Dynamic Chino Hills point guard named 2016 Mr. Basketball USA by Ballislife.com, California’s first honoree since 1992. Ball is honored in a tight race over Kansas-bound Josh Jackson.
Many factors go into naming a national player of the year. As it turns out, playing for a winning program is a big one if the past two high school basketball seasons are any indication. For the second consecutive season, the best player off the nation's No. 1 ranked team has earned the title Mr. Basketball USA.
Last year is was 6-foot-9 forward Ben Simmons of FAB 50 champ Montverde Academy (Fla.) earning the nation's most prestigious honor and this season it's 6-foot-6 point guard Lonzo Ball of Chino Hills (Calif.). Ball's team finished 35-0 and ranked No. 1 in the FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com and his impact on an unbeaten, championship team was the determining factor.
Last year Simmons, who has declared for the NBA Draft after one season at LSU and is a strong candidate to be the No. 1 pick of the 2016 NBA Draft, was the first and only candidate to ever be No. 1 on all 10 ballots turned in by the Mr. Basketball USA panel. Simmons was a unanimous No. 1 on each ballot all season long. This time around, the voting was quite different.
Ball, a 6-foot-6 point guard headed to UCLA, began the season in sixth place, appearing on four preseason ballots with no vote higher than third place. That all changed as Chino Hills piled up wins and he piled up triple doubles. He ended the season with a new reported California record of 25 triple-doubles in a season while averaging 23.9 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 11.7 apg, 5.1 spg, and 2.0 bpg. Ball moved up the ladder and actually became the top vote-getter in the fourth tracker of the season, surpassing preseason favorite Josh Jackson of Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.) by two points (87 to 85 points) and was No. 1 on seven ballots. Jackson closed strong with a strong performance at the McDonald's All-American Game in Chicago. He scored the same amount of points, but gained more second and first place votes. In the final Mr. Basketball USA Tracker, Ball finished with six No. 1 votes and Jackson with four.
We don't and will never have ties in our honors or team rankings, so a decision had to be made. We considered dropping the lowest vote total for each candidate and having a re-vote between Ball and Jackson. At the end of the day, however, we want to keep the process as credible as possible. The voting at times for both top candidates was erratic considering their season resume, but in the end all ten panel members voted either Ball or Jackson as their top candidate -- six for Ball and four for Jackson.
"I knew he was going to be a good player when I saw him for the first time in fifth or sixth grade at my camp in Chino Hills," said Steve Baik, his coach for four seasons at Chino Hills High School who resigned in the off-season and recently was named the head coach at Fairfax (Los Angeles). "He already was a good passer and meeting his parents (Lavar and Tina Ball) with his size potential, I immediately knew I had something special."
Ball is indeed a special player and this was the closest national player of the year race in the nine-year history of the Mr. Basketball USA Tracker. Jackson is also special and a few of the panel members feel he is the most NBA-ready player in high school basketball. Jackson could have easily been the choice, but this is production-based honor, not one based on potential down the line and/or recruiting lists, so it's hard to knock Ball's resume for the 2015-16 season and his career.
Today Ball becomes the first player from California to earn Mr. Basketball USA honors since future NBA Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd of St. Joseph (Alameda, Calif.) in 1991-92 and the sixth overall. He's the first choice from a West Coast program since Minnesota Timberwolves' small forward Shabazz Muhammad (Bishop Gorman, Las Vegas, Nev.) was chosen for 2011-12.
Ironically, Ball and Kidd both won a CIF state championship in the top division as seniors and end their respective prep careers with similar career numbers. Kidd finished with 2,662 points (20.6), 1,123 rebounds (8.7), 1,165 assists (9.0), 719 steals (5.57), and approximately 279 blocks in 129 games for St. Joe's. Ball finished with 2,522 points (19.1), 1,204 rebounds (9.1), 1,214 assists (9.2), 592 steals (4.48) and 343 blocks (2.6) in 132 games for the Huskies. Ball was often compared to Kidd the past two years and now as national player of the years they'll forever be linked.
For the all-time list of Mr. Basketball USA honorees, CLICK HERE.