NBA Draft: Melo, O go No. 3, No. 6

NBA Draft No. 3 LaMelo Ball is shown at left playing for the Illawarra Hawks last season in Australia. At right he’s shown after final game of 2016 season when he and freshman teammate Onyeka Okongwu started for Chino Hills team that finished 35-0 and won CIF Open Division state title. Photos: Wikipedia.com & Ronnie Flores.

The 2020 NBA Draft went down on Wednesday at ESPN headquarters in Connecticut with many hoop fans from California focusing on where former Chino Hills High teammates LaMelo Ball and Onyeka Okongwu were picked. We knew it would be in the lottery and it was with Ball going at No. 3 to the Charlotte Hornets while Okongwu went at No. 6 to the Atlanta Hawks. Combined with 2016 Chino Hills teammate Lonzo Ball’s No. 2 pick in 2017, that also made it three first-round picks off of one team. We also have added Sierra Canyon’s Kenyon Martin Jr. and Cassius Stanley onto an updated version of our all-time state list.

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Former high school teammates to go in the top six in any first round of any pro sports draft has happened before. Our favorite due to pop culture reasons has always been those two guys in the famous white Ford Bronco — O.J. Simpson and Al Cowlings — who were No. 1 and No. 4 respectively in the NFL Draft (Simpson in 1968 and Cowlings in 1969). They were teammates at Galileo of San Francisco.

There also was Alex Smith and Reggie Bush from Helix of La Mesa in football. They were chosen No. 1 and No. 2 in back-to-back NFL Drafts in 2005 and 2006.

Lonzo Ball brings up the ball for Chino Hills in 2016 contest vs. Bishop Montgomery of Torrance. Photo: Andrew Drennen.

None of those NFL duos were chosen that high, however, in the same pro sports draft. That’s what makes the selections of 2016-17 Chino Hills High team members LaMelo Ball and Onyeka Okongwu in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft on Wednesday that much more remarkable.

Ball was considered by many prognosticators to be perhaps chosen No. 1 overall. That didn’t happen, so California’s only two so far in the NBA remain Billy “The Hill” McGill from Jefferson of Los Angeles in 1962 and Bill Walton from Helix of La Mesa in 1974. Ball went at No. 3 on Wednesday to the Charlotte Hornets. Just about 15 minutes later, Okongwu was chosen at No. 6 overall by the Atlanta Hawks (not too far from Charlotte).

It is only the fourth time in the history of the NBA Draft (which began in 1950) in which two players from the same California high school were selected in the same year. The last time was in 2006 when twin brothers Brook and Robin Lopez (graduates of Fresno San Joaquin Memorial) were drafted at No. 10 and No. 15 overall.

Ball and Okongwu were both freshmen starters on a Huskies’ squad in 2016 led by LaMelo’s older brother, Lonzo, and including his other brother, Li’Angelo, that not only won the CIF Open Division state title but ended 35-0 and was considered the mythical national champion. Lonzo, of course, was a first-round NBA Draft pick himself, going at No. 2 in 2017 to the Los Angeles Lakers, after playing one season at UCLA. He also was the 2016 Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year.

No team in any sport in state history has ever had a No. 2, No. 3 and a No. 6 pick in a major sports (NFL, NBA, MLB) pro draft. The closest we could find was Rancho Bernardo of San Diego for baseball in 2000, which had No. 7 and No. 8 in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft and then in 2002 had No. 17 in 2002.

“I’m so incredibly proud of Onyeka, Melo and Zo achieving their lifelong goal of making it to the NBA as lottery picks,” said 2016 Chino Hills head coach Steve Baik. “It’s so amazing how far the three of them have come. From their Chino Hills days to today’s NBA Draft. I couldn’t be happier for each of them and their families.”

Recalling magical moments of that 2016 season when LaMelo and O were playing alongside Lonzo became much more frequent as the days leading up to this year’s NBA Draft were counting down. It also was easy to recall those moments when it was time to choose the State Freshman of the Year. As many know, there are no ties in any Cal-Hi Sports selections so one of the two was going to have to be selected. After talking to many others in the media who saw Chino Hills play more than a few times, the significance of Okongwu’s quick development as a shot blocker, defender and rebounder on a team blessed with all of those shooters was deemed to be the difference.

In the following season of 2017, LaMelo was still playing for the Huskies as a sophomore. They didn’t repeat as CIF state champions, but Ball had that ridiculous 92-point game (2nd highest in state history) and for that season he was the one who was State Sophomore of the Year. After he left the school prior to his junior season, Okongwu became more of a focal point. He led the Huskies to CIF Division 1 state titles in 2018 and 2019 and was Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year. We’ll always wonder if the two would have traded those honors once again if they had continued to play together.

Ball played as a pro in Lithuania for the 2018 season and then at ASPIRE Academy in Ohio in 2019. He played last season as a pro in Australia. Okongwu went to USC as a freshman for last season, which ended up being his only season for the Trojans.

After Okongwu’s name was called, most people who’ve followed him since before he came to Chino Hills knew that he and his family were all thinking about the one person who wasn’t there to enjoy the moment. Onyeka’s older brother, Nnamdi, died at age 17 when Onyeka was 13 from a brain injury that happened when Nnamdi fell from a skateboard and hit his head.

Cassius Stanley played at Duke after helping Sierra Canyon win back-to-back CIF state titles. Photo: Dylan Stewart / CIFSS.org.

Does LaMelo Count For Chino Hills?

For being a teammate of his brothers and the Big O, sure he does. Plus, Ball essentially turned pro after leaving the school in 2017 when he signed to play overseas. On the other hand, he didn’t graduate from Chino Hills and he did play for another prep school program in 2019 when he ventured to ASPIRE Academy of Ohio. We’re going to list him as from Chino Hills for all future alumni lists since he did become a professional in the next season. That’s different than someone like Jalen Green, who will be a likely first-rounder in the 2021 NBA Draft. Green graduated from San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno, but didn’t turn pro after his junior season. He’ll be considered as from Prolific Prep (Napa) for all future alumni lists. Both La’Melo and Jalen will have to get alumni mentions regardless, but with notes and asterisks. We have a feeling that a lot of upcoming players will have similar asterisks attached in the coming years.

Sierra Canyon Teammates Go In The Second Round

Those 2018 and 2019 teams at Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth that won the CIF Open Division state title at the Golden1 Center in Sacramento also wound up with two players getting selected on the same night of the 2020 NBA Draft.

After the Chino Hills players went at No. 3 and No. 6, there was a long wait until the next player we count from a California high school heard his name called. That was Sierra Canyon’s Kenyon Martin Jr., who was chosen at No. 52 in the second round by the Sacramento Kings. It was quickly tweeted out that Martin would be reintroduced to the Golden1 Center, but almost as soon as that went out it was reported that Martin was going to be on the move to the Houston Rockets as part of a trade.

There certainly wasn’t nearly as much of a wait for the next pick to grab our attention. Just several minutes later, at No. 54, the Indiana Pacers nabbed Martin’s Sierra Canyon teammate, Cassius Stanley. It doesn’t look like Cassius is being traded, either.

After those two, along with current Vanderbilt sophomore Scotty Pippen Jr., led the Trailblazers to their second straight Open Division crown in 2019, they went different routes last season. Martin played at IMG Academy (prep school with fifth-year seniors) while Stanley played at national powerhouse Duke.

If Martin had been going to Sacramento, he’d have joined a Kings’ team that already has 2018 No. 2 NBA Draft pick Marvin Bagley. He was the first Sierra Canyon player to be in the NBA Draft (and he counts for Sierra Canyon since that was the last high school team he played for). Look for that total to go up in upcoming years.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports


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