There were many excellent candidates for the state’s top boys basketball honor, but in the end the catalyst for the state’s best team gets the nod and it’s Corona Centennial’s Donovan Dent. Today, the senior guard is named California Mr. Basketball by Cal-Hi Sports, becoming the first honoree from Riverside County since a future NBA Hall of Famer.
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In its second game of the season, Centennial of Corona, the defending Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year, had a good test against NorCal power Sheldon of Sacramento. The Huskies had opened up with Paloma Valley of Menifee, a team it ended up beating by 75 points, but Sheldon was a stiffer test and is known for playing terrific defense.
Its best player and athlete, Reshaud Bradley, got the assignment on returning all-state guard Donovan Dent. On Centennial’s first possession, Dent got the ball near the top of the key and without hesitation, left Bradley flat-footed while blowing by him for an easy lay-up. It didn’t seem like a big deal then, but it was symbolic of Dent’s prowess in a season in which Centennial dominated California’s best competition.
Centennial went on to defeat Sheldon 72-51, but it was even more telling when the Huskies beat eventual CIF Southern Section Open Division participant Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks the next night, 85-59, as Dent went for 30 points and 11 assists while totally dominating the tempo of the game. It was a prelude of things to come for the entire 2021-22 season, as Centennial dominated all comers en route to the successful program’s first CIF state title.
Dent was the team’s catalyst and for his role in leading the state’s best team (by a wide margin) to the CIF open state crown today the New Mexico-bound point guard has been honored as California Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year by Cal-Hi Sports.
“That’s amazing, thank you guys so much (for this honor),” Dent said. “I never would have thought I would get this award when I entered high school, but I put myself in this position by playing the way I did and working hard, so I’m just honored to get this award.”
In Centennial’s next game following the win over Notre Dame, the Huskies dropped their only game, to Duncanville (Texas) in the Lone Star State. That team ended up as the No. 1 ranked team in the FAB 50 National Rankings, with Centennial sitting at No. 5. Coach Josh Giles’ club was only seriously challenged in one more regular season game, a gut-check matchup with battle-tested Coronado (Henderson, Nev.) at the Nike Extravaganza, in which Dent dominated the overtime period after Coronado tied the game on three free throws with 4.2 seconds remaining. Dent finished with 31 points and nine assists in the 80-71 overtime victory.
The Huskies’ only playoff game that was in the balance late happened to be in the first CIF state title game in two years after they dominated section and regional playoff games. Modesto Christian tied the score 48-48 with 3:21 remaining, then Dent closed out his memorable season in fitting fashion, sparking a 11-2 Centennial run with a driving lay-up and a steal and another lay-up as Centennial went on to post a 59-50 victory. He finished with game-highs in points (21), assists (5), steals (3) and tied for first in rebounds (8).
“For the second straight year, Donnie was dominant in the playoffs; he controlled the games, made spectacular plays and was at his best when his best was needed,” said Giles, last year’s state coach of the year who had led his team to the CIFSS open playoffs every year but once since its inception and now has coached a Mr. Basketball choice. “The best example of that was the last three minutes of the state championship game.”
For the season, Dent averaged 16.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 6.7 apg and 1.9 spg after leading the team in scoring (15.4 ppg) and assists (4.3 apg) as a junior when the Huskies went 21-2 and won their first of two consecutive CIFSS open division titles. Dent was the catalyst for the spring 2021 team and was even better this year when the Huskies took part in the regional playoffs after opting out last season. He’s also been named the Player of the Year on the L.A. Times All-Star team and by the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Junior teammate Jared McCain has been named as the Gatorade State Player of the Year and while Dent is Mr. Basketball it is worth noting that it’s believed this is the first time that two players from the same team have split the two honors (which are based on different criteria).
Dent is not only the Huskies’ first-ever Mr. Basketball honoree, his evolution as the state’s top player parallels the most recent honoree from Riverside County. In 2008-09, Riverside King’s Kawhi Leonard was the state’s dominant player, but for some fans and college coaches that revelation came a bit late. Similar to Dent, who played on the Huskies’ lower level teams as a freshman in 2018-19, Leonard didn’t enter high school with a lot of fanfare and was a part-time starter as a sophomore at Moreno Valley Canyon Springs. San Diego State recruited him the most consistently and by early in his senior season, many Pac-12 recruiters knew they had missed the boat on recruiting the future NBA All-Star with more vigor.
Dent, who was named to the all-CIFSS second team as a sophomore, committed to New Mexico in August 2021 only a few short months after earning all-state laurels in the 2021 CIF spring season. During the 2021-22 season, we heard some of the same sentiment from college coaches about Dent that we did about Leonard wishing they had pursued him a bit harder.
“I’ve always looked up to the guys getting all these accolades, so dreams do come true,” Dent said.
In last year’s spring CIF season, Dent shared CIFSS Open Division player of the year honors with Amari Bailey of Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, last season’s Mr. Basketball choice. Bailey was a finalist again this time, but he missed too many games with injury to stay at the top. This season, Dent once again shared honors for the CIFSS Open Division, this time with backcourt mate McCain. We’d be remiss to not mention McCain as a prime Mr. Basketball candidate, not to mention Joseph “JoJo” Hunter of San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno).
“Jared is the ultimate competitor to me,” Giles said. “All the nice guy stuff people see on social media goes out the window when he plays. On the floor, he’s tenacious and will do anything to win. I think it’s unbelievable for us to have two players that are basically taking turns winning state player of the year awards with Donnie and Jared (Gatorade).”
McCain was highly-motivated entering this season after feeling he was shafted on last year’s all-state team (he did make the all-state underclass team) and his play demoralized opponents. The junior guard led Centennial in scoring (16.8 ppg) and shot 41.3 percent from 3-point range and at an 89.4 clip at the line. Another interesting note is the BIG VIII League hasn’t named a Player of the Year in recent seasons, and every local honor and award matters in a close Mr. Basketball race.
We never have ties or co-POYs in any of our honors and Hunter would have been a fine choice as well. He’s been one of the state’s very best the past two seasons and consistently good all four years of his career. As a scout told us, “I hope Central Section fans have enjoyed JoJo because a player like him doesn’t come around the Valley that often.”
Giles shares the same sentiment about his senior guard who just got better each season as the scout does about Hunter.
“He’s going to be really hard to replace,” he said.
Giles knows how special this season was and his embrace of Dent after capturing the CIF state open title let us know how he feels about him. Now California and basketball fans everywhere know how we feel about Dent.
MR. BASKETBALL STATE PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
Note: All selections by Cal-Hi Sports; All-time list before 1978 compiled by our founder, the late Nelson Tennis, based on research.
2022 – Donovan Dent, Corona Centennial, 6-3 Sr.
2021 – Amari Bailey, Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, 6-5 Jr.
2020 – Brandon Boston Jr.,
Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, 6-8
2019 – Onyeka Okongwu, Chino Hills, 6-9
2018 – Onyeka Okongwu, Chino Hills, 6-9 Jr.
2017 – Ethan Thompson,
Torrance Bishop Montgomery, 6-4
2016 – Lonzo Ball, Chino Hills, 6-6
2015 – Ivan Rabb, Oakland Bishop O’Dowd, 6-10
2014 – Stanley Johnson, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-6
2013 – Aaron Gordon, San Jose Archbishop Mitty, 6-8
2012 – Aaron Gordon,
San Jose Archbishop Mitty, 6-8 Jr.
2011 – Ryan Anderson, Long Beach Poly, 6-8
2010 – Allen Crabbe, Los Angeles Price, 6-6
2009 – Kawhi Leonard,
Riverside Martin Luther King, 6-7
2008 – Jrue Holiday,
North Hollywood Campbell Hall, 6-3
2007 – Taylor King, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-8
2006 – Chase Budinger, Carlsbad La Costa Canyon, 6-8
2005 – Amir Johnson, L.A. Westchester, 6-10
2004 – DeMarcus Nelson, Sacramento Sheldon, 6-3
2003 – Trevor Ariza, L.A. Westchester, 6-8
2002 – Hassan Adams, L.A. Westchester, 6-4
2001 – Tyson Chandler, Compton Dominguez, 7-1
2000 – Tyson Chandler, Compton Dominguez, 7-0 Jr.
1999 – Casey Jacobsen, Glendora, 6-6
1998 – Tayshaun Prince, Compton Dominguez, 6-8
1997 – Baron Davis, Santa Monica Crossroads, 6-2
1996 – Corey Benjamin, Fontana, 6-6
1995 – Paul Pierce, Inglewood, 6-7
1994 – Jelani Gardner, Bellflower St. John Bosco, 6-6
1993 – Charles O’Bannon, Lakewood Artesia, 6-7
1992 – Jason Kidd, Alameda St. Joseph, 6-4
1991 – Jason Kidd, Alameda St. Joseph, 6-4 Jr.
1990 – Ed O’Bannon, Lakewood Artesia, 6-9
1989 – Tracy Murray, Glendora, 6-8
1988 – Chris Mills, L.A. Fairfax, 6-7
1987 – LeRon Ellis, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-11
1986 – Scott Williams, Hacienda Heights Wilson, 6-10
1985 – Tom Lewis, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-7
1984 – John Williams, L.A. Crenshaw, 6-8
1983 – John Williams, L.A. Crenshaw, 6-7 Jr.
1982 – Tony Jackson, Oakland Bishop O’Dowd, 6-4
1981 – Dwayne Polee, L.A. Manual Arts, 6-5
1980 – Ralph Jackson, Inglewood, 6-3
1979 – Darren Daye, Granada Hills Kennedy, 6-7
1978 – Greg Goorjian, Crescenta Valley, 6-2
1977 – Cliff Robinson, Oakland Castlemont, 6-7
1976 – Rich Branning, Huntington Beach Marina, 6-2
1975 – Bill Cartwright, Elk Grove, 7-1
1974 – Bill Cartwright, Elk Grove, 7-0 Jr.
1973 – Marques Johnson, L.A. Crenshaw, 6-5
1972 – Cliff Pondexter, Fresno San Joaquin Memorial, 6-7 Jr.
1971 – Roscoe Pondexter, Fresno San Joaquin Memorial, 6-6
1970 – Bill Walton, La Mesa Helix, 6-10
1969 – Keith Wilkes, Ventura, 6-5 Jr.
1968 – Paul Westphal, Redondo Beach Aviation, 6-2
1967 – Curtis Rowe, L.A. Fremont, 6-6
1966 – Dennis Awtrey, San Jose Blackford, 6-9
1965 – Bob Portman, S.F. St. Ignatius, 6-5
1964 – Russ Critchfield, Salinas, 5-10
1963 – Edgar Lacey, L.A. Jefferson, 6-6
1962 – Joe Ellis, Oakland McClymonds, 6-5
1961 – Gail Goodrich, L.A. Poly, 5-11
1960 – Paul Silas, Oakland McClymonds, 6-6
1959 – Steve Gray, S.F. Washington, 6-4
1958 – Billy McGill, L.A. Jefferson, 6-9
1957 – Tom Meschery, S.F. Lowell, 6-5
1956 – Fred LaCour, S.F. St. Ignatius, 6-4
1955 – Fred LaCour, S.F. St. Ignatius, 6-4 Jr.
1954 – Willie Davis, Alameda, 5-11
1953 – Bill Bond, Long Beach St. Anthony, 6-1
1952 – Willie Naulls, San Pedro, 6-5
1951 – Ken Sears, Watsonville, 6-7
1950 – Don Bragg, S.F. Galileo, 6-3
Note: List extends back to 1905 in the Cal-Hi Sports State Record Book and Almanac.