It would have been nearly impossible for someone to have written a script that ended the 2015 California high school basketball season quite like it did. To refresh, Bishop O’Dowd High’s Ivan Rabb needed to make a free throw.
In double-overtime with less than one second on the clock and after he had missed the first one in a two-shot situation in order for his team to win the CIF Open Division State Championship. He made it and the Dragons had edged Mater Dei-Santa Ana.
If we could write a script to end the 2016 season, however, there’s one historical storyline we have in mind. That would be having both CIF Open Division champions (boys and girls) celebrating undefeated seasons and No. 1 national rankings following back-to-back contests held at Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena on Saturday, March 29.
As many know, California doesn’t often pack the stadiums or arenas for state finals. We’re just not the same as Texas or even much smaller states. Still, you have to think that interest in that possible CIF Open Division doubleheader might do the trick.
First, on the boys side, Chino Hills of Southern California has assumed the No. 1 national ranking based mostly on its win over Montverde Academy of Florida, and then winning the title at the City of Palms Tournament in Florida. The Huskies remained unbeaten heading into February after they beat state No. 2 Bishop Montgomery-Torrance 71-66 in a matchup on Jan. 30 between undefeated squads.
For the girls, St. Mary’s-Stockton has been No. 1 in every national ranking since the preseason and proved it in December by winning the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona. Like the Chino Hills boys, the Rams also headed into February with a perfect record.
It was fun recently, explaining this scenario to St. Mary’s parents as well as Rams’ head coach Tom Gonsalves, who like most girls coaches doesn’t have the time to follow any boys teams. But Gonsalves and the parents now know that if their girls do return to the CIF Open Division final, and if the Chino Hills boys also get there with an unbeaten mark, there could be one of the biggest crowds the CIF has ever had in what likely will be the final night of CIF State Basketball inside that arena. (Remember, the new arena in downtown Sacramento will be opening later this year).
Just having the two boys-girls teams going for perfect records and No. 1 national-ranking finishes, however, isn’t what’s going to bring in that much of a crowd. No, it usually takes a transcendent player (think: Jason Kidd when his team played for a CIF state title in Sacramento before more than 11,000) “” and the Chino Hills boys have one in point guard Lonzo Ball.
Yes, that’s the same Lonzo Ball who got into foul trouble when his team at Chino Hills lost in a close game in last year’s CIF Division I state final to San Ramon Valley-Danville. But Lonzo is even better this year, and he is also playing in a starting lineup with not one but two brothers ““ junior guard Li’Angelo Ball and freshman guard Li’Melo Ball. They shoot threes like the Splash Brothers, except they really are brothers, and Chino Hills has been averaging more than 100 points per game.
It’s a show that many of your more casual prep basketball fans should want to see at least once. Most NorCal fans will not have seen it. And if Chino Hills get that far, it will probably be the Ball Brothers’ final game together.
By saying we’d like to see such a scene to end the 2016 season, we have to mention that neither the Chino Hills boys or St. Mary’s girls is a lock to even get to the March 29 state final.
Chino Hills may have to beat Bishop Montgomery two more times. (And the Knights were up by eight points in the fourth quarter of the Jan. 30 contest). and St. Mary’s will be in a NorCal Open Division field that could feature another unbeaten team (Miramonte-Orinda) with the best girls’ player in the state (Sabrina Ionescu). There’s also an Archbishop Mitty-San Jose squad that may be one of the best ever in head coach Sue Phillips’ illustrious career.
Such a celebratory scene still would be a great way for the CIF to say goodbye to Sleep Train/ARCO Arena. Would getting a group photo of the two undefeated national and state champions be too much to ask?