There’s a month left of regular-season high school basketball in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
Though The Record does use postseason performance in our end-of-year honors, it’s time for my first watchlist for both boys and girls basketball All-Area Players of the Year.
Remember: This is just for fun, and this list can change dramatically before season’s end. The Record puts a huge emphasis on winning teams, so there are players who are probably good enough to be on this list, but whose teams are struggling in league play so they’re less likely to win this award.
Michael Hayes (West guard, junior)
Hayes did have a rough night Wednesday, as he was in constant foul trouble during St. Mary’s 68-66 Tri-City Athletic League win at West. However, in terms of sheer explosiveness, competitiveness and impact, he is still as good a candidate as anybody.
Plus, Hayes has the highlight of the year, hitting the game-winning shot in a 65-64 win on Friday at Lincoln. He’s a returning first-team, All-Area selection for The Record.
Andre Kelly (Lincoln forward, junior)
Kelly has as good a chance as anyone of winning this award. He was already dynamic as a sophomore, in a second-team All-Area season, and has only gotten better. The 6-foot-8 Kelly is putting up 25 points and 14 rebounds per game, shooting an impeccable 65 percent from the field.
Tydus Verhoeven (Manteca forward, senior)
Verhoeven has truly put it together as the senior leader and eclectic virtuoso that the Valley Oak League-leading Buffaloes need. If the season ended today, Verhoeven would have my vote, and probably most of the coaches’ votes, for VOL MVP. The 6-8 senior is averaging 15 points, 12 rebounds, and crazily, six blocks per game. In a pivotal 61-58 win over Modesto-Central Catholic last week, Verhoeven had 27 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks. That is player of the year stuff if I’ve ever seen it.
Bryce Johnson (St. Mary’s forward, sophomore)
Johnson has the impressive distinction in being the only varsity newcomer in this main batch of candidates. The 6-6 forward dazzled in St. Mary’s biggest game of the season, pouring in 22 points against West. Johnson is averaging a team-high 16 points, along with 10 rebounds.
TreVon Simmons (Brookside Christian guard, senior)
Simmons and sophomore forward Jalen Williams (one of the extra names to watch) could both be on this list. Simmons, though, has been to two Sac-Joaquin Section championship games in his career. He has the motivation of coming to the brink of a title last year, in that crazy overtime loss to Mariposa County, and he was excellent then. Simmons is even better this year, and was averaging over 20 points per game earlier in the season. He has the capability to shoot over 40 percent from 3-point land consistently and that’s vital in modern basketball.
Jalen Valverde (Elliot Christian guard, senior)
Valverde gets the slight nod over teammate Jimmy Beltz (leading scorer, prolific 3-point shooter) because of his all-around impact and ability to light up an entire stat sheet. The Eagles’ point guard averages 16 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in what could be a special season for Elliot Christian: The Record’s top-ranked small-school team as of this week.
Junior Ballard (Lathrop guard, junior)
Ballard is perhaps the area’s most talented scorer, especially with his dynamic ability to finish around the basket. The man who became Lathrop’s first player to score over 50 points in a single game (last season against Sierra) is averaging 24 points and shooting 52 percent from the field. Ballard’s candidacy will hinge upon Lathrop’s late-season performance: how they fare in the VOL’s homestretch and potentially, the section’s Division IV playoff bracket.
MORE NAMES TO WATCH
Carlos Gaston (Chavez guard, senior)
Wesley Bookman (Edison forward, senior)
Cutrell Haywood (Stagg forward, senior)
Ephraim Estell (West forward, senior)
Jordan Trotter (St. Mary’s forward, senior)
Zeke Holman (Lincoln guard/forward, junior)
Jimmy Beltz (Elliot Christian guard, senior)
Aidan Green (Tokay guard/forward, senior)
Raul Melgarejo (Weston Ranch forward, sophomore)
Jalen Williams (Brookside Christian forward, sophomore)
CONNECT WITH THOMAS LAWRENCE
Facebook: Thomas Lawrence
Ask a Question: ask.fm/RecordPreps