After conclusion of the 2019 NBA playoffs, we present our picks of the top 25 players from California high schools. This list had to be revised quite a bit from the first time we did it after Kahwi Leonard of M.L. King (Riverside) led the Toronto Raptors to the NBA title. Kahwi of course also is part of the greatest group of NBA players from the state ever. None of them may not ever get close to the player we’ve had No. 1 on the list for many years.
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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 just natural that some athletes get better after after high school. 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. The last two NBA MVPs being from California (2017 & 2018) inspired us to do these lists the first time.
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 late 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 was rightfully inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame last 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. James Harden (Artesia, Lakewood)
The MVP of the league for last 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 in the 2019 regular season, Harden averaged 36.1 points and 7.5 assists per game. He, Leonard and former teammate Russell Westbrook are clearly on track to being among the greatest players in NBA history.
5. Kawhi Leonard (M.L. King, Riverside)
One of our all-time favorite athletes from the state that we’ve ever covered because of how he’s handled himself, beginning with his junior season when his father was killed in a shooting, Kawhi has all of Canada at his fingertips after leading the Toronto Raptors to the 2019 NBA championship. He was MVP of the NBA Finals for the second time and is the first former Mr. Basketball from the state to do that. Kawhi had an injury-marred season last year, but got himself back on track as one of the game’s all-time great players.
6. Russell Westbrook (Leuzinger, Lawndale)
The 2017 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 after doing it a second time in 2017-18.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. Damian Lillard (Oakland)
Already with more than one All-NBA first team honors, Damian has averaged more than 25 ppg for the last three 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.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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 humble 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.
16. Klay Thompson (Santa Margarita, Rancho SM)
After scoring 37 points in the CIF D3 state finals, Klay went to Washington State, but has later proved he should have been playing at one of the big-time college programs. He’s become one of the best three-point shooters in NBA history and is an elite defender for the three-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. 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).
21. 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.
22. 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.
23. 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.
24. Paul George (Knight, Palmdale)
He was one of the league’s top players with the Indiana Pacers, suffered a horrific injury while playing for Team USA, then got traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The injury and trade are now all behind him and in the 2018-19 season he was first team All-NBA and was one of the league’s leading scorers.
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)
Reggie Theus (Inglewood)
Kiki VanDeWeghe (Palisades, Pacific Palisades)