Torrance, Calif. -- There was quite a buzz when four McDonald's All-Americans were selected from the state of California this season. It's even more noteworthy when you realize the best player on the state's top-ranked team, power forward Drew Gordon of San Jose Mitty, probably would have been selected if he wasn't lost to injury when the Monarchs lost their only game of the season, 46-45, on January 18.
The Golden State's contingent is even more impressive when you consider point guard Brandon Jennings, the top voter-getter in this week's EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker with 93 out of 100 points, grew up in Gardena, California and resides in Temecula when he's not in the Appalachians of Southwest Virginia attending classes at famed Oak Hill Academy. If Gordon didn't get injured or if Jennings, who will play for the West club in Milwaukee on March 26, was still attending high school in California that would make it five all-americans from California. While impressive on a 24-man roster, that number would not have been unprecedented.
Back in 1997, five Californians were named to play in the McDonald's All-American Game in Colorado Springs, Colorado, led by Mr. Basketball Baron Davis from Crossroads High in Santa Monica. Also making the team were twin brothers Jason and Jarron Collins from 35-1 and state team of the year Harvard-Westlake of North Hollywood. Also on the team were Chris Burgess (Woodbridge, Irvine) and Eric Chenowith (Villa Park). Davis, of course, is a standout guard with the Golden State Warriors while the Collins twins have been serviceable players in the NBA for some time. The Orange County big men, Chenowith and Burgess, didn't quite live up to their press clippings.
That year, California had a particularly strong class and Davis was just one of four point guards nearly considered on par with each other after the summer evaluation period of 1996. Kevin Augustine (Mater Dei, Santa Ana), Kevin Bradley (Crenshaw, Los Angeles) and Kenny Brunner (Dominguez, Compton) were the other three floor generals, although Davis' strong senior season separated him from the pack a bit.
"Kenny (Brunner) should have made the team for what he did over his four-year career," lamented panel member Dinos Trigonis of the hard-nosed guard who played in his Eddie Jones Southern California All-Star Classic.
That impressive list doesn't even include Shea Cotton, whom as a youth player and for the first three years of his prep career was considered not only the best player from California, but the nation, in the Class of 1997. Even as a senior, the muscular wing was considered a top 10 recruit in the class, but he did not play his senior season at St. John Bosco of Bellflower.
Was that class of players impressive? No doubt. Was it the best class of players ever from the Golden State? Undoubtedly not.
That title would go to the Class of 1975. That year is undoubtedly the best crop of players ever produced from the Golden State and just might be the best crop of players any state has ever produced. How could such a claim be made about a group of high school players over 30 years ago against a group from any other state known for producing hoop talent such as North Carolina, New York or Illinois when it could never be proven on the court?
Because the California Class of 1975 did prove it on the court, and then some. They didn't beat another strong group of players from one of the above-mentioned states, but actually beat an assembled U.S. All-Star team.
Not only did that particular class of players bring pride to every basketball fan in California, that particular crop of players also grabbed the attention of an inspiring young journalist still in high school who would go on to eventually publish a newsletter, then magazine and website dedicated to high school sports in the Golden State. In fact, the weekly newsletter is still produced today.
Panel member Mark Tennis had a particular interest in sports and journalism as a young student at La Sierra High in Carmichael just outside of Sacramento. Tennis had a particular interest in the most highly decorated player of that class who played at nearby Elk Grove High School. Bill Cartwright was that player and nearly every college in the country and the pros coveted the 7-foot-1 center who averaged 38.5 points and 21.9 rebounds for the Thundering Herd.
"Cartwright was a legend in Sacramento when I was growing up," Tennis recalled. "I went to games as a ninth or tenth grader and I remember Bill was just a great player. At that time, most big men just camped out in the lane and scored down low. Cartwright was hitting turn around jumpers from 17 or 18 feet out. He had a mid-range game and was unstoppable on the baseline. He was really a unique player."
Cartwright was the main reason one of the two games of the California Basketball Classic was played at Sacramento's Memorial Auditorium before an overflow crowd. The Elk Grove big man also sparked Tennis' interest because his uncle Nelson Tennis, who founded Cal-Hi Sports along with his nephew, had already spent the previous five years looking up California high school records and statistics. During his memorable senior season, Cartwright broke the state single season scoring record of 1,040 points set by 1968 EA SPORTS National Player of the YearPaul Westphal from Aviation High in Redondo Beach. Cartwright finished the season with 1,232 points in 32 games according to the CalHiSports.com Record Book.
"Nelson looked up the record and it's the honest truth, nobody would have known it was a record if he didn't look it up.," Tennis explained. "I remember when he broke the record, they stopped the game and announced it as a state record. He got hugs from his coaches and teammates and it was a special moment. I mean, look at Jrue Holiday (63 points, eight ballots). The newspapers are making note as he climbs up the state scoring list and that all traces back to Nelson."
The two all-star games, put together by George Putnam and sponsored by the United Slates Olympic Development Basketball League, were not just set up as gimmicks to showcase Cartwright's talents or set up wins for the California squad. The U.S. All-Star team was a legitimate roster of many of the U.S.'s top scholastic talent, including 6-foot-8 Bill "Poodle" Willoughby from Dwight Morrow in Englewood, N.J., 6-foot-3 guard Clint Richardson from Seattle O'Dea, 6-foot-10 center Larry Gibson from Baltimore Dunbar, 6-foot-2 guard Kyle Macy of Peru, Ind., and 6-foot-6 Capitol Hill of Oklahoma City standout Winford Boynes, who eventually joined Cartwright at the University of San Francisco. In fact, eight of the 10 players on Parade's All-America first team participated in the game.
Obviously, some of those players were Californians, including 6-foot-9 center David Greenwood and 6-foot-2 guard Roy Hamilton from Verbum Dei of Los Angeles and 6-foot-9 James Hardy of Long Beach Jordan. In the first game played in Northern California, Hamilton and Cartwright led the California All-Stars to a 110-100 victory before a sellout crowd. Hamilton, who went on to play at UCLA, netted 32 points with the Elk Grove standout going for 21. The Golden State cagers proved the first win was no fluke three days later before 6,203 fans at the Long Beach Arena as Hamilton again led the charge with 18 points. In a balanced attack, Cartwright, 6-foot-6 Reggie Theus of Inglewood and 6-foot-3 Flintie Ray Williams of L.A. Dorsey all chipped in 12 points in California's 91-80 win.
"The U.S. team had some great players I remember like (Winford) Boynes, but the Californians were better," Tennis said. "I don't know if there was another year or another state where it could happen again (beating a U.S. All-Star team). This year, we definitely have the guards and the wings but even if we had Jennings, who would play center?"
With California winning both games and with Hardy and 6-foot-2 Brad Holland of Crescenta Valley of La Crescenta making the Louisville Journal Courier's prestigious Super Five, it was simple to retroactively name Cartwright EA SPORTS National Player of the Year since he was named Cal-Hi Sports' State Player of the Year.
Read on to see how the California contingent fared in the voting results of this week's EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker along with fast-rising guard Willie Warren of Texas. Make sure to stay logged in to StudentSportsBasketball.com all season long to track the progress of the top individual players as well as the top teams in the Rivals.com FAB 50.
Each week, StudentSportsBasketball.com's panel of ten experts, which includes two active McDonald's All-American selection committee members, casts its votes for the top EA SPORTS Player of the Year candidates.
Each panelist is asked to list his top seven EA SPORTS Player of the Year candidates regardless of class, and the votes are tabulated on a 10-point scoring system with a first place vote equaling ten points, a second place vote equaling nine points and down to four points for a seventh place vote. The number in parenthesis ( ) before the player's name refers to his ranking on the previous week's tracker and the second number in parenthesis ( ) refers to the number of ballots a player appeared on this week.
1. Brandon Jennings, PG, Oak Hill Academy (Va.) I have been following him obviously since his freshman season at Dominguez when he was California state freshman player of the year. Brandon seems to get better every year, especially as a scorer. He's always been a terrific passer and leader. This year, he's taken his game a step up once again with huge numbers against Oak Hill's typically tough schedule. In my mind, he's been the presumptive favorite for this honor for nearly a month and right now not even a Hillary Clinton smear tactic would sway my vote.
2. Samardo Samuels, PF, St. Benedict's (N.J.)
There's something about being on the No. 1 team and being the top player on that team. Samuels clearly benefits from this part of the criteria, which I think is legitimate and makes this more about what happens in high school and less about summer evaluations. I don't think Samuels overtakes Jennings if St. Anthony wins out and ends up No. 1 in the nation, but he could fall a spot or two on my list.
3. Jrue Holiday, PG, Campbell Hall (Calif.)
With Demar DeRozan's Compton team going out of the California playoffs early and with Drew Gordon of Mitty being injured all year, I'd rank Jrue as the top player of the year candidate right now for California. His all-around numbers are mind-boggling, but he could finish with three state titles in four years. A game to watch would be if Jrue's team plays Modesto Christian in the D4 state final. Jrue's candidacy would be impacted if MC won and MC standout junior Reeves Nelson (UCLA commit) looked like the better player.
4. Willie Warren, CG, North Crowley (Texas)
I'm leaving my fifth spot open for someone to come on at the end. Warren was sensational in last week's win for his team against national No. 2 Duncanville, so I moved him up to my fouth spot. If Willie has another huge weekend and North Crowley wins the Texas 5A crown, his credentials for the national honor are strengthened. Willie or someone else also could still steal the show during the McDonald's practices and game. It doesn't look like we have someone that can do that this year, but you have to leave room for it in case it does. This honor will be selected after that game so it's impossible for any selector not to consider it.
5. Al-Farouq Aminu, W, Norcross (Ga.)
If Norcross makes it three straight state titles in Georgia and with Al-Farouq leading the way, I just don't see how anyone could pick Derrick Favors ahead of him as the player of the year in Georgia. And to me, how a player does on the high school level within his own state, is a more important criteria for a high school-based award than on college or future potential. That's the only reason anyone would pick Favors in that comparison.
Next week we'll hear from Ronnie Flores, StudentSportsBasketball.com Managing Editor.