These five players can be considered finalists to be considered for the Ms. Basketball honoree for California for 2020. Look for the winner to be announced several days after we have honored the annual State Coach of the Year. We like to write up finalists before doing the actual Ms. Basketball feature since it can be an accolade in and of itself that is special. We didn’t have any non-seniors as boys finalists but we do have two juniors joining three seniors for the girls.
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Congratulations to the following five players who have been chosen as finalists for the 2020 selection as Ms. Basketball in California. This is also the Cal-Hi Sports State Player of the Year, which dates back to to before 1950 and includes legendary women’s basketball players such as Ann Meyers, Cheryl Miller, Lisa Leslie, Diana Taurasi, Kelsey Plum and Sabrina Ionescu.
(All listed in alphabetical order)
Anya Choice (Cardinal Newman, Santa Rosa) 5-8 Sr.
We wanted to have at least one nominee from Northern California in a year that was dominated in the individual player category by girls from Southern California, and while arguments were made for other girls to be the lone NorCal nominee, in the end it was the UC Santa Barbara-bound Choice that was our choice, pardon the pun.
One of the factors that solidified her nomination was a career-high and school-record 43 points (six rebounds, six steals, three assists) with eight three-pointers in a 64-59 CIF North Coast Section Open Division semifinal victory over Salesian of Richmond. She had a tough outing in the CIFNCS Open title-game loss to St. Joseph Notre Dame, but followed that up with a game-high 19 points (three three-pointers) with seven rebounds, six assists and three steals in a 50-48 upset of host St. Mary’s of Stockton in the Cardinals’ CIF Northern Regional Open Division quarterfinal victory.
Her season ended in a NorCal Open semifinal loss to Archbishop Mitty where she had 14 points, but she still managed to average 24.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.3 steals with 78 three-pointers this season and her 2,206 career points is a school record as well for girls or boys.
Vanessa De Jesus (Sierra Canyon, Chatsworth) 5-7 Sr.
Besides being smooth on the court, De Jesus can tickle the ivories as a classically-trained pianist. She’s also a finalist for Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year after helping lead the Trailblazers to a 25-7 record and a spot in the CIF Southern Regional Open Division where they could not sweep Gold Coast League arch rival Windward when they lost 65-59 after a 56-54 victory in league.
On a team with a lot of talented players and only one basketball, the Duke-bound De Jesus had season averages of 15.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game and she had 62 three-pointers. Her top games came against state-ranked teams. She had 32 points, four rebounds and three assists on the road in a 62-56 victory over Long Beach Poly when that team was No. 1 in the state. On the road at Rosary of Fullerton, De Jesus also had 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists, and in CIF Southern Section Open Division Pool play she scored 25 points with seven rebounds and five assists in a 60-53 victory over Lynwood.
In addition, as a junior, De Jesus was the No. 1 honors candidate from a Sierra Canyon team that won the CIF Open Division state title.
Brooke Demetre (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) 6-3 Jr.
The Stanford-bound Demetre, who was the 2019 State Sophomore of the Year, also repeats as a Ms. Basketball State Player of Year finalist. Demetre, who can play any position on the court, and is equally as comfortable on the perimeter where she can shoot the three-pointer, as she is down low, had a bit of a slow start but by the time the CIF Southern Section Open Division came around she showed just why with her all-around game Stanford offered her early.
In the final game of Pool A play in the CIFSS Open Division, she put the team on her back. Trailing Sierra Canyon 58-54 with 1:43 left, Demetre scored the team’s final seven points in what ended up as a 61-60 overtime victory. Her shot that tied it at 58-58 in regulation and sent the game to overtime was a difficult one. From there she had three free-throws in the extra period to ice things and finished with 16 points. She wasn’t the leading scorer but her double-double 13 points and 10 rebounds with two steals and two blocks was a huge part of the Monarchs 77-65 victory over Windward in the Southern Section Open Division title game.
On the season Demetre, who was the MVP of the Platinum Division of the West Coast Jamboree after Mater Dei defeated Sierra Canyon and Vanessa De Jesus in the championship game, averaged 12.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
(Harvard-Westlake, Studio City) 6-1 Jr.
The 2018 State Freshman of the Year is and has been the ultimate double-double machine all three years of her high school career with her output rising like an elevator each year.
After going for 17.0 points and 10.8 rebounds as a freshman and 19.8 points and 13.4 rebounds in her sophomore year, this past season she averaged 23.5 points and 15.1 rebounds a game and shot 58 percent from the field. Iriafen had 27 double-doubles in a 25-9 season that ended in a 59-56 loss on the road in San Diego at Cathedral Catholic in the CIF Southern Regional Division I title game in which Iriafen had her final double-double after finishing with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Along the way, Kiki also had 25 or more points 14 times and 30 or more five times with a high of 37 points in a 58-56 victory against a solid West of Torrance. One of her top performances came in the CIF Southern Section Division I title game 55-42 victory over Troy of Fullerton when Iriafen went for 25 points and 17 rebounds.
According to Harvard-Westlake head coach Melissa Hearlihy, dozens of schools, including Baylor, Connecticut, Stanford, UCLA and USC, have shown interest in Kiki, with Stanford, UCLA and USC offering her a scholarship.
Te-hina Paopao (La Jolla Country Day) Sr.
All you have to know about Paopao is with La Jolla Country Day only holding a 39-34 lead after three quarters, and in a game the Torreys trailed early on, Paopao put the team on her shoulders and scored 14 of her game high 30 points (seven rebounds, four steals, two blocks) in the fourth quarter of a 59-48 CIF Southern Regional Open Division championship game victory over Los Angeles Windward.
Playing a national level schedule that saw La Jolla Country Day go 32-1 and finish No. 1 in the Cal-Hi Sports rankings and No. 1 in the nation in every computer or human ranking, the Oregon-committed Paopao had per game averages of 22.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.2 steals per game. She made 82 three-pointers and shot a respectable 37 percent from beyond the arc. Paopao had 10 double-doubles and had 25 or more points 10 times and 30 or more on four occasions with a high of 36 points early in the season in a 79-54 victory over Roosevelt of Eastvale.
A final amazing stat is in 33 games, Paopao, who handled the ball a ton, only had 50 turnovers. All of this came after the feisty but engaging Te-hina had to miss her freshman season and just about all of her sophomore season due to knee injuries.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend