NorCal/SoCal Players of the Week

Two of this week’s NorCal/SoCal Players of the Week are both named Williams — Nala of Long Beach Poly (left) and Money from Oakland High. Photos: &

As the funnel narrows for teams still playing, our choices for winners in this feature becomes a little more difficult and also at this point of the season we don’t want to pick a player who may have lost in a season-ending game from the night before. That said, we do have four honorees this week from Oakland, Salinas, Long Beach and Hollywood.

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Note: For these honors, we consider CIF Central Section players for Northern California. We also remind readers that for all of our Player of the Week features in all sports, girls and boys, we use it to uncover hidden talent that doesn’t always make the limelight, and for tracking entries into the Cal-Hi Sports Online Record Book. To nominate anyone, email



Cal-Hi Sports Northern California
Boys Basketball Player of the Week

Money Williams (Oakland) Sr.

For our Northern California Boys Basketball Player of the Week, we land across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco in Oakland at Oakland High and a school founded in 1869 that has produced some outstanding talent, including current NBA star Damian Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers.

At Oakland, we find current star Money Williams and we learned about one of his most recent outings that qualified him for this honor in a tweet by boys basketball analyst and scout Gerry Freitas.

Last week, in a huge 82-74 road victory over Oakland Tech that avenged a 69-65 loss at home in January, we know it’s a cliché but Money was “cash money” after finishing with a career high 35 points (four 3-pointers) and seven rebounds. It was the third time this season Williams has gone for over 30 points.

Earlier in the week, Money had 16 points in a 67-60 victory over Oakland Fremont, and two days after the big outburst Money had 20 points and five rebounds with three steals in a 48-43 win over McClymonds of Oakland. On Monday of this week, he went for 17 points in limited action of an 83-57 victory over Castlemont of Oakland.

On the season, and heading into an Oakland Section/Oakland Athletic League game at cross-town Skyline, Williams was averaging 19.9 points, 5.3 rebounds 2.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game.

Jenika Zurita of Salinas could be one of the highest scorers in the state who is not listed by MaxPreps. Photo:

Cal-Hi Sports Northern California
Girls Basketball Player of the Week

Jenika Zurita (Salinas) Sr.

The search for our Northern California Girls Player of the week takes us to Salinas, the AgTech hub and county seat of Monterey County. We land at Salinas High most famous for being the high school of 1919 graduate and renowned American author John Steinbeck, whose works have been part of high school English courses for decades.

At Salinas, we find a senior guard who has been a steady contributor for a team that has played a pretty tough schedule of mostly large schools and sits at 10-11 as the CIF Central Coast Section begins its playoffs. Pairings for those playoffs were not yet released when this writeup was done and there was a chance that Salinas wasn’t included and that Jenika’s season is done.

Salinas doesn’t post its stats but Zurita has been fastidious in re-reweeting the tweets of longtime Monterey Herald prep scribe John Devine, and that’s how we found her.

Last week, in a 70-28 victory over Monte Vista Christian of Watsonville, Zurita erupted for a career-high 44 points including seven three-pointers. She probably could have gone for a lot more but in a show of sportsmanship in tune with the CIF motto of “Pursuing Victory With Honor” head coach Casey Neligh took her out at the end of the third quarter.

Perusing the Devine twitter handle, we see some other solid performances by Jenika, including a performance that earned Zurita the Monterey Herald Preps of the Week selection for girls after she went for 32 points on a county high 10 three-pointers in an earlier 64-45 win over Monte Vista Christian, and 13 points, six assists and six steals in a 57-36 victory against Christopher of Gilroy.

Another performance that stood out was when Jenika had 26 points, eight steals and six assists in a 73-44 late January victory over crosstown rival Notre Dame. Prior to the 44-point outburst, her career-high outing came in a 78-60 loss at North Salinas when she had 38 points.

Cal-Hi Sports Northern California
Girls Basketball Player of the Week

Nala Williams (Long Beach Poly, Long Beach) Sr.

It’s been awhile since we visited the city of Long Beach but that’s where we land in our search for the Southern California Girls Basketball Player of the Week.

Long Beach Poly has a solid tradition of excellence in girls high school basketball with six CIF state championships under head coach Carl Buggs since 2006 including an Open Division title in 2014 and four straight Division I titles from 2006-2009.

Every one of Buggs’ teams, including teams that haven’t won a CIF state title, has had at least one or more standout players and Williams is this year’s standout. Now, after being named the Long Beach Press Telegram girls athlete of the Week in late December, Williams adds a statewide honor to her resume.

In the intro we mentioned that the funnel narrows at this stage of the season for several reasons, including the fact that teams in the CIF Southern Section only played one game last week and other girls with big performances from last week lost in the playoffs on Saturday, so for our SoCal girls winners we looked at two recent outings by Nala coupled with her overall body of work this season.

Last week, in a 67-42 victory over Roosevelt of Eastvale in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs, Williams had 22 points, eight rebounds, five steals and four assists. Two weeks ago in a 60-37 victory over Lakewood that wrapped up another perfect 10-0 season in the Moore League, Williams went for a double-double 25 points (four 3-pointers) and 15 rebounds with six assists and four steals. In two late January games against crosstown arch-rival Millikan, the 5-foot-8 wing had huge double-doubles after going for 27 points and 16 rebounds with four steals in a 49-42 victory and 25 points and 18 rebounds in a 58-40 win.

So far this season for the 20-4 Jackrabbits and heading into a second round game on Wednesday with visiting Marlborough of Los Angeles, Williams leads the team in scoring and rebounding with a double-double 17.8 points and 10.5 rebounds per game averages, and that’s on a team with seven girls averaging over 4.0 points a game and six players averaging over 4.0 rebounds per contest. Overall, Williams has 11 double-doubles for the 20-4 Jackrabbits.

On a final note if Poly can make a deep run in the playoffs Williams may have a shot at the 1,000 career points mark if she continues her current scoring pace as she currently has 883 points in her four-year varsity career.

Cal-Hi Sports Southern California
Boys Basketball Player of the Week

Gary Lira Jr. (Hollywood) Jr.

We hit the bright lights of the Los Angeles district of Hollywood and land at one of the oldest high schools in the Los Angeles City Section. The reason for our visit to Hollywood is not because Hollywood High is 119 years old or is famous for producing hundreds of actresses, actors, singers and other notable alumni. It’s because the Sheiks have one of the top scorers in the Los Angeles City Section and this week Lira Jr. has garnered the Southern California Boys Basketball Player of the Week.

Last week, the Sheiks wrapped up the Central League at 11-1 and 17-7 overall entering the Los Angeles City Section Division II playoffs and Lira Jr. was firing on all cylinders. Gary tied his season high with 30 points (two 3-pointers) and tied his second best assists mark with 12, plus he had six steals and four rebounds in an 89-21 victory over crosstown Contreras. The 5-foot-11 point guard followed that up with 26 points (two 3-pointers), eight assists, five rebounds and five steals in an 87-21 victory over Hollywood Bernstein.

So far this season and heading into a Thursday opener since as the D2 No. 3 seed the Sheiks have a bye, Lira Jr. was averaging 22.0 points, 8.4 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 3.8 steals per game. He’s made 64 three-pointers and was shooting 41-percent from outside the arc, 83-percent from the charity stripe and 53-percent on two-point field goals. Gary also had five double-doubles with all coming on points and assists.

His 22.0 points per game average is one of the top marks in the LA City Section and his 8.4 assists is second highest reported mark in the state and tops the LA City Section.

Harold Abend is the associate editor of and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend

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