Edwards, Gilliam headline Most Improved Seniors and Juniors
Growth. As a basketball evaluator, it is one of the most important pieces of a proper prospect evaluation. How much has the player grown year over year?
Statistics are not the only tool used to measure a player's growth. In fact, sometimes a jump in statistics might be misleading. Even more important is the development of areas of a player's game that once was considered a weakness. A non-ballhandler developing confidence with the ball. A non shooter who becomes a reliable player on the perimeter, and so on.
San Diego had a number of players show that type of growth this year. We will mention several standouts, and group them by class, starting with seniors and juniors.
Most Improved Player of the Year
Bruce Edwards, 6-4 2016 W La Jolla Country Day
Edwards came into the year known as an athletic specimen who was a fierce on-ball defender, but had not yet made the leap from undersized four man to legit wing prospect. Halfway through the season, it became evident that Edwards had made the jump, in a big way. While his numbers have remained relatively static due to the influx of talent on his team, it was the comfort level handling the ball on the perimeter and the improvement in his perimeter shooting that made him look like a different player from his first three years. His improvement, coupled with the arrival of a talented freshman class, has vaulted La Jolla Country Day to a Division 2 Championship and a berth in the state playoffs.
Edwards edges 2017 Torrey Pines C Jake Gilliam for the award. Gilliam, a 6-9 240 post, had a huge year, which you will read more about later.
Most Improved 2016 team:
Conner Nelson, 6-7 SF, Del Norte- Came out of nowhere to become one of the most exciting players in San Diego County.
Austin Beech, 6-5 SG, Cathedral Catholic- Beech has made major strides as a shooter and playmaker off the dribble in his final year, becoming more than just an athletic highlight maker in the process.
Omajae Smith, 6-5 W, Foothills Christian- Like Edwards, made the leap to a full-fledged wing prospect in his senior year, which should pay off with late-D1 interest.
Karlton Perry, 6-5 W, San Ysidro- Another undersized power forward who developed into an intriguing wing prospect during his senior year. Lefty made a big leap forward.
Terrence Becvar, 5-11 PG, Valley Center- The fact that I am now comfortable with calling Becvar a point guard exemplifies how far the Jaguars guard has come in terms of his ball handling and scoring off the dribble. His huge senior year is proof.
Takoda Browne, 5-10 PG, Kearny- Always known as a freakish athlete and hawkish defender, Browne made major strides in his poise, decision making and on-court composure, allowing him to become one of the region's top point guards in the process.
Monte Vista's seniors: Cheating a bit here, but I think the entire group (Shai Stevenson, Bohanon Rankins, Tre Owens and Terry Bone) all made huge leaps from their junior years.
Matt Murray, 6-4 W, Grossmont- Another afterthought his first three years, became the Foothillers second leading scorer and really picked up the slack in Tommy Rutherford's absence. Late bloomer.
Jonah Patmon, 6-3 W, San Diego- Led the Cavers to their first playoff appearance and win in eight years, all while averaging nearly 30 points per game in league. Not bad for a player who only had a handful of double-figure games during the previous season.
Eddie Parker, 6-3 G, La Jolla- Much like Marek Sullivan did in his final year at Torrey Pines last year, Eddie Parker came out of nowhere to be one of the unsung leaders on a very good Vikings team.
Carsten DenHerder, 6-0 G, Scripps Ranch- DenHerder's major improvement handling the ball and running a team at the point guard position were a big role in the Falcon's surprise season.
Bret Johnson, 6-0 G, Santa Fe Christian- A role player his first year on varsity, Johnson became the leader of the unsung Eagles team, and nearly had a triple double in the upset of LCC in the playoffs.
Jackson Strong, 6-4 SG, Torrey Pines- Expanded his game to play in the post to create mismatches with smaller guards and improved his ball handling.
Eric Pierce and Luke Arvidson, El Camino- The senior duo went from role players to stars on the Wildcats.
Josh Ramirez, 6-3 SG, San Marcos- Made a major jump his final year for the Knights, becoming a reliable third scorer behind Johnny McWilliams and Jason Simmrin.
Jorge Ramirez, 5-11 PG, Kearny- Ramirez was an indispensable member of the Komets Division 1 title team, but it was his improved game management, borderline elite defensive instincts and improved shooting that gave the Komets an added dimension to last year's team.
Armstrong Ojunkwu, 6-9 PF/C, Mission Bay- Expanded his game dramatically on the offensive end to become a reliable face-up scorer for the Bucs.
Jake Gilliam, 6-9 C, Torrey Pines- The most improved junior in the class became a double double threat during his second year on the varsity level. With improved conditioning and mobility, Gilliam became a consistent scoring threat in the post and has developed into a viable rim protector, though his greatest contribution to the defensive end is his communication and quarterbacking of the Falcons' defense. In the process, Gilliam has parlayed his play into interest from several Ivy League schools, including Yale and Dartmouth.
Brandon McCoy, 7-0 C, Cathedral Catholic- You often don't see Top 15 prospects in the nation on the "most improved" lists, but that demonstrates how unique Brandon McCoy's development was during the season. He is en route to becoming the region's second consecutive McDonald's All American.
Malik Parsons, 6-0 PG, Lincoln- From a 5-5 freshman to today, no guard in the class has made more improvement year over year than Parsons, who has turned into one of the sleeper prospects in the junior class. The biggest jump has come in his decision making and his perimeter shooting, which has become a potent weapon for the Hornets.
Ryan Kelly, 6-7 PF, Granite Hills- Primarily known as an energy guy his first two years, Kelly's skillset blossomed in his junior year, allowing him to attack defenses in multiple ways, and in the process, making himself East County's third best prospect behind TJ Leaf and Tommy Rutherford.
Blake Seits, 6-3 170 SG, Ramona- Marco Cobian gets a lot of the accolades, but Seits came into his own this year, shooting it at impressive clip (112/290 for 39 percent from three). He broke the school's record for most threes in a game (9) and saw his scoring average jump by 8 points in the process.
Joseph Davis, 6-4 G/F, Kearny- The younger brother of Kearny's Perry Davis, the sharp shooting guard established himself as a key piece of the Komets success with his ability to consistently stretch the floor. Expect him to land on this list again next year.
Brandon Keyes, 5-10 PG, Mater Dei Catholic- An afterthought during the Jaylen Hands era, Keyes proved to be a solid game manager for the Crusaders, and improved his outside shooting and decision makings skills.
Cliff Kidd, 6-2 170 G, Mater Dei Catholic- The lefty bounced back from a disappointing, injury-plagued sophomore year and averaged in double figures for the Crusaders. A very reliable scorer, especially off the dribble pull-up, Kidd also improved his passing and defense in order to become a more well-rounded player.
Drew Mead, 6-2 170 SG, La Costa Canyon- A seldom-used reserve as a sophomore, Mead emerged as the leading scorer for the Mavericks en route to an All League second team selection.
Mikey Hawkins, 5-9 150 PG, Morse- The diminutive lefty hit big shots for the Tigers throughout the year, none more than the game winner to avoid a bad loss to San Diego at the end of the season. Earned All league second team in the process.
Marquell Cool, 5-10 G, West Hills- The pure shooter was a huge piece of West Hills suprising season that ended in the Division 2 semifinals. Cool was one of several underclassmen who made a big leap from the previous season.
Terrell Smith- 6-3 W, Lincoln- An unknown outside of Lincoln coming into his junior year, Smith became one of the Hornets top playmakers and averaged in double figures for the Western League team. Smith could be one of the region's breakout stars as a senior.
Travis Tatad- 6-2 G, High Tech High Chula Vista- Often overshadowed by teammates Rafael Felix and Hassan Hunt, Tatad made big strides in his junior year in his ball handling and overall play.
Tyler Smith, 6-5 F, Steele Canyon- Davis made major strides as a junior, his first on the varsity level, averaging nearly 9 points and 6 rebounds per game. Smith, who started playing basketball as a freshman, has come a long way in a short time.
Ben Okhotin, 6-6 W, Westview- A growth spurt and improved athleticism has made Okhotin one of the more improved prospects in Southern California, albeit on a losing team. Okhotin led the Wolverines in scoring after being an afterthought as a sophomore.
Baturay Koyuncu, 6-2 G, Scripps Ranch- A junior guard who split time on the JV and varsity last year, Koyuncu emerged as the second-leading scorer for the Falcons, and continues to grow as a ball handler and a defender.