Matt Dunn, the basketball coach at La Verne Damien High, tells the story of how he first met Jeremy Hemsley, his standout 6-foot-4 senior guard.
"I'll never forget the day he and his dad walked into freshman orientation," he said. "I had never seen him play basketball before. His dad said, 'Hey, he's pretty good.' You hear that a lot from parents. But his dad was right — he's really, really good."
Hemsley, a San Diego State-bound point guard who led Damien to the state Division III championship, is The Times' Southern California player of the year in boys' basketball. He averaged 21 points, seven assists and seven rebounds for the 29-5 Spartans.
His versatility, leadership on and off the court and ability to perform at his best in big games helped separate him over a productive four-month period. His improvement from the time he came in as a relatively unknown freshman can be attributed to lots of hard work.
He remembers his father, Jason, dropping him off at 6:15 a.m. and asking a janitor to open up the gym so he could practice shooting before school. He remembers running up and down hills in Claremont before summer games. As he gained attention and respect, he never changed his attitude of being humble, being inclusive and being a team player.
"I know there are NBA players who are stuck up, and I knew if I ever made it, I didn't want to be that person," he said. "I wanted to be someone people could relate to."
Hemsley became so respected on campus that one student held up a sign at the state finals that read, "In Hemsley we trust."
"I was watching San Diego State play in the NCAA tournament and was picturing him out there, which made me so excited and so sad at the same time," Dunn said of losing his outstanding senior.
Hemsley has prepared himself to be ready to contribute at the next level and maybe beyond.
"It's crazy to think my high school career is over," he said. "I know it's going to be a lot harder. I know it's going to be a challenge, but I think I'm going to be prepared."
Asked where he will fit in, Hemsley said, "I don't like to classify myself any position. I consider myself a basketball player. I can play any position. I just want to win games."