Just like the boys, 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 girls basketball analyst and California girls hoops evaluator Harold Abend 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 Harold and Mark do agree on one thing: Cheryl Miller is still the best player from California in the last 40 years and for all 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 girls 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 associate editor and California girls hoops guru Harold Abend has seen followed by the top 25 from longtime Cal-Hi Sports editor Mark Tennis.
Harold says the first big girls game he can remember going to was the 1982 CIF state championship as a representative of a Bay Area TV station. That’s where he saw Riverside Poly’s Cheryl Miller lead her team to a state title and it was that one time in the state finals where more people came out to see a highly-touted girl play than any of the boys. In fact, Cheryl drew perhaps as many or more fans to a CIF state final than any boys player ever has.
Harold didn’t go to the state finals the year before, but Mark did so that’s why WNBA all-time great Cynthia Cooper of Los Angeles Locke is on Mark’s list but isn’t on Harold’s. Regardless, Harold over the years has made many, many more trips around the state to cover regular season showcase events than Mark so that’s why he has WNBA all-time great Diana Taurasi from Don Lugo of Chino on his list but she isn’t on Mark’s. The first games Mark can recall going to for the girls was when they debuted at the old Oakland Tournament of Champions and where he got to see three-time State Player of the Year Jackie White from San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno.
Without further delay, here’s our best of the best girls hoops players we’ve seen from California high schools (listed with senior season):
Harold Abend’s Top 25 Players
He’s Seen (As HS Talents)
1) Cheryl Miller (Riverside Poly) 1982
2) Lisa Leslie (Inglewood Morningside) 1990
3) Kelsey Plum (La Jolla Country Day) 2013
4) Diana Taurasi (Chino Don Lugo) 2000
5) Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (Santa Ana Mater Dei) 2011
6) Sabrina Ionescu (Orinda Miramonte) 2016
7) Haley Jones (San Jose) Archbishop Mitty) 2019
8) Destiny Littleton (San Diego Bishop’s) 2017
9) Chelsea Gray (Stockton St. Mary’s) 2010
10) Terri Mann (San Diego Point Loma) 1987
11) Jacki Gemelos (Stockton St. Mary’s) 2006
12) Candice Wiggins (La Jolla Country Day) 2004
13) Te-hina Paopao (La Jolla Country Day) 2020
14) Katie Lou Samuelson (Santa Ana Mater Dei) 2015
15) Renee Robinson (Atherton Sacred Heart Prep) 1996
16) Charde Houston (San Diego) 2004
17) Jordin Canada (Los Angeles Windward) 2014
18) Sa’de Wiley-Gatewood (Lynwood) 2004
19) Jeanette Pohlen (Brea-Olinda) 2007
20) Charisma Osborne (Los Angeles Windward) 2019
21) Jasmine Dixon (Long Beach Poly) 2008
22) Loree Moore (Harbor City Narbonne) 2001
23) Layshia Clarendon (San Bernardino Cajon) 2009
24) Courtney Paris (Piedmont) 2005
25) Nicole Erickson (Brea Olinda) 1994
Comparing players from five decades of covering girls high school basketball is a very inexact science but my Top 25 list goes back for high school players personally observed only. The first year of watching would be 1982. I saw Ann Meyers play in college, too. That means there may be some players that could be on the list but I didn’t see them in person. From my perspective, the order other than right near the top is very subjective and just making the list is what counts.
I can remember being asked to watch Cheryl Miller as a favor to my friend Jan Hutchins of Channel 5 sports in San Francisco. And it’s funny that she’s still the best I’ve ever seen. The competition she played against that night in the state final wasn’t that great, but she was just so good at everything she did on the court.
How to rank a player I love so much like Te-hina Paopao was the hardest because of her injuries and the lack of playing time that caused. La Jolla Country Day’s other two players on my list didn’t play for a mythical national title team, but they were able to do a lot more.
Mark Tennis’ Top 25 Players
He’s Seen (As HS Talents)
1. Cheryl Miller (Poly, Riverside) 1982
2. Lisa Leslie (Morningside, Inglewood) 1990
3. Terri Mann (Point Loma, San Diego) 1987
4. Jacki Gemelos (St. Mary’s, Stockton) 2006
5. Kelsey Plum (La Jolla Country Day) 2013
6. Sabrina Ionescu (Miramonte, Orinda) 2016
7. Cynthia Cooper (Locke, Los Angeles) 1981
8. Jackie White (San Joaquin Memorial, Fresno) 1980
9. Candice Wiggins (La Jolla Country Day) 2004
10. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) 2011
11. Loree Moore (Narbonne, Harbor City) 2001
12. Courtney Paris (Piedmont) 2005
13. Katie Lou Samuelson (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) 2015
14. Charisma Osborne (Windward, Los Angeles) 2019
15. Haley Jones (Archbishop Mitty, San Jose) 2019
16. Jayne Appel (Carondelet, Concord) 2006
17. Chelsea Gray (St. Mary’s, Stockton) 2010
18. Ebony Hoffman (Narbonne, Harbor City) 2000
19. Jordin Canada (Windward, Los Angeles) 2014
20. Te-hina Paopao (La Jolla Country Day) 2020
21. Danielle Viglione (Del Campo, Fair Oaks) 1993
22. Mariya Moore (Salesian, Richmond) 2014
23. Vickie Baugh (Sacramento) 2007
24. Brittany Boyd (Berkeley) 2011
25. Charde Houston (San Diego) 2004
Having never gone to the Nike TOC in Arizona likely is a great reason my own list probably wouldn’t match the list of someone who has. The best example of that is having Charisma Osborne of 2019 just ahead of Haley Jones. I saw Osborne have a great game in the 2018 state finals, a better showing than Haley had the year before.
Jacki Gemelos at No. 4 also may be a surprise to some. But that’s based on having seen her play more than once as a senior before she suffered the first of what turned out to be five knee injuries requiring surgery. Before that injury, she really was that good (at least in my opinion a touch higher than even Kelsey Plum or Sabrina Ionescu as seniors). We’re happy for her that she’s still playing and just this week has been in a WNBA playoff game.
The thing about Cheryl Miller is that she’s not just the best player I’ve still ever seen, but she’s probably still the best scorer, passer and rebounder, too. She’ll be the gold standard in women’s basketball for a long time to come.
Some others that perhaps could have been on either list that we saw play or that we didn’t get to see in a game:
Dominique Banks (Stockton St. Mary’s) 2003
Erin Buescher (Santa Rosa Rincon Valley Christian) 1997
Doretha Conwell (Los Angeles Locke) 1987
Denise Curry (Davis) 1977
Nirra Fields (Santa Ana Mater Dei) 2012
Michelle Greco (La Crescenta Crescenta Valley) 1997
Angel Hardy (Berkeley) 1980
Trise Jackson (Lynwood) 1988
Sara James (Oak Ridge, El Dorado Hills) 2010
Maylana Martin (Perris) 1996
Mimi McKinney (Peninsula, RH Estates) 1994
Ann Meyers (La Habra Sonora ) 1974
Shawntinice Polk (Hanford) 2001
Brandy Reed (San Francisco Balboa) 1994
Danielle Robinson (San Jose Archbishop Mitty) 2007
Jackie Rogers (Grant, Sacramento) 1983
Tanda Rucker (Berkeley) 1991
Charisse Sampson (Los Angeles Washington) 1992
Olympia Scott (St. Bernard, Playa del Rey) 1994
Karen Smith (Rio Americano, Sacramento) 1980
Tina Thompson (Inglewood Morningside) 1993
Kerri Walsh (San Jose Archbishop Mitty) 1996
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