This list is different than the top 50 we just did of the best football players we’ve seen in our more than 40 years of doing Cal-Hi Sports in various platforms. It’s different because it’s the top 25 of our longtime boys basketball analyst and Southern California grassroots regular Ronnie Flores and also a different top 25 from longtime editor Mark Tennis. Compare, contrast and feel free in the comments to list your own top 25. Both Ronnie and Mark do agree on one thing: Jason Kidd is the best player from California in the last 40 years.
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The best part about writing up a list of the best players to have been seen in a long period of time is that the only debate is with one’s own memory. Did we see that guy play or not? Was that player that good compared to the ones from just last year?
With Cal-Hi Sports having a history of more than 40 years and with these types of lists gaining in popularity during the current COVID-19 sports shutdown, we thought it would be fun to do it for our own years of covering California high school boys basketball.
Obviously, this is a ranking list of the best players we’ve seen in person during a game or an all-star game. If a player isn’t listed, it’s likely just because we didn’t get to see that player in a game.
We’re going to begin this post with the best 25 players that longtime managing editor and SoCal grassroots guru Ronnie Flores has seen followed by the top 25 from longtime Cal-Hi Sports editor Mark Tennis.
The first school year that Ronnie says he began to closely watch top basketball players was 1984-85 so he wouldn’t be listing anyone earlier than that. He did see Crenshaw’s John Williams in the season before that. Mark goes back to Bill Cartwright of Elk Grove in the 1974-75 school year and remembers going to an all-star game at Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento in 1975 in which many of those from the state’s legendary Class of 1975 played. In addition to Cartwright playing for a group of California all-stars vs. all-stars from the rest of the nation were Roy Hamilton, David Greenwood, Reggie Theus, James Hardy & Bill Laimbeer.
Without further delay, here’s our best of the best boys hoops players we’ve seen from California high schools (listed with senior season):
Ronnie Flores’ Top 25 Players
He’s Seen (As HS Talents)
1. Jason Kidd (St. Joseph, Alameda) ’92
NorCal icon in high school consistently impacted winning basketball on both ends of the floor more than anyone.
2. John Williams (Crenshaw, Los Angeles) ’84
SoCal’s best all-around player ever.
3. Ed O’Bannon (Artesia, Lakewood) ‘90
Complete package of talent, skill and the burning desire to win, with results.
4. Paul Pierce (Inglewood) ‘95
Always talented, he took off at Pac Shores Tourney his junior year and never looked back.
5. Stanley Johnson (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) ‘14
Four state titles in highest classification, he willed Monarchs to final one with skill and IQ.
6. Lonzo Ball (Chino Hills) ‘16
Left his indelible mark on SoCal basketball by leading public school to FAB 50 national title plus 35-0 season in memorable fashion.
7. Tyson Chandler (Dominguez, Compton) ‘01
Like Zo, Chandler won a FAB 50 title and his dominant play might be a bit overlooked because Dominguez blew teams away.
8. Aaron Gordon (Archbishop Mitty, San Jose) ’13
Just a delight to watch and a delight to coach for Tim Kennedy and NorCal’s most dominant talent since 2000.
9. DeShawn Stevenson (Washington, Easton) ’00
Central Section’s best since the Pondexter brothers at San Joaquin Memorial, Stevenson was a man among boys well known since the 7th grade.
10. Tracy Murray (Glendora) ’89
Best shooter of this group was underrated in other areas and earned everything that came his way after early injury scare.
11. Baron Davis (Crossroads, Santa Monica) ‘97
Known as the “Godfather” to his playing peers, his impact on the court was just as great as arguably SoCal’s most explosive PG.
12. DeMarcus Nelson (Sheldon, Sacramento) ‘04
“The Iceman” is not only the state’s all-time leading scorer, he’s top 15 in rebounding and assists.
13. Jacque Vaughn (Muir, Pasadena) ’93
Muir’s Magic is the most exciting player we’ve seen the past 30 years and one of the brightest, too.
14. Harold Miner (Inglewood) ’89
With his zero-gravity dunks, “Baby Jordan” is one of the most influential SoCal players of all-time.
15. Ivan Rabb (Bishop O’Dowd, Oakland) ’15
Got it done by leading the Dragons to NorCal’s only CIF crown in the Open Division era.
16. Chris Mills (Fairfax, Los Angeles) ’88
One of the state’s smoothest scorers ever, Mills had a NBA-ready game in high school.
17. Kenny Brunner (Dominguez, Compton) ’97
Catalyst in making the Dons a national program sported 123-14 record and was never mentally beat by anyone.
18. Jrue Holiday (Campbell Hall, North Hollywood) ’08
His body control and command of the game were second to none en route to three CIF state titles.
19. Tayshaun Prince (Dominguez, Compton) ’98
Beats out a few at the bottom of this list because his defense complimented his offense so well.
20. Steve Thompson (Crenshaw, Los Angeles) ‘86
Beats out his teammate John Staggers (who didn’t play D) and his son Ethan Thompson by winning two CIF D1 crowns.
21. James Harden (Artesia, Lakewood) ’07
Taylor King beat him out for Mr. Basketball (career achievement), but Harden was as good an offensive playmaker as anyone to come down pike.
22. Jalen Green (San Joaquin Memorial, Fresno) ‘20
Explosive guard didn’t play his last year for CIF program, but did enough in first three years to knock off Brandon Jennings (who went out of state two years).
23. T.J. Leaf (Foothill Christian, El Cajon) ’16
A cinch Mr. Basketball pick if not for Lonzo Ball, the talented forward might be San Diego’s best since Bill Walton.
24. Andrew Gooden (El Cerrito) ’99
Talented forward edges out Modesto Christian’s Chuck Hayes and St. Joe’s Ray Young as final NorCal player to make the cut.
25. Chris Hernandez (Clovis West, Fresno) ‘01
Tough as nails point guard who won tons of big-time games edges East Bakersfield’s J.R. Henderson as final Central Section choice.
Mark Tennis’ Top 25 Players
He’s Seen (As HS Talents)
1. Jason Kidd (St. Joseph, Alameda) ’92
After three quarters of the 1992 D1 state final, Jason had outscored the other team by himself and that team was Mater Dei (Santa Ana).
2. John Williams (Crenshaw, Los Angeles) ’84
Kind of the boys hoops version of our No. 1 football player, D.J. Williams of De La Salle. Simply put, a man amongst boys.
3. Bill Cartwright (Elk Grove) ’75
It could be argued that the stir he created at the 1975 NorCal TOC led to the state playoffs beginning a few years later.
4. Tyson Chandler (Dominguez, Compton) ’01
We didn’t have to wonder about him going to the NBA straight from high school because the two-time Mr. Basketball was the No. 2 pick in the first round of that 2001 draft.
5. Lonzo Ball (Chino Hills) ’16
Yes, those were two awesome freshmen on that Chino Hills team, but Lonzo’s senior year play on that squad was unforgettable.
6. Aaron Gordon (Archbishop Mitty, San Jose) ’13
Teams beat him up with double and triple teams but they still couldn’t stop him.
7. Stanley Johnson (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) ’14
We saw all four of the state title games in which Stanley played and he stepped up in each one of them.
8. Tracy Murray (Glendora) ’89
You had to be there when Tracy hit for 64 points in a CIF state title game and his team lost.
9. Paul Pierce (Inglewood) ’95
Always wish I had gone with our magazine publisher to meet Paul for a photo shoot during his Inglewood High career.
10. Baron Davis (Crossroads, Santa Monica) ’97
He had a great combination of being flashy but controlled while leading the Roadrunners to a state title.
11. Kawhi Leonard (M.L. King, Riverside) ’09
The offense wasn’t in his game yet, but he was a phenomenal defender/shot blocker and we were blown away how he handled everything he went through in his junior year.
12. Kevin Johnson (Sacramento) ’83
State’s leading scorer for average (Tom Tolbert of Lakewood Artesia was second) was a great shooter and could get to the bucket as quick as anyone I’ve ever seen.
13. James Harden (Artesia, Lakewood) ’07
State Junior of the Year for 2006 was on such a balanced team at Artesia that it kept his stats lower than they probably would have been elsewhere.
14. Tayshaun Prince (Dominguez, Compton) ’98
Saw him at least once in all four of his prep seasons and just so unique in his skills, body type and overall presence.
15. Jrue Holiday (Campbell Hall, North Hollywood) ’08
One of three Holiday brothers in the NBA, Jrue clearly is the one who had the most impressive high school career.
16. DeShawn Stevenson (Washington, Easton) ’00
Dynamic wing player stays No. 1 for me from CIF Central Section, but this wouldn’t count Jalen Green’s year at Prolific Prep.
17. Klay Thompson (Santa Margarita, Rancho SM) ’08
Some might not rank Klay that high as a high school player, but for a lot of us in NorCal we didn’t see him play until that state final vs. Sac High when he set a state title game record with seven 3-pointers and scored 37 points.
18. Jeremy Lin (Palo Alto) ’06
The magical run he led the Vikings on during that 2006 season (ending with a win over Mater Dei in the state final) wound up being repeated when he debuted in the NBA for the New York Knicks a few years later.
19. DeMarcus Nelson (Sheldon, Sacramento) ’04
It was fun seeing DeMarcus break the state career scoring record that night at old Arco Arena. It’s a record that still stands.
20. Stevie Thompson (Crenshaw, Los Angeles) ’86
Most would say Marques Johnson is the best player ever from Crenshaw, but neither Ronnie or myself were able to see him play. We both saw that 1986 D1 state title team and loved what Stevie could do on the court.
21. Ed O’Bannon (Artesia, Lakewood) ’90
Younger brother Charles almost made it onto my top 25 list as well.
22. Jalen Green (San Joaquin Memorial, Fresno) ’20
Saw him as a junior at Modesto Christian tourney so this is one list he can be on.
23. Gary Payton (Skyline, Oakland) ’86
Teammate Greg Foster got a lot of honors as well, but Payton had those great hands.
24. Ernest Lee (Kennedy, Sacramento) ’82
His sad story is well-known in Sacramento, but not many outside the city saw how explosive and how creative he was on the court. Ernest Lee was that good.
25. Onyeka Okongwu (Chino Hills) ’19
For my last spot it was between the Big O and Ivan Rabb of Bishop O’Dowd. Wish I had room for both.
Some others that perhaps could have been on either list:
Hassan Adams (Westchester, Los Angeles) ’03`
Arron Afflalo (Centennial, Compton) ’04
Gilbert Arenas (Grant, Van Nuys) ’99
Trevor Ariza (Westchester, Los Angeles) ’03
Ryan Anderson (Oak Ridge, El Dorado Hills) ’06
Stacy Augmon (Muir, Pasadena) ’86
Allen Crabbe (Price, Los Angeles) ’10
Demar DeRozan (Compton) ’08
LeRon Ellis (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) ’87
Jordan Farmar (Taft, Woodland Hills) ’04
David Greenwood (Verbum Dei, Los Angeles) ’75
Roy Hamilton (Verbum Dei, Los Angeles) ’75
Chuck Hayes (Modesto Christian) ’01
Sean Higgins (Fairfax, Los Angeles) ’87
Eldridge Hudson (Carson) ’82
Tony Jackson (Bishop O’Dowd, Oakland) ’82
Casey Jacobsen (Glendora) ’99
Jason Kapono (Artesia, Lakewood) ’99
Ernest Killum (Lynwood) ’90
Taylor King (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) ’07
Tom Lewis (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) ’85
Derrick Martin (St. Anthony, Long Beach) ’88
Don McLean (Simi Valley) ’88
Charles O’Bannon (Artesia, Lakewood) ’93
Cherokee Parks (Marina, Huntington Beach) ’91
Leon Powe (Oakland Tech) ’03
Kurt Rambis (Cupertino) ’76
Cliff Robinson (Castlemont, Oakland) ’77
Chris Sandle (Poly, Long Beach) ’84
John Staggers (Crenshaw, Los Angeles) ’88
Reggie Theus (Inglewood) ’75
Luke Walton (University, San Diego) ’98
Scott Williams (Wilson, Hacienda Heights) ’86
Ray Young (St. Joseph, Alameda) ’98