Chino Hills and standout big man Onyeka Okongwu make it three state titles in the last four years with victory against James Logan of Union City in Division I championship. It wasn’t easy, though, as a foul-marred contest saw numerous starters foul out, including Okongwu. We also have recaps and photos from La Jolla Country Day’s victory in the Division III title contest plus Foothill of Bakersfield getting it done in Division V.
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(Cal-Hi Sports Editor Mark Tennis wrote the recap for Foothill-Mt. Shasta)
It was going to take a herculean effort from Northern California representative James Logan of Union City to knock off Chino Hills, the defending champions from Southern California in Friday’s marquee game at the CIF state boys basketball championships.
The Colts had the correct strategy, to take it straight at Chino Hills’ mainstay in the middle, USC-bound Onyeka Okongwu, and it worked early and worked in the third period. They also tried various defensive fronts against the state’s most dominant player. When it was all said and done, however, Chino Hills was able to get its best player the looks he wanted early, and when he was out of the game, his teammates fought through and hit just enough free throws to seal the 69-63 victory. The hard-fought win delivered the program its second straight D1 state crown, and its third state title with Okongwu in the lineup the past four seasons.
It was another virtuoso performance for last year’s Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year, as the Big O finished with 26 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and a steal, but the problem is his performance came in less than three full quarters. Okonwgu’s team led 41-28 at halftime and he had 19 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks, but he picked up his third foul early in the quarter. It didn’t seem like a big moment in the game, as Chino Hills’ second half lead got up to 19 points (50-31).
Okongwu’s foul count was one of the storylines coming into this game and near the end of the third period it became the focal point. He was called for two personal fouls 26 seconds apart and was disqualified from the game with 1:30 remaining in the third period and his team leading 54-39. At that point, the complexion of the game completely changed. With four fouls and an entire quarter to play, why didn’t Chino Hills head coach Dennis Latimore sit his big man until the fourth quarter?
“No, I didn’t ask him (Okongwu) if he wanted to stay in,” Latimore said, who won his second state D1 crown in as many years. “If he had four fouls in the first quarter, he wasn’t going to come out of a state championship game.”
James Logan (27-7) gained momentum and Chino Hills (25-10) reeled, but the Colts didn’t necessarily execute better, although the Huskies were completely out of sorts at times. That’s mainly because there was an abundance of foul calls on both sides, and three Logan regulars were disqualified after the Big O fouled out for Chino Hills. Logan, the No. 1 seed in the NorCal D1 regional which lost to open entrant De La Salle of Concord in the North Coast Section D1 title game, cut its deficit down to two points, 63-61, with 1:30 to go on a conventional 3-point play by senior forward Gabriel Hawkins (16 points, 10 rebounds). Chino Hills’ Anthony Bell attempted to draw the charge, but it wasn’t called after he had missed three of four three throws at the other end.
At that point, Chino Hills was holding on for dear life, but the Huskies got a big lift when seldom used reserve Uduakobong Essien converted his only field goal attempt of the game with 45 seconds remaining on an offensive rebound putback to give Chino Hills a 65-61 advantage after Logan had a golden opportunity to tie the game on a close range shot.
Then on Logan’s next possession, Hawkins shot a 3-pointer with Essien contesting on the fly-by, and the refs called Hawkins for an offensive foul for what appeared to be forcing contact with the defender and the Colts’ faithful couldn’t believe the sequence. Then with approximately 11 seconds remaining in the game, junior guard Brah’jon Thompson, who scored a team-high 19 points, launched a 3-pointer and the Logan bench wanted a basket inference called on Chino Hills’ Aibigho Ujadughele, but there was no whistle. Ujadughele appeared to touch the net, but no call was made. In between both bang-bang plays that went against Logan, Ujadughele and Bell each made one of two free throws attempts to give the Huskies a 67-63 lead. With 9.7 seconds remaining, senior guard Will Pluma made two free throws to ice the game and account for the final scoring.
“How can you call player control foul on a 3-point point shot? Don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before,” said Logan coach Melvin Easley. “The big guy was definitely the difference, but we also didn’t get the calls we should have gotten. Don’t want to put it on the refs, but that was frustrating.”
“I tried not to lose my mind and stay calm,” Latimore said. “I told O the kids would still win the game. I was frustrated. If the kid could have played in the fourth, he might have had 40 points and 20 rebounds. But what our guys did without O was awesome. They came in here and played defense, kept their composure and made free throws.”
Logan is now 0-3 all-time in CIF state championship games. Chino Hills moves to 3-1 in state championship games, including a 3-0 mark with Okongwu in the lineup. During his freshman season, he was a 14-year old starter on a CIF Open State championship team with the three Ball brothers (Lonzo, Li’Angelo and Le’Melo) that finished 35-0 and earned No. 1 national acclaim. In the past two seasons, Chino Hills lost 10 games during the season and avoided the open division, only to see Okongwu completely dominate both D1 SoCal regionals. The Big O finished his career with an incredible 31-3 post-season record.
When he fouled out, however, all that went out the window. The season, and in many respects his legacy as one of SoCal’s all-time best bigs, was on the line, and his teammates did just enough to cement that legacy as a dominant three-time state champ. Pluma’s performance was clutch, as he helped Chino Hills build a big first half lead and also got a friendly roll on a 3-pointer with just just over three minutes remaining that kept Chino Hills’ cushion at eight points. He finished with 18 points, made four 3-pointers and all six of his free throws. Bell was the third double-digit scorer for the CIF Southern Section D1 runner-ups with 12 points.
Chino Hills made 26-of-37 free throws while James Logan made only 6-of-12. Logan battled valiantly on the boards and Chino Hills only held a 43-36 advantage. It looked like Chino Hills was going to roll to another state title before Okongwu’s foul trouble, but in the end he’ll be remembered as a winner and one of the better big men we’ve seen at the CIF state championships. On this night, however, Okongwu rightfully gave the credit to his teammates.
“You know, it’s been great,” Okongwu said of winning three of four state titles. “The first two years we only lost a couple of games. The past two years we held it together with my boys. We did it together. It’s hard to describe how I feel. I can’t describe anything.”
Somebody else close to the Big O was able to sum up the game and the situation a bit better.
His mother, Kate Okongwu, was walking out of the Golden 1 Center saying, with a sigh of relief, “He got a ring, that’s all that matters.”
It’s One For The Boys At Country Day
The Torreys of La Jolla Country Day have a nationally-known girls basketball program, but senior starters Ryan Langborg, Raymond Lu and Jayson Taylor were determined to put the boys basketball team on the statewide map this season. It was a rough beginning to the season, as head coach Ryan Meier’s club battled injuries and took a 64-55 loss to Cathedral Catholic of San Diego in the CIF San Diego Section D1 semifinals. La Jolla Country Day, however, put it all together at the right time and delivered the program’s first boys championship in its first championship appearance in a game that was never in doubt.
“I’m pretty speechless honestly,” said the Princeton-bound Langborg, who had game-highs of 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists. “I’m excited to win this with my family here and my friends and excited to get back to San Diego to celebrate with them.”
Langborg but his stamp on the game throughout with his quickness, passing and work on the boards. His senior classmate, 6-foot-10 Tufts University-bound Taylor, got La Jolla Country Day (23-13) off to a good start by scoring the first six points for his team. Taylor finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, while senior point guard Lu added eight points, five assists and three steals for the Torreys.
Meier was gushing over his senior trio and couldn’t be more proud of how they closed their careers. Meier also knew his was the better team, but was happy and understood things went his team’s way as well.
“We were very fortunate to be on the positive side of things,” Meier said. “It’s pretty surreal to see my seniors start off their careers with a section title and end it with a state championship. I’ve never been as close as I am to any players I’ve coached as I am to this trio (Langborg, Taylor, Lu).”
University (27-10) didn’t shoot well enough or rebound well enough to pull off the upset victory and two big runs spelled doom for the NorCal representative, which won the North Coast Section D5 crown. The Red Devils shot 26 percent (12-of-47) from the field, while LJCD shot 46 percent (25-of-54). The big statistical difference was LJCD’s 47-27 rebounding advantage. University had one double-digit scorer, senior forward Charley Moore with 13 points. Max Fried, who helped University win 108 games in his four-year career, finished with six points.
When Taylor scored his early points, the score was 6-3, but the first period ended with University trailing 17-3. University showed signs of life in the third period, cutting its deficit to 38-28, but the Torreys ended the quarter on a 13-1 run to take a 51-29 lead. It was just a matter of running out the final eight minutes to officially call LJCD state champions.
University head coach Randy Bessolo, whose record fell to 0-5 in state title games, focused on his team’s terrific season afterwards.
“It’s been a heck of a season, as our guys won the school’s first NCS D5 title in 17 years,” Bessolo said. “I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. The effort was there, but as you saw, the game started the wrong way.”
Foothill Climbs The Mountain
It might have been a mistake that Foothill of Bakersfield was placed into the CIF Division 5 playoffs instead of a higher division, but none of that mattered as the players and coaches soaked up the atmosphere of being in a press conference at an NBA arena after their 78-66 win over Mt. Shasta to win a CIF state title.
The Trojans (24-11) won only the third state basketball title for a school from Kern County, although they were one of the previous winners with a D2 championship in 1988.
Jaden Phillips, a standout sophomore guard who led Foothill with 25 points and made 10 of 10 free throws, has a connection to that previous title team. His uncle, Reggie Phillips, was one of the top players on that squad.
Head coach Wes Davis of Foothill admitted after the game that shortly after the pairings were announced for the CIF Southern California playoffs that he thought he thought he might get a follow-up phone call informing him there was an error. That was apparent when looking at Foothill being in D5 while a team the Trojans beat in the CIF Central Section Division IV semifinals, Central Valley Christian of Visalia, was put in D4 while a team the Trojans beat in their section final, Bakersfield Christian, was in D3.
No follow-up message came to Davis, but his players answered a different call to step up in the postseason no matter which division it was in.
“I know that anytime teams make it into the state playoffs they have to be good,” Davis said. “I’ve never paid much attention to what divisions we’re in.”
For most of Friday’s game, Foothill’s size and athleticism up front certainly wasn’t typical for a Division 5 team. The Trojans had a hard time stopping Mt. Shasta twin brothers Kaden and Kole Riccomini, but they forged a 38-33 halftime lead than then on a 11-2 run in the third quarter to gain some separation. The closest the Bears got after that was 71-62 in the fourth quarter.
While Mt. Shasta’s own big men, 6-foot-6 Kody Bauman and 6-foot-7 Jett Snure, had their moments against Foothill’s 6-foot-8 Edward Turner and 6-foot-6 Warren Stingley, the Bears had no answer for 6-foot-4 senior Elijah Seales. He complemented Phillips’ scoring nicely with 22 points while grabbing eight rebounds. Turner ended with 12 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks while Stingley had nine points and 13 rebounds.
“Honestly for us, it was a tough year at times because we had some kids early on that were deemed ineligible,” Davis said. “The team you see tonight is what we envisioned. To see us now is a sigh of relief. But now we’re always going to hear our names in the history of Foothill basketball.”
Mt. Shasta, which has an enrollment of just over 340 students compared to Foothill in the range of 2,000, was and has been a team that historically the average fan would consider D5. Despite that, the Bears were 33-1 entering the game and had routed most of the other small schools teams they played. Even in defeat to Foothill, Mt. Shasta’s final record of 33-2 is tied for the most wins in CIF Northern Section history. According to that section’s historian, Kevin Askeland of Orland, the Bears tied the record of 33 set just last week by Redding Christian, a Division 6 team. Both teams were able to play extra games this year (as opposed to a team like Pleasant Valley of Chico, which last year went 32-2) to help them break that record, but regardless it’s still a record.
Both Riccomini brothers showed they belonged on the big stage, but Kaden particularly drew some praise from Foothill’s coach and he finished with a game-high of 29 points. Kole had 13 points while Bauman had 10 points ad six rebounds.
“This was an awesome experience to get the chance to play here,” Kaden Riccomini said. “The community support we had was awesome, too. In the last four playoff games at our gym the place was nuts. Many of them made the ride here for us.”
Added Mt. Shasta head coach Cliff Blakely: “Their pressure gave us problems, but our guys played hard. I feel like we had a great season. The guys worked hard all summer. We just came up short today.”