While most basketball fans in the state were buzzing about the L.A. Lakers getting superstar Russell Westbrook in a trade, the hugs and high fives were plentiful for those young players from the state who were selected on Thursday in the 2021 NBA Draft. California actually tied a record with players going at No. 2 and No. 3 overall and had three of the first 10 and four in all in the first round. Go inside for a look at all players selected in both rounds.
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Since they were in the ninth grade, it’s been a flip-flop of positions in the Cal-Hi Sports Hot 100 for the Class of 2020 and all-state team selections for California basketball players Jalen Green and Evan Mobley.
The final time those two will be on the same board perhaps took place on Thursday night at the 2021 NBA Draft that was held at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn. Green, who played three years at San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno before one season at Prolific Prep and then another with the NBA G League Ignite team, was chosen at No. 2 overall in the first round by the Houston Rockets. Mobley, who played four years at Rancho Christian of Temecula and then one season at USC, was selected with the very next pick at No. 3 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In the weeks coming into this year’s draft, various mock drafts had the two California players in the second and third spots behind Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, who was indeed the No. 1 pick on Thursday by the Detroit Pistons. It was only in the few days leading up to the actual draft that most analysts thought it would be Green second and Mobley third.
It’s always been an apples-and-oranges comparison between Green and Mobley. Jalen has always been a very explosive shooting guard while Evan has been a 6-foot-11 (now listed at 7-foot) post player but who has shown flashes of being the type of 7-footer who can go outside and knock down three-pointers. Green was the State Sophomore of the Year in 2018 over Mobley, but the next year Mobley was the State Junior of the Year over Green. In Mobley’s senior year (after Green left for Prolific Prep), the Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year honor went to Sierra Canyon’s B.J. Boston, who went No. 51 in the second round to the New Orleans Pelicans.
It should be noted that Jalen is going to be listed as from both San Joaquin Memorial and Prolific Prep in future alumni lists. He did, after all, return to SJM to complete his high school academic work after his one season on the court at Prolific Prep and would accurately be called a graduate of the school. We generally do not include Prolific Prep players in alumni lists since it is a prep school type of program and is not a member of the CIF.
Green is not just the highest drafted player ever from San Joaquin Memorial, he’s also the highest ever from the CIF Central Section. The previous best from the section was No. 4 in the first round for Fred Boyd (East Bakersfield), who went to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1972. Green also is the fifth from SJM to get drafted. Two of those previous picks were twins Brook and Robin Lopez at No. 10 and No. 15 in 2008. The other two were Cliff Pondexter (No. 16 in 1974) and Quincy Pondexter (No. 26 in 2010). Quincy is Cliff’s nephew.
If one doesn’t count Chino Hills as being from the Inland Empire, Mobley would be that region’s highest drafted player ever. The previous best would be Steve Johnson from San Gorgonio of San Bernardino at No. 7 in 1981. It’s hard to believe, but Hall of Famer Reggie Miller (Riverside Poly) and future Hall of Famer Kawhi Leonard (Riverside M.L. King) were not top 10 NBA draft picks. Miller went at No. 11 overall in 1987 while Leonard went at No. 15 in 2011.
No. 2 & No. 3 in the same draft
California has never had the No. 1 and No. 2 or No. 1 and No. 3 picks in the first round of the NBA Draft. But it has had No. 2 and No. 3 before plus several other interesting very high first round combinations.
The only other No. 2 and No. 3 in the first round took place in 1979 when David Greenwood from UCLA and Verbum Dei High (Los Angeles) was selected second by the Chicago Bulls and then right after him it was Bill Cartwright from USF and Elk Grove going third to the New York Knicks. Cartwright later went to the Bulls in a trade and was a key starter at center for the first three NBA title teams with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
We had a No. 3 and No. 6 just last year with Chino Hills’ teammates LaMelo Ball (Charlotte Hornets) and Onyeka Okongwu (Atlanta Hawks). There also has been a No. 2 and No. 5 in 1971 with Sidney Wicks (No. 2) of L.A. Hamilton and George Trapp (No. 5) of Monrovia, a No. 3 and No. 4 in 1977 with Marques Johnson (No. 3) of L.A. Crenshaw and Greg Ballard (No. 4) of Pomona Garey and a No. 3 and No. 4 in 1955 with Jim Loscutoff (No. 3) of Palo Alto and Ken Sears (No. 4) of Watsonville.
California hasn’t had a No. 1 overall pick since Hall of Famer Bill Walton (La Mesa Helix) went in that position in 1974 by the Portland Trail Blazers. There have been many at No. 2, however, including three in just the last five years.
Sierra Canyon strikes again
The exciting news for the faithful at Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth is that for the second straight year the school celebrated not one but two players who were drafted into the NBA. It was a different tale, however, for the two players this year.
Entering the night, Ziaire Williams of Stanford and Sierra Canyon had been projected to go in the range of No. 20 to No. 25 in the first round. But Williams (who also played at Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks before transferring to Sierra Canyon) instead was taken at No. 10 by the Memphis Grizzlies (who had their pick actually made by the New Orleans Pelicans due to a trade).
Williams’ teammate at Sierra Canyon in 2020, Boston Jr., had a different experience. The recent Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year was projected to go much higher than the No. 51 spot he was taken in the second round by the Pelicans. Boston Jr. played one season at Kentucky after he and Williams led Sierra Canyon to the 2020 CIF SoCal Open Division title and State Team of the Year honor. They didn’t get to play in the state finals, of course, as it was cancelled with the outbreak of the Coronavirus just two days earlier. Boston Jr. had a difficult freshman season in Lexington, which was compounded last April when he was driving a car right in front of his best friend, Terrance Clarke, and saw the car that Clarke was driving involved in an accident that killed him.
In last year’s NBA Draft, Sierra Canyon grads Cassius Stanley and K.J. Martin both got chosen late in the second round by the Rockets and Indiana Pacers, respectively. Another Sierra Canyon player, guard Duane Washington (who played last season at Ohio State), has signed as a free agent with the Pacers. Sierra Canyon’s Scotty Pippen Jr., who played alongside Stanley and Martin on the 2019 CIF Open Division state title team, may be involved in next year’s draft.
Rounding Out The List
California’s fourth first-round pick of the night was shooting guard Josh Christopher from Mayfair of Lakewood. He will be a teammate of Jalen Green’s with the Houston Rockets and was a teammate of Green’s for a time during travel ball. Christopher, who was selected at No. 24 overall, was a monster scorer for Mayfair throughout his prep career, averaging 25.9 points as a sophomore. He followed up with norms of 25 and 29.2 ppg and was supposed to have been in the 2020 McDonald’s All-American Game (cancelled due to pandemic). Christopher played last season at Arizona State. Although Josh didn’t go to Artesia of Lakewood, his player path is similar to former Houston Rockets star James Harden (who also went to ASU).
The state’s first of two selections in the second round was forward Kessler Edwards of Pepperdine and Etiwanda High. Edwards was chosen at No. 44 overall by the Brooklyn Nets. He wasn’t as highly regarded coming out of high school as the other players from the state this year picked in the first two rounds, but at Pepperdine evolved into a 6-foot-8 wing player who could nail down three-pointers and shot more than 85 percent on free throws.