Right smack dab in the heated moments of the NBA playoffs, we present our picks of the top 25 players from California high schools. The most fun part of this list was sticking in some of the best of today — like James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and Kawhi Leonard — among those who are in the International Basketball Hall of Fame. The No. 1 spot, of course, may not ever change.
Note: We hope you enjoy this free story on CalHiSports.com. We will have player rankings for the Class of 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 coming soon by managing editor Ronnie Flores and those rankings will be for Gold Club members only. To get started on a membership for just $9.99 for three months, CLICK HERE.
Criteria/Introduction: All of these players are from California high schools. The list has very little to do with what these players did at the high school level. It’s simply looking at their NBA resumes (MVPs, Hall of Fame, All-NBA honors, career points) and coming up with a top 25 ranking. We were inspired to do it by Bill Russell’s recent one-night stay in the hospital and by James Harden’s likely MVP award after Russell Westbrook earned that nod last year.
1. Bill Russell (McClymonds, Oakland)
Legendary Boston Celtics center remains an icon of the sport with five MVP awards, 12 all-star selections and of course he led the Celtics to 11 world championships. He developed his game later on at USF after playing at McClymonds in early 1950s. One of his teammates at Mack was MLB Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.
2. Bill Walton (Helix, La Mesa)
There’s no debate about the first spot, but we could see arguments for the rest of the list on down. Walton had one MVP selection for 1978, the year after he led Portland to its only NBA title. He’s one of the best college centers of all-time (UCLA) and he was on one of the best high school teams in state history at Helix in 1970 that went 33-0.
3. Jason Kidd (St. Joseph, Alameda)
He’ll be rightfully inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame this summer. Jason is still the best player many in Northern California have ever seen and is regarded as one of the best point guards in NBA history.
4. Paul Pierce (Inglewood)
Our 1995 Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year for the Sentinels, Pierce had a 19-year NBA career and will be a first-ballot Naismith Hall of Famer once he’s eligible. As of his retirement after the 2016-17 season, he had more than 26,000 points and was an NBA all-star 10 times.
5. Reggie Miller (Poly, Riverside)
When he retired from the Indiana Pacers in 2007, Reggie had the NBA record for career three-pointers with 2,560. For the record, his sister, Cheryl, would still be No. 1 as the best girls/women’s player ever from California.
6. Gary Payton (Skyline, Oakland)
One of the best defensive point guards ever, Payton went into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2013. He played most of his career with the Seattle Supersonics and was an NBA all-star nine times with more than 21,000 career points.
7. Russell Westbrook (Leuzinger, Lawndale)
Last year’s MVP of the league had another sensational season for triple-doubles and seems destined to be a multi-year all-star and first ballot Hall of Famer. Leading the Oklahoma City Thunder, Westbrook became just the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double in 2016-17 and did it again this season.
8. James Harden (Artesia, Lakewood)
The likely MVP of the league for this season as the star of the Houston Rockets has perfected the step-back jumper while at the same time being able to set up teammates for make-able shots. In leading the Rockets to 65 wins in the regular season, Harden averaged 30.4 points and 8.8 assists per game.
9. Bill Sharman (Porterville)
A former head coach of the Lakers, Sharman is in the Hall of Fame as both a player and coach. As a player, he was inducted in 1976 and was named an NBA All-Star eight times.
10. Gail Goodrich (Poly, Sun Valley)
There are five NBA all-star selections showing for Goodrich’s resume. He also led UCLA to its first NCAA title with teammate Walt Hazzard. Goodrich went into the Hall of Fame in 1996.
11. Jamaal Wilkes (Santa Barbara & Ventura)
Known as Silk, Wilkes was an NBA Rookie of the Year for the Golden State Warriors when they won their first title (1975) and later was a standout with the Lakers. Wilkes was inducted to Springfield in 2012.
12. Hank Luisetti (Galileo, San Francisco)
After Luisetti led Stanford to a pair of NIT titles in the late 1930s in New York, he revolutionized the game by shooting the ball in the air instead of on the ground. At the very first International Hall of Fame inductions in 1959, Luisetti was one of very few charter members.
13. Dennis Johnson (Centennial, Compton)
He went to L.A. Harbor College after high school, developed enough to get a scholarship to Pepperdine and was a second round pick in the 1976 NBA Draft. Despite those humblee beginings, DJ became one of the best defenders in league history, earned five NBA All-Star nods and was MVP of the 1979 NBA Finals in leading Seattle to its only championship.
14. K.C. Jones (Commerce, San Francisco)
Teammate of Bill Russell at the University of San Francisco, K.C. later rejoined Russell with the Boston Celtics and was one of their best players during their dominance in the 1960s. Jones was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1989.
15. Damian Lillard (Oakland)
Just named to the All-NBA first team, Damian has averaged right at 27 ppg for the last two seasons. His career clearly is on a Hall of Fame track. One of our favorites as well because he was only a two-star college prospect. We had him on our all-state team, however, above many higher rated prospects.
16. Kawhi Leonard (M.L. King, Riverside)
Another of our all-time favorites for the way he’s handled himself in all situations, beginning with his junior season when his father was killed in a shooting. Kawhi had an injury-marred season this year, but already has an NBA Finals MVP award from 2014 with the San Antonio Spurs.
17. Paul Silas (McClymonds, Oakland)
Regarded as one of the best rebounders in NBA history, Silas also scored nearly 12,000 points and was a top player for three Boston Celtics’ world title teams. At McClymonds, Silas helped the Warriors win 65 straight games from 1957 to 1960, still the second-longest win streak in state history.
18. Jim Pollard (Oakland Tech)
He was a standout for the Bulldogs in the late 1930s (listed as Mr. Basketball for 1939), then went to Stanford and finally was a four-time NBA All-Star. Pollard was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978.
19. George Yardley (Newport Harbor, Newport Beach)
He didn’t have a long career, but Yardley was a six-time NBA All-Star. In 1958, he averaged 27.8 ppg and became the first player to score more than 2,000 points in a season. Yardley went into the Hall of Fame in 1996. All of the players on this list below Yardley are not in the Hall of Fame (at least not yet).
20. Marques Johnson (Crenshaw, Los Angeles)
Based on NBA career, Marques is the best player that legendary head coach Willie West had during his career at Crenshaw. Johnson, who was part of a UCLA national title team as well, scored nearly 14,000 points in his NBA career and was an all-star five times.
21. Paul Westphal (Aviation, Redondo Beach)
The five-time All-NBA player ended his career with nearly 13,000 points. At Aviation in 1968, Westphal became the first player in state history to score 1,000 points or more in one season.
22. Kevin Johnson (Sacramento)
We’ve often credited the record-breaking career of Elk Grove’s Bill Cartwright in the mid-1970s as helping greatly with the founding of Cal-Hi Sports, but have to admit that based on NBA accomplishments that the former major of the city would have to be regarded the all-time top player from the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section. KJ was a three-time NBA All-Star, scored more than 13,000 points and had 20-point, 10-assist averages that still put him among the best point guards the league has seen.
23. Reggie Theus (Inglewood)
Another member of the state’s famed Class of 1975 (Bill Cartwright, Bill Laimbeer, David Greenwood, Roy Hamilton, Paul Mokeski, James Hardy, etc.), Theus had a long NBA career that ended with him scoring 19,015 points. He also was a two-time NBA All-Star.
24. Kiki VanDeWeghe (Palisades, Pacific Palisades)
Another from UCLA on this list, VanDeWeghe scored nearly 16,000 points in his NBA career and was an all-star twice. He currently works as executive vice president for basketball operations at the league office.
25. Tyson Chandler (Dominguez, Compton)
Two-time Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year was a No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft and was key player on Dallas Mavericks’ 2011 NBA title team. Chandler has been All-NBA for defense many times.
Stacey Augmon (Muir, Pasadena)
Bill Cartwright (Elk Grove)
Baron Davis (Crossroads, Santa Monica)
DeMar DeRozan (Compton)
Michael Cooper (Pasadena)
Tayshaun Prince (Dominguez, Compton)
Byron Scott (Morningside, Inglewood)
Klay Thompson (Santa Margarita, Rancho SM)