The Best of the Best in the West – The Top 20

LAGUNA NIGUEL, CA – Sometime, and somewhere, in the annals of “phrase coining”, someone came up with “a labor of love”. I’m not sure in what reference that individual came up with the phrase, but I know how it fits my life succinctly.
I became married to my “labor of love” in 1977, when I began assembling the “Best in the West basketball team” for the Long Beach Press-Telegram. Via the input of college coaches I had befriended while covering high school and college games for the Press-Telegram, I compiled the list of what those coaches believed to be the best prospects in the current senior class of players in the “West”.
After the help of 12 or so coaches who participated in that first survey in 1977, I was getting input from about 75 coaches and scouting service/Internet recruiting analysts on the final BIW I put together (in 1998) before departing for a job with the Orange County Register. After two years at the Register and three more with Foxsports.com – where I continued to see, up close and personal, all of the best prospects in the West and beyond – I returned to the Press-Telegram in 2003 and resumed the BIW, with the last of those coming in the fall of 2010 before departed the newspaper last June. All together there were 32 BIW squads and, with second- and third-team selections, 1,000-plus players received some BIW mention in that stretch.
The following list is made up of the 20 players I believe were the very best of those 1,000-plus – based upon what they accomplished as high school players. There were some tough cuts to make to narrow the list 20, most notably Reggie Miller, Kevin Johnson, Tayshaun Prince, Richard Jefferson, Tom Chambers and Jacque Vaughn. What are my choices for the very best of the very best?
I opt for Jason Kidd, John Williams and Kevin Love.
With the late Raymond Lewis (L.A. Verbum Dei/Class of 1971) Kidd is considered the finest guard produced in California. Williams is the most versatile player to come out of California since – well, maybe ever.
And Love?
Well, if you’ve checked him out lately with the Minnesota Timberwolves, it should be no surprise that I believe he’s the best post player of the “Best in the West era”.

The Best of the Best in the West – The Top 20

DANNY AINGE
6-4 guard
Eugene, OR, North Eugene
1976-77
College: BYU
Legacy: Long before he was became a 15-year NBA player and then general manager of the Boston Celtics, he was an All-American guard and John R. Wooden Award winner at Brigham Young University. And before he matriculated to Provo, Utah, he was a member of the first-ever Best in the West squad. While at North Eugene, Ainge proved to be one of the most versatile d athletes in Pacific Northwest history, earning all-state honors in basketball and baseball, and starring as a football wide receiver. How good was he in baseball? He played four years in the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization.

STACEY AUGMON
6-7 forward
Pasadena, CA, Muir
1985-86
College: UNLV
Legacy: Augmon came into his senior season at Muir not nearly well known, regionally or nationally. But all that changed after he led the Mustangs to a CIF Southern Section 3-A title, helping his team beat Compton Dominguez (with future NBA forward Cedric Ceballos) in the semifinals and Simi Valley (led by a sophomore, Don MacLean, who went on to become a BIW selection, UCLA All-American and NBA forward) in the final. At UNLV he played on Jerry Tarkanian-coached teams that were among the best of the past 25 years, helping the Rebels to the 1990 title

MIKE BIBBY
6-1 guard
Phoenix, AZ, Shadow Mountain
1995-96
College: Arizona
Legacy: On college recruiter’s radar since he played as an eighth grader for his father (former UCLA and NBA guard Henry Bibby) during travel ball tournaments, Bibby was a three-time all-state selection who led his team to the state title as a senior. A year later, he became the first freshman point guard to start for an NCAA champion. He is probably the best-ever player produced in Arizona.

MITCHELL BUTLER
6-5 forward
North Hollywood, CA, Oakwood
1988-89
College: UCLA
Legacy: The top vote getter (over Harold Miner and Tracy Murray) on his BIW squad, Butler went on to play 130 games at UCLA and play eight seasons in the NBA. Butler was a member of the Bruins’ squad – coached by Jim Harrick – that lost to Indiana during the 1993 NCAA West Regional championship game in Albuquerque.

BARON DAVIS
6-2 guard
Santa Monica, CA, Crossroads
1996-97
College: UCLA
Legacy: The national Player of the Year, as selected by Gatorade and Parade Magazine, Davis was rated the top point guard in the country as a senior. Among his teammates at Crossroads was guard Cash Warren – son of one of the Bruins’ best-ever point guards (Mike Warren), a movie producer and the husband of actress Jessica Alba. Another classmate? Actress Kate Hudson. After leading his prep team to three Southern Section titles, Davis played two seasons at UCLA and has been in the NBA since 1999.

JAMES HARDEN
6-5 guard
Lakewood, CA, Artesia
2007-08
College: Arizona State
Legacy: The third-year guard with the Oklahoma City Thunder led the Artesia Pioneers to California state titles as both a junior and senior, and was considered the best player in the state during both seasons. He was a consensus first-team All-American as a Sun Devil and the Pac-10’s Player of the Year as a sophomore before departing for the NBA.

ELDRIDGE HUDSON
6-6 forward
Carson, CA, Carson
1981-82
College: UNLV
Legacy: “El Hud” was a three-time all-L.A. City selection at Carson, leading the Colts to a city championship and a state Division I title as a senior. While playing for Jerry Tarkanian, he helped lead UNLV to the 1987 Final Four in New Orleans, where the Rebels were beaten by eventual national champion Indiana in the semifinals.

RALPH JACKSON
6-2 guard
Inglewood, CA, Inglewood
1979-80
College: UCLA
Legacy: His NBA career didn’t last long but he was a quality point guard for the Bruins. Other than Jason Kidd, there may not have been a better passer in this 20-player group. As a senior he helped the Sentinels go unbeaten, beating a very good Long Beach Poly team three times, the last of those in the CIF Southern Section 4-A title game in the Long Beach Arena.

JASON KIDD
6-4 guard
Alameda, CA, St. Joseph-Notre Dame
1991-92
College: California
Legacy: The sure-fire future Naismith Hall of Fame inductee was, in reality, the best player in California during his final three years as a prep and led his team to state Division I titles as a junior and season. He physically and mentally dominated opponents not only as a prep but also during his two years as a Golden Bear. He helped his team stun two-time defending national champion Duke in the second round of the 1993 NCAA Tournament.

KEVIN LOVE
6-9 forward
Lake Oswego, OR, Lake Oswego
2006-07
College: UCLA
Legacy: In his fourth season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Love is the best rebounder in the NBA and that shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed his career as he has dominated opposing post players on the high school, travel ball and college levels. The Gatorade Player of the Year as a high school senior, he was the Pac-10 Player of the Year and a first-team All-American a year later during his only season at UCLA.

DON MacLEAN
6-9 forward
Simi Valley, CA, Simi Valley
1987-88
College: UCLA
Legacy: MacLean was a three-time all-CIF selection at Simi Valley and helped lead his team to a Southern Section (3-A) championship during his senior season. A McDonald’s All-American, MacLean was a four-year starter for Coach Jim Harrick’s UCLA Bruins and still stands as the Pac-10’s (now 12’s) all-time leading scorer.

HAROLD MINER
6-4 forward
Inglewood, CA, Inglewood
1988-89
College: USC
Legacy: Nicknamed “Baby Jordan” (yeah, for you know who) while in high school, Miner was one of the most spectacular players ever produced in Southern California. Miner turned down scholarship offers from Kansas and UCLA, among others, to play for George Raveling at USC, where he became the Trojans’ all-time scoring leader in just three seasons.

TRACY MURRAY
6-7 forward
Glendora, CA, Glendora
1988-89
College: UCLA
Legacy: There haven’t been many players—anywhere, anytime – with the kind of range and accuracy on his jump shot that Murray possessed. He took that shooting range to UCLA and then on to the NBA, where he played 12 seasons with a career-high of 16.2 points per game for Toronto in 1995-96.

ED O’BANNON
6-8 forward
Lakewood, CA, Artesia
1989-90
College: UCLA
Legacy: One of Southern California’s best-ever players – he was a three-time all-CIF selection and led the Pioneers to a CIF Southern Section and State titles as a senior – enrolled at UCLA and became one of the Bruins’ all-timers as well. After missing his first year because of a knee injury, O’Bannon led the Jim Harrick-coached club to the 1995 national title, earning John R. Wooden Award honors in the process.

PAUL PIERCE
6-6 forward
Inglewood, CA, Inglewood
1994-95
College: Kansas
Legacy: Pierce started his prep sophomore season on the junior varsity for Coach Patrick Roy but, by the end of December, was a varsity standout. He led the Sentinels to a CIF Southern Section championship during his junior season and was the Best in the West’s top vote getter, and a McDonald’s All-American, before enrolling at Kansas. He’s been a Boston Celtics standout since 1998.

DWAYNE POLEE
6-4 forward
Los Angeles, CA, Manual Arts
1980-81
College: UNLV and Pepperdine
Legacy: Polee started his prep career at Los Angeles Verbum Dei, then spent three all-City seasons at Manual Arts, where he was the Player of the Year as a junior and senior. After committing to USC, he signed with UNLV and played one season for Jerry Tarkanian before transferring to Pepperdine. There he helped lead the Waves, coached by Jim Harrick, to a first-round NCAA Tournament game with Maryland (and the late Len Bias).

BYRON SCOTT
6-4 guard
Inglewood, CA, Morningside
1978-79
College: Arizona State
Legacy: Before Scott became an integral member of the Magic Johnson-propelled Lakers’ “Showdown”, he was a jump-shooting and dunking specialist at Morningside High, where he helped the Monarchs get to the semifinals of the 1979 CIF Southern Section 4-A semifinals – where they were knocked off by eventual champion L.A. Verbum Dei. At Arizona State he was an All-Pac-10 and All-American selection.

STEVIE THOMPSON
6-3 forward
Los Angeles, CA, Crenshaw
1985-86
College: Syracuse
Legacy: No BIW selection, at his size, ever accomplished more, inside the lane and along the baseline. The left hander, who led the Crenshaw High Cougars to a pair of L.A. City crowns, could jump over the top of defenders or maneuver his way around them. He was impossible to stop in the low post, even when players 6-8 or taller were defending him. He enrolled at Syracuse and was an All-Big East selection for Coach Jim Boeheim while helping the Orange to the championship game in the 1987 Final Four in New Orleans.

JOHN WILLIAMS
6-8 forward
Los Angeles, CA, Crenshaw
1983-84
College: LSU
Legacy: In the minds of many, he’s the best-ever L.A. City player and the best player out of Southern California since Raymond Lewis graduated from Verbum Dei in 1971. Only eventual state championship teams from Carson (in 1982) and Long Beach Poly (’84) kept Williams from leading the Cougars to three consecutive state championships. He surprised a lot of college basketball followers by turning down scholarship offers from UCLA, UNLV and Louisville to sign with LSU. He helped the Tigers get to the 1986 Final Four (in Dallas) as a sophomore before turning pro.

LEON WOOD
6-3 guard
Santa Monica, CA, St. Monica
1978-79
College: Arizona and Cal State Fullerton
Legacy: Today, you recognize Leon Wood as an NBA referee. But before he began totting a whistle, he was in possession of one of the sweetest jump shots anywhere. After a prep career as a three-time all-CIF 1-A selection, Wood spent a season at the University of Arizona before transferring to Cal State Fullerton. As a Titan, he was a first-team All-America as a senior and started in the backcourt for the U.S.’s 1984 Gold Medal-winning Olympic team, where one of his teammates was Michael Jordan and the head coach was Bob Knight.


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Frank Burlison
One of the most respected basketball writers and basketball talent evaluators in the world. He’s an original (1978) member of the McDonald’s All-American Selection/Advisory Committee and was inducted into the United States Basketball Writers’ Association Hall of Fame during the 2005 Final Four in St. Louis.
Frank Burlison

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