No, Bronny James won’t be playing in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) State Basketball Championships this weekend at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
His Sierra Canyon team lost 80-61 to Notre Dame-Sherman Oaks on Tuesday night in the Southern California Division I Championship, much to the dismay of Northern California fans who wanted to see the media sensation on the court.
Still, there’ll be no shortage of future college and NBA talent on the floor this weekend, including three top recruits on that aforementioned Notre Dame team and a player who’s on track to be the first from his country to ever make the NBA.
The state championships are a 12-game event, with six boys games and six girls games, on Friday, March 10, and Saturday, March 11, capped off by the Open Division Championships Games (the state’s top championship) at 6 and 8 p.m. on Saturday. Mitty and Etiwanda are playing for the girls title, while St. Joseph-Santa Maria and Harvard-Westlake are matched up on the boys side.
Having a team from Santa Maria as the Northern California representative may not be optimal for attendance, but in terms of star power, it’s hard to find a better option than the Knights. St. Joseph is led by Tounde Yessoufou, one of the top 20 sophomores in the country per both ESPN and 247Sports. Yessoufou, who’s already been offered by both Arizona and UCLA, is on track to become the first player from Benin to ever make the NBA. He’s accompanied by freshman Julius Price, who plays on Sweden’s U-16 national team.
Arizona has also offered Harvard-Westlake star Brady Dunlap, a 6-foot-8 senior who had originally committed to Notre Dame before head coach Mike Brey announced plans to step down at the end of the season. Dunlap also has offers from Arkansas, Kansas and San Diego State.
Harvard-Westlake, led by former USF assistant coach David Rebibo, has five other players at 6-8, including sophomore Nikolas Khamenia. The Wolverines defeated last year’s Open Division champion, Centennial, on Tuesday night to advance to Saturday’s championship game. Khamenia, who already boasts a Stanford offer, scored 20 points in that Southern California championship. Junior guard Trent Perry has been offered by Oklahoma and UCLA.
On the girls side, Mitty is led by five-star junior Morgan Cheli, with offers from Cal, Oregon and Tennessee, and freshman McKenna Woliczko. Woliczko, a San Bruno native who was recently offered by Stanford, had 29 points and 21 rebounds in Tuesday’s 86-49 thrashing of Salesian for the NorCal title. Etiwanda is led by point guard Aliyahna Morris and junior forward Kennedy Smith, who’s been offered by UCLA.
That Notre Dame team that defeated James’ Trailblazers may be the most star-studded team of all. The Knights (yes, a ton of high schools use the Knights as their mascot) are led by Gonzaga commit Dusty Stromer, Duke commit Caleb Foster and Mercy Miller, one of rapper Master P’s children. Miller, only a junior, has already signed to play at Houston.
The Knights will face Granada, who beat a shorthanded Riordan side on Saturday night after the Crusaders had five players suspended for their role in an on-court brawl two nights earlier. The Matadors are led by seven-foot center Andrew McKeever, who’s committed to Saint Mary’s. 6-foot-7 shooter Tyler Harris transferred to Granada before the year and has helped put the Matadors over the edge.
Granada’s showdown with Notre Dame will be preceded by the girls Division I game, in which Oakland Tech will duel Santiago. The Bulldogs are led by guards Erin Sellers and Mari Somvichian, and feature a 6-foot-3 center in freshman Jhai Johnson, daughter of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Josh Johnson. Trey Lance has accompanied Johnson to many of his daughter’s games.
Northern California’s boys Division II representative, San Joaquin Memorial, may come all the way from Fresno, but the Panthers will have plenty of players worth watching. They boast a towering front line of Mike Davis Jr., Julius Olanrewaju and Gerald Perry Jr., while their opponent, Pacifica Christian, is led by point guard Parker Strauss, who committed to Northwestern. San Joaquin churned out tons of talent in recent years, including NBA lottery pick Jalen Green and Joseph Hunter.
The Northern California Division II girls champion is Central, also from Fresno. Talia Maxwell averages 24.1 points and 8.8 rebounds per game for the Grizzlies.
Oakland is the Northern California Division III champion, led by Montana commit Money Williams, who had a game-high 25 points and 10 rebounds in front of an overflow crowd at Tuesday’s NorCal title game. The Wildcats will face Buena, led by three-sport stud Zane Carter. Carter had 28 points and 17 rebounds in Tuesday’s triple overtime victory to earn a trip to Sacramento.
The lower divisions don’t have quite as much future pro talent, but there are still plenty of compelling storylines and quality players. Half Moon Bay is gunning for its first state championship at noon on Saturday in the Division IV Championship Game. The Cougars are led by 6-foot-7 junior Jaeden Hutchins, and will face a Valencia team led by 6-foot-9 center Bryce Bedgood and 6-foot-6 guard Mikah Ballew.
Friday’s action opens with the girls Division IV championship. That game normally takes place on Saturday morning, but San Domenico is squaring off against Shalhevet, an Orthodox Jewish high school from Los Angeles. The game is being played on Friday morning rather than Saturday to avoid conflicting with Shabbat. The teams also met in last year’s Division V Championship; San Domenico won 38-27.
Those who wrinkle their noses at the CIF’s “competitive equity” system of seeding teams will balk at the Division V boys championship. Sierra, a school of barely 300 students from the tiny Fresno community of Tollhouse, will face Lynwood, a school of 2,176 students with three freshmen in its starting lineup. The Knights won their four Southern California regional games by an average of 36.75 points.
To fully understand the significance of each of the state championship games to the 24 teams competing this weekend would require knowledge of each team’s backstory, which simply isn’t possible in a state as large as California. But there will certainly be some names on the court this weekend that’ll be heard in basketball circles for decades to come.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]