More Boys BB State Players of Year

Two of the 2018 Cal-Hi Sports State Players of the Year, which have been selected for nearly 40 years, are Jalen Green of Fresno San Joaquin Memorial for sophomores and Shareef O’Neal from Crossroads of Santa Monica for Division II. Photos: Dinos Trigonis / Twitter.com & Mark Tennis.

Here’s where to go to see the Cal-Hi Sports 2018 selections for seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen and for each CIF division. The most difficult choices ended up for the freshmen and for Division IV. We also had to choose a senior of the year for the first time since 2012 since this year’s Mr. Basketball honor went to a junior.

For official writeup on the 2018 Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year, CLICK HERE.

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Congratulations to these boys players for being selected as a Cal-Hi Sports State Player of the Year. Writeups by Mark Tennis with assistance from Ronnie Flores. Stay tuned for the upcoming release of the 40th annual Cal-Hi Sports All-State Teams. Here is a complete list of our boys basketball individual honorees for the 2017-18 season:

(Note: For this year, we have considered the Open Division and Division I to be a mixed category. The Open/D1 all-state team also will be much larger than the other divisions to accommodate all worthy players.)

James Akinjo from Salesian of Richmond celebrates with teammates during CIF North Coast Section championships. Photo: SportStarsMag.com.

SENIORS
James Akinjo (Salesian, Richmond)

Since the Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year this season has gone to a junior, as is our custom, we select a Senior of the Year. That wasn’t an easy choice, either. Akinjo won out over the other seniors who were State Player of the Year finalists.

Before Salesian was upset in the CIF NorCal Open Division playoffs by Folsom, a game that went to overtime and in which Akinjo nevertheless shined with 28 points, he was considered a prime candidate for the very top position. He has since been named as the Bay Area Metro Player of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle, Bay Area News Group Player of the Year and will likely sweep all of the All-NorCal top honors. Akinjo averaged 20.7 points, 5.2 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game.

Just after the loss to Folsom, James decommitted from the University of Connecticut after it fired head coach Kevin Ollie. His current choices included Georgetown, Arizona, Utah and Wichita State.

The last Senior of the Year was Katin Reinhardt of Santa Ana Mater Dei in 2012 when San Jose Mitty junior Aaron Gordon was Mr. Basketball. The previous one before that was DeShawn Stevenson from Washington of Easton in 2000 when Compton Dominguez junior Tyson Chandler was Mr. Basketball. Salesian’s last State Player of the Year was Jabari Bird in 2013 for Division IV.

JUNIORS & CIF D1/OPEN
Onyeka Okongwu (Chino Hills)

He’s the Mr. Basketball Player of the Year for California and therefore tops all juniors in addition to all players who were from teams in the CIF Open Division plus Division I. The Big O’s former teammate at Chino Hills, L.A. Lakers’ rookie Lonzo Ball, was the State Junior of the Year for 2015. We plan to keep listing all previous juniors of the year back to 2006 since that season’s selection was Lakewood Artesia’s James Harden.

Last 12 State Juniors of the Year: 2017 Marvin Bagley (Sierra Canyon, Chatsworth); 2016 Brandon McCoy (Cathedral Catholic, San Diego); 2015 Lonzo Ball (Chino Hills); 2014 Ivan Rabb (Oakland Bishop O’Dowd); 2013 Stanley Johnson (Santa Ana Mater Dei); 2012 Aaron Gordon (San Jose Archbishop Mitty); 2011 Brandon Ashley (Oakland Bishop O’Dowd); 2010 Josiah Turner (Sacramento); 2009 Jeremy Tyler (San Diego); 2008 Renardo Sidney (Lakewood Artesia); 2007 Jrue Holiday (North Hollywood Campbell Hall); 2006 James Harden (Lakewood Artesia).

SOPHOMORES
Jalen Green (San Joaquin Memorial, Fresno)

In one respect, picking Jalen for this honor seems like a slam dunk. After all, according to 24/7 Scout, Rivals.com and ESPN, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard is the No. 1 prospect in the nation for the Class of 2020. There is at least some explanation needed, however.

At the end of last season, both Green and forward Kyree Walker from Moreau Catholic of Hayward were both considered fairly equally in those class rankings. But since Walker was on a team that played in the CIF D2 state final, had some big playoff games in that run and was more physically dominant, he got the nod for State Freshman of the Year. Since then, Walker has transferred to Hillcrest Prep in Arizona. He’s still one of the top 10 sophomores on national recruiting lists, but Green has picked up his overall game just a bit more. And since Walker is no longer in California, Green then does indeed become the choice for this honor as the top overall player in the CIF Central Section with Evan Mobley of Rancho Christian of Temecula in the CIF Southern Section also in the running.

For the season, Green pumped in 27.9 ppg for an SJM squad that went to the NorCal Open Division after winning the CIF Central Section D2 crown. The Panthers lost at the buzzer in the opening round to a Sheldon of Sacramento club that went on to win the NorCal Open title and then lose in the state final to Sierra Canyon. In an earlier trip north, Green led the Panthers to the title at the Modesto Christian Holiday Classic. He blew up with 46 points in the semifinals against Clovis West of Fresno and had 26 in the final, which was a win over the host school and a team that would later win the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 title. Jalen also averaged 7.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game.

Earlier this week, Kansas joined the growing list of major college programs to offer Green. Others include Arizona, UCLA and Oregon. In getting this honor as a Panther he joins an impressive group of former state players of the year from the school, including 1972 Mr. Basketball Cliff Pondexter, 1971 Mr. Basketball Roscoe Pondexter and 2006 Division IV POY Quincy Pondexter. The reason that longtime NBA twins Brook and Robin Lopez aren’t on that list is because they played on the same teams at SJM as Quincy.

Last 12 State Sophomores of the Year: 2017 La’Melo Ball (Chino Hills); 2016 Jordan Brown (Roseville Woodcreek); 2015 Cody Riley (Chatsworth Sierra Canyon); 2014 Lonzo Ball (Chino Hills); 2013 Ivan Rabb (Oakland Bishop O’Dowd); 2012 Stanley Johnson (Santa Ana Mater Dei); 2011 Aaron Gordon (San Jose Archbishop Mitty); 2010 Brandon Ashley (Oakland Bishop O’Dowd); 2009 Angelo Chol (San Diego Hoover); 2008 Jeremy Tyler (San Diego); 2007 Renardo Sidney (Lakewood Artesia); 2006 Drew Gordon (San Jose Archbishop Mitty).

A key performance for Thomas was scoring 23 points against Etiwanda. Photo: Twitter.com.

FRESHMEN
Malik Thomas (Damien, La Verne)

Two years ago, when Onyeka Okongwu earned this honor, he essentially got it in a close call over his Chino Hills’ teammate, La’Melo Ball. This also was a tough choice basically between two players last year, Kyree Walker (Hayward Moreau) and Jalen Green (Fresno SJ Memorial). This year, there were more than two who were seriously considered, as many as five. We won’t list them all only because we don’t want to give away most of our upcoming all-state freshman team.

Thomas, a 6-foot-3 power guard, gained the nod and just happens to be from the same Baseline League as Chino Hills as well as state No. 3 Etiwanda. He was one of the top players all season for a team that was 24-7, ended in the top 25 of the final Cal-Hi Sports state rankings and he was the only freshman on the All-Baseline League first or second team.

Some of the key games that stood out for Malik were 23 points in a loss to Etiwanda, 13 points in the second half of a loss to Etiwanda, 20 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Taft of Woodland Hills, 18 points in a CIFSS D1 playoff loss to Pasadena and 10 points in one quarter of a CIFSS D1 playoff win vs. Cantwell-Sacred Heart. Last summer, Thomas erupted for 32 points and was MVP of the Under Armour Next Combine held in Baltimore.

Some of the various Class of 2021 player rankings have Thomas among the best in the nation, while others have other California players higher. This isn’t a recruiting-based honor, but Thomas was a more than solid freshman standout on a team that was in the State Top 20 for a good portion of the season. He has offers from Washington and Pepperdine.

Last 10 State Freshman Players of the Year: 2017 Kyree Walker (Moreau Catholic, Hayward); 2016 Onyeka Okongwu (Chino Hills); 2015 Jordan Brown (Roseville Woodcreek); 2014 Cody Riley (Chatsworth Sierra Canyon); 2013 Trevor Stanback (West Hills Chaminade); 2012 Marcus LoVett Jr. (Burbank Providence); 2011 Parker Jackson-Cartwright (Los Angeles Loyola); 2010 Roschon Prince (Long Beach Poly); 2009 Gabe York (Orange Lutheran).

DIVISION II
Shareef O’Neal (Crossroads, Santa Monica) 6-10 Sr.

With a famous dad like Shareef has, you almost have to go the extra mile in making a case that he has been selected for a statewide honor. The goal is to have no perception of choosing him BECAUSE he’s the son of someone like NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal. Of course, achieving that goal when Shareef scored 29 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in the CIF D2 state final, and naming him as the D2 State Player of the Year isn’t that difficult.

O’Neal, who averaged more than 20 ppg, had several other memorable outings, including 25 points in a CIFSS D2AA playoff game vs. Rancho Cucamonga. Then there was the time when Crossroads was playing Beverly Hills during a TNT “Inside the NBA” broadcast and Shareef connected for a game-winning shot. His father and the rest of the TNT on-air talent, led by Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, were all there to see it.

Another player from the Gold Coast League, Brentwood’s Braelee Albert, was the CIFSS D2AA player of the year. But just like CIFSS results are more important for that honor, it’s the CIF state results that are more important for Cal-Hi Sports. We also checked to make sure that Windward’s Jules Bernard (last year’s D3 State POY) wouldn’t be D2 for this possible honor and he isn’t. Bernard’s team was in the CIFSS D1 playoffs. O’Neal may have gotten this honor anyway. We’re just glad we didn’t have to worry about it.

O’Neal and Bernard will be teammates next season as freshmen at UCLA. Shareef originally committed to Arizona, but switched his commitment after that program became part of a U.S. government probe into illegal payments to players.

Last 10 State D2 Players of the Year: 2017 Kezie Okpala (Anaheim Esperanza); 2016 Solomon Young (Sacramento); 2015 T.J. Leaf (El Cajon Foothills Christian); 2014 Daniel Hamilton (Bellflower St. John Bosco); 2013 Aaron Gordon (San Jose Archbishop Mitty); 2012 Aaron Gordon (San Jose Archbishop Mitty); 2011 Angelo Chol (San Diego Hoover); 2010 Tyler Johnson (Mountain View St. Francis); 2009 Brendan Lane (Rocklin); 2008 DeMar DeRozan (Compton).

Kremer is not the first D3 State POY for boys hoops from Pleasant Valley. We have one on the all-time list from 1975.
Photo: Willie Eashman.

DIVISION III
Kevin Kremer (Pleasant Valley, Chico)
6-5 Sr.

The magical tour of honors for Pleasant Valley after it went 32-2 and became just the third team in CIF Northern Section history to win a CIF state title continues with Kremer netting the top spot among those from CIF D3 state squads.

Vikings’ head coach Tim Keating was selected last week as the D3 State Coach of the Year. Now, it’s Kremer’s turn.

In the D3 state final 70-65 triumph over Notre Dame of Riverside, Kremer poured in 28 points and had 13 rebounds plus four assists. He displayed that kind of all-around game throughout the season with final totals of 18.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.0 steals. He got his season going right away with 27 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in a win over Fresno Bullard and then 36 points in a win over Selma.

Kremer may have been motivated by Pleasant Valley’s loss in a section final from the previous season. He still isn’t shown with a D1 college commitment, but Keating strongly believes Kevin should get one. “I’m ready to talk to recruiters,” Keating told the Sacramento Bee recently. “On a big-time stage, he’s a big time player.”

Pleasant Valley has had a D3 State Player of the Year before, but you have to go back to 1975 to find Matt Maderos on the list. That would have been a season in which that selection was made later based on research by Cal-Hi Sports founder Nelson Tennis. The last D3 State Player of the Year from the CIF Northern Section was Chad Scott from Las Plumas of Oroville in 1989.

Last 11 State D3 Players of the Year: 2017 Jules Bernard (Los Angeles Windward); 2016 Jaelen Ragsdale (Stockton Weston Ranch); 2015 Ivan Rabb (Oakland Bishop O’Dowd); 2014 Ivan Rabb (Oakland Bishop O’Dowd); 2013 Isaac Hamilton (Bellflower St. John Bosco); 2012 Marqueze Coleman (Mission Hills Alemany); 2011 Brandon Ashley (Oakland Bishop O’Dowd); 2010 Deonta Burton (Compton Centennial); 2009 Chase Tapley (Sacramento); 2008 Klay Thompson (Rancho SM Santa Margarita); 2007 James Harden (Lakewood Artesia).

DIVISION IV
Ryan Turell (Valley Torah, Valley Village) 6-6 Sr.

Since both of the teams in the CIF D4 state final (View Park of Los Angeles and Stuart Hall of San Francisco) were very balanced throughout the season in terms of a leading player, we decided to look outside the box for this one and have come up with Turell. Even though his team didn’t make it to the D4 regional playoffs, Turell qualifies for D4 due to the division his team played in during the CIFSS playoffs.

Turell led the state in scoring with more than 34 points per game. Photo: JewishJournal.com.

With those technicalities and qualifications handled, here’s what Ryan did on the court: He led the state in scoring (according to MaxPreps) with 34.3 points per game. He also averaged 10.6 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 4.2 steals per game. During one game against Lancaster Baptist, Turell set what was reported as a Jewish Hoops America single-game record with 60 points. In one game against eventual CIF D5 state champion Santa Clarita Christian, Ryan hit for 33 points in a 69-60 loss.

Scouts whose evaluations we trust agreed with the choice of Ryan for this category when presented with his name and a few others (you’ll find out those names when the D4 all-state team is released). He’s been one of the state’s most intriguing players for several years since Valley Torah is an Orthodox Jewish school with strict rules and codes of conduct. He has offers from Army, Air Force, Sacramento State, Cal State Northridge and Southern Utah. In January, Turell was one of just 30 players in the state to receive a nomination for the McDonald’s All-American Game.

With competitive equity seeding taking out many, many of the teams that normally have populated the D4 regional playoffs, that only made the player of the year selections for D4 and D5 that much more difficult. Still, Turell has the kind of resume that has won out in previous years for D4 or D5. The last D4 State Player of the Year from the San Fernando Valley was current NBA player Jrue Holiday from Campbell Hall of North Hollywood in 2008.

Last 10 State D4 Players of the Year: 2017 Matt Bradley (San Bernardino); 2016 Colin Slater IV (Reedley Immanuel); 2015 Tyler Dorsey (Sierra Madre Maranatha); 2014 Justin Bibbins (Torrance Bishop Montgomery); 2013 Jabari Bird (Richmond Salesian); 2012 Grant Jerrett (La Verne Lutheran); 2011 Wesley Saunders (Los Angeles Windward); 2010 Allen Crabbe (Los Angeles Price); 2009 Justin Cobbs (Torrance Bishop Montgomery); 2008 Jrue Holiday (North Hollywood Campbell Hall).

DIVISION V
Jordan Starr (Santa Clarita Christian, Canyon Country) 6-7 Sr.

Even though Jordan looked great in the CIF D5 state final in SCC’s 78-66 win over Argonaut of Jackson, this choice for D5 wasn’t easy. In that game, Starr tied a D5 state title game record with 10 assists and he had 21 points and seven rebounds.

The player who also had to be strongly considered was guard Tyree Winborn of Van Nuys. Winborn had a game-high 31 points in a 81-73 loss to Santa Clarita Christian in the CIF SoCal D5 final and he had 50 points just last weekend in a local all-star game. Both Starr and Winborn were first team by the L.A. Daily News (released this week). In the end, in this comparison, it was just too hard to go against what Starr did in the state final.

The son of The Master’s College head coach Kelvin Starr, Jordan averaged 12.3 points with 4.9 assists and five rebounds per game. Most of those stats were lower due to head coach James Mosley (earlier named as our D5 State Coach of the Year) taking out his starters in blowout wins. Starr had a number of other double-doubles in the playoffs, including 16 points and 11 assists against Rubidoux of Riverside.

Jordan is going to play for his dad in college. His younger brother, Caden, will be a top player as a junior next season at Santa Clarita Christian.

Like Mosley, who became the first coach from a Santa Clarita Valley school to be named a state coach of the year in any division, the same is true of Starr as a player. There have been numerous D5 State POYs from the more regional San Fernando Valley, including Cody Riley of Sierra Canyon when that school was D5 in 2015, along with Anwawn Jones of Montclair Prep (1995 & 1996), Mitchell Butler of North Hollywood Oakwood (1987-1989) and Tom McKay of Montclair Prep (1981).

Last 10 State D5 Players of the Year: 2017 Jimmy Beltz (Lodi Elliot Christian); 2016 Jade’ Smith (Alameda St. Joseph Notre Dame); 2015 Cody Riley (Chatsworth Sierra Canyon); 2014 Temidayo Yussuf (Alameda St. Joseph Notre Dame); 2013 Mamadou Ndiaye (Huntington Beach Brethren Christian); 2012 Brandon Randolph (Playa del Rey St. Bernard); 2011 Brendan Keane (Alameda St. Joseph Notre Dame); 2010 Troy Leaf (El Cajon Foothills Christian); 2009 Darius Morris (Los Angeles Windward); 2008 Oliver McNally (Ross Branson) .

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


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