2001 team was in Division II. The 1989 team also ended much higher in final overall state rankings at No. 5.

The only other S.F. public school to reach a CIF state final before Mission this year was Washington in 1982, which was the second year after the CIF resumed the state playoffs. The Eagles lost in the D1 final that year 54-53 to Carson behind first team all-state forward David Boone and third team all-state guard Quentin Stephens.

Balboa didn’t go as far in the playoffs as Mission this year or McAteer in 2001 but the Bucs (30-3) were perhaps more memorable in 1996. They set a state record by scoring 100 points or more in 18 games, a record that was tied last year by Chino Hills. They also won one game 156-82 against San Francisco O’Connell that is still the most points by one team in one game in state history. That season also featured senior Winters Patterson, who set the NorCal record (still stands) of 82 points in a different game against Skyline-Oakland. He averaged 36.7 points per game but died of cardiac arrest in a pickup game a few years after high school.

In addition to all those great teams, San Francisco public schools have had some of the greatest nicknames of players and even player names that have ever been known. How about Kshocka Omerzetti at Galileo (1964), Francois Wise at Balboa (1979), Crosetti Speight of Wilson (1980), Cyrus Stutts of Lowell (1979) and Les Brilliant of Lincoln (1948)? And for nicknames, how about Mushy “Hi-Yo” Silver of Washington in 1940?

In more recent years, San Francisco private schools like Sacred Heart Cathedral, St. Ignatius, Archbishop Riordan and even University at the Division V level have all been successful and have at times made it seem like the public schools didn’t even exist. That just makes what this year’s Mission team accomplished all the more sweeter.

Still, don’t for a minute think that Mission’s first-ever title is a sign of the city’s public schools not having a rich, colorful and at times a dominant basketball tradition.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports

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