CIF state championship basketball tournament: Players to watch

Eric Sondheimer
Contact ReporterVarsity Times Insider
Chino Hills' Lonzo Ball, Bishop O'Dowd's Ivan Rabb among players to watch at CIF championship tournament

There will be no lack of star quality for this weekend's CIF state championship basketball tournament at Haas Pavilion.

Even with Stanley Johnson taking his act to the NCAA tournament with Arizona (he won four state titles playing for Santa Ana Mater Dei), fans should be enthralled watching an intriguing group of future college players on Friday and Saturday.

Players to watch:

Lonzo Ball, Chino Hills, Jr.: Think Magic Johnson when watching the 6-foot-6 UCLA commit. He's averaging 24 points, 11.3 rebounds, 9.1 assists, five steals and five blocks. He adjusts to whatever strategy an opponent offers. He can go from being a point guard to being a center on defense. He can switch to warp speed at the blink of an eye. He'll be trying to lead the Huskies to their first state title in Division I.

Ivan Rabb, Oakland Bishop O'Dowd, Sr.: The No. 1 unsigned prospect in California is a big roadblock for Mater Dei's bid to win a fifth consecutive state title in the Open Division. The 6-11 senior had 18 points and 18 rebounds in the semifinals. He lost to Johnson and Mater Dei in last year's final. The only McDonald's All-American from California is down to UCLA, California, Kentucky, Arizona and Kansas as college choices.

Jeremy Hemsley, La Verne Damien, Sr.: Damien students would vote to hold a parade to honor Hemsley, who's beloved on campus because of his unselfish, humble personality. Headed to San Diego State, he's a guard with many skills who does whatever it takes to get his team a victory. Damien is trying to win its first state title in Division III. "He's such a special person," Coach Matt Dunn said. "It's more than just our team that benefits from him. It's our entire school community."

M.J. Cage, Mater Dei, Jr.: The 6-10 Cage has emerged as a defensive force. One longtime Mater Dei observer calls him "the best shot blocker in school history." His matchup against Rabb in Saturday's Open Division final will have lots of college recruiters glued to their seats. With each game, he becomes more relaxed and more determined in his role as a top player.

Cody Riley, Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, So.: It has been an up-and-down season for the 6-8 Riley, who some forget is only a sophomore. But he has helped the Trail Blazers reach the Division V final and there's little doubt that in 2016 and 2017, Sierra Canyon will be one of the state's elite teams.

De'Anthony Melton, Encino Crespi, Jr.: At 6-4, Melton brings versatility that helped the Celts shut down Oregon-bound Tyler Dorsey and UCLA-bound Aaron Holiday in Crespi's last two Division IV playoff victories. Melton plays defense, rebounds, scores, dribbles, blocks shots — he's Mr. Everything.

Rex Pflueger, Mater Dei, Sr.: Probably no player will be more important in deciding whether his team wins a state title than the Notre Dame-bound Pflueger. The Monarchs need him to hit shots and make free throws to knock off the No. 1 team in the state, Bishop O'Dowd.

Vittorio Reynoso-Avila, La Mirada, Jr.: If anyone has to study for a physics exam this weekend, ask Reynoso-Avila to be your tutor. His GPA is 4.6. He's a three-year varsity player averaging 12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists. At 6-4, he rebounds, scores in a variety of ways, and his intelligence makes him very effective for a team seeking its first Division II title.

Katie Lou Samuelson, Mater Dei, Sr.: The Gatorade national player of the year for girls' basketball averages 30 points a game. She's 6-3 and can score from anywhere on a court. Next season, she'll be playing for Connecticut.

All 12 boys' and girls' games will be streamed live at

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