This year's battle over who should be the 2003 Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year was one such wave. After a 2002 close call between Lynwood's Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood and La Jolla Country Day's Candice Wiggins in which Wiley-Gatewood got the nod, this year's pick was even more difficult because both Dominique Banks from St. Mary's of Stockton and Noelle Quinn from Bishop Montgomery of Torrance were equally strong candidates. In the last month of the season, everything broke toward Banks and the Rams' standout is the choice for this year's honor.
"This is the best award because you hear so much about it," Banks said on Saturday at a local all-star game after being surprised to learn she had been named as the winner. "To be on the list with all those great players means a lot. Most of those girls I love to watch, too, some of them in the WNBA."
Banks checked the internet on Friday to see if the winner had been announced and was then told by her coach, Tom Gonsalves, that a representative from Cal-Hi Sports would be at the all-star game Saturday. Gonsalves knew that his player would be named as the winner, but kept the secret so Banks could be informed in a crowded gym.
"Tom told me that Cal-Hi was going to be here, but I thought it was because they were still evaluating," Banks said. "When this game was over, (Ray Guyton, the Prove It All-Star Game director) kept saying he had something special for me. When I heard the announcement, I thought, ‘Sweet. Miss Basketball.'"
This was one of those picks in which you can't go wrong with any of the four finalists as all four are deserving of any and all accolades they receive. But it's also one of those situations where no matter who ends up on top there‘s going to be criticism.
Momentum for Banks, a 5-8 senior headed to the University of Washington, started to gain steam in the CIF Northern California Div. IV playoffs. In the semifinals, she poured in 39 points and had 11 rebounds in a win over state-ranked Ursuline of Santa Rosa. Then in the final, frequently driving the lane against 6-3 twin towers Courtney and Ashley Paris, Banks rained in 33 more points with 11 more rebounds.
That set the stage for the Div. IV state final in which St. Mary's faced La Jolla Country Day and Wiggins. Banks clearly won that individual battle, too, and St. Mary's won the game. Banks finished with 31 points, 17 rebounds and helped foul out Wiggins by drawing three offensive fouls. Wiggins ended with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
But those three games weren't the only reasons we say this wave broke toward Banks. Earlier in the season, Wiggins -- who averaged 30.2 points per game and because of her size, athleticism and quickness may turn out to be the best player at the next level among the finalists -- and her team played Bishop Montgomery and Quinn twice. La Jolla Country Day won both meetings and Wiggins had the better individual totals, too. That also made it four wins in four games for Wiggins and the Torreys over Quinn and the Knights in the last two years.
Choosing Quinn as state player of the year, for example, over Wiggins wouldn't take into account those four games. Then by the same line of thinking, choosing Wiggins over Banks wouldn't take into account what happened in the final three games this year.
This brings us to Wiley-Gatewood, the 2002 honoree. There's no question she and her team played the toughest schedule, by far, among all the finalists. It also seems to us that she isn't given enough credit among local media in Southern California for the strong outings she had against teams like Ribault of Jacksonville, Florida, and Duncanville, Texas. Maybe Lynwood is actually hurting Sa'de's chances for being Ms. Basketball with its national schedule because so many of the team's biggest games -- and Sa'de's best performances -- have come in tournaments in places like Wyoming and Arizona, and many people tend to forget what happened in those games.
This year, though, Wiley-Gatewood did not have as strong a finish as last year. She didn't make an outside shot in either the SoCal Div. I final against Narbonne or in the Div. I state final against Mitty. And this year, unlike last year, there was an overwhelming local consensus within the L.A.area that Quinn should be the player of the year over Wiley-Gatewood. Local consensus is a key factor in who becomes player of the year in the state because you don't want to go against it when it's heavily tilted toward one player.
Quinn has already been honored as the Gatorade State Player of the Year and with her volleyball accomplishments added on also would seem to be the leading candidate to be the 2003 State Girls Athlete of the Year (unless L.A. Baptist's Allyson Felix breaks a bunch of national records in track). Her claim to fame is leading Bishop Montgomery to four state titles in four years. Banks led St. Mary's to three state titles in four years in arguably tougher divisions and the Rams actually have a better playoff record in the last four years (looks like a couple of more wins) because Bishop Montgomery lost a CIF Southern Section final in 2001 but was able to bounce back and win a state crown. The only playoff loss for St. Mary's in the last four years was in the Div. IV state final in 2001.
"I watched Lynwood play twice in Arizona," Gonsalves said. "Sa'de had approximately five points against Oregon City and in the second game she was not a factor. Dominique's team beat Oregon City last summer at their tournament. They could not match up with her. She dominated the game, as she did against every playoff opponent."
Banks had several other notable outings in addition to the final three. She had 22 points and eight rebounds against nationally-ranked Oak Ridge, Tennessee, although she missed a free throw that led to one of St. Mary's three losses. She had 28 points and nine rebounds against nationally-ranked Campbell County of Wyoming; put down 30 points with eight boards vs. local rival Merrill West of Tracy; snagged 11 boards to go with 28 points in a close loss on the road to Mitty of San Jose (Wiley-Gatewood had 14 against the same team); and came up big with 38 points and 17 rebounds against Marin Catholic of Kentfield. The most impressive stat for Banks: she hit an amazing 62 percent of her shots from the field for the season.
Banks is the first player from a San Joaquin County high school to be state player of the year in any sport since 1983 for softball when pitcher Shawn Andaya of Lodi was selected. The only other state players of the year on any of Cal-Hi Sports' all-time lists from the county are for boys basketball way back in 1907 and 1908. Cal-Hi Sports founder Nelson Tennis picked Stockton High's Merlin Jackson (1907) and Chester Conklin (1908) for those seasons several years ago based on research at the California state library in Sacramento.
CAL-HI SPORTS MS. BASKETBALL STATE PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
(All-time list; selections previous to 1980 made retroactively based on research by Cal-Hi Sports founder Nelson Tennis)
2003 -- Dominique Banks (St. Mary's, Stockton)
2002 -- Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood (Lynwood)
2001 -- Loree Moore (Narbonne, Harbor City)
2000 -- Diana Taurasi (Don Lugo, Chino)
1999 -- Diana Taurasi (Don Lugo, Chino)
1998 -- Michelle Greco (Crescenta Valley, La Crescenta)
1997 -- Erin Buescher (Rincon Valley Christian, Santa Rosa)
1996 -- Maylana Martin (Perris)
1995 -- Renee Robinson (Sacred Heart Prep, Atherton)
1994 -- Nicole Erickson (Brea-Olinda, Brea)
1993 -- Danielle Viglione (Del Campo, Fair Oaks)
1992 -- Charisse Sampson (Washington, Los Angeles)
1991 -- Tanda Rucker (Berkeley)
1990 -- Lisa Leslie (Morningside, Inglewood)
1989 -- Lisa Leslie (Morningside, Inglewood)
1988 -- Trise Jackson (Lynwood)
1987 -- Terri Mann (Point Loma, San Diego)
1986 -- Terri Mann (Point Loma, San Diego)
1985 -- Sharon Turner (El Camino, Oceanside)
1984 -- Doretha Conwell (Locke, Los Angeles)
1983 -- Doretha Conwell (Locke, Los Angeles)
1982 -- Cheryl Miller (Poly, Riverside)
1981 -- Cheryl Miller (Poly, Riverside)
1980 -- Jackie White (San Joaquin Memorial, Fresno)
1979 -- Jackie White (San Joaquin Memorial, Fresno)
1978 -- Jackie White (San Joaquin Memorial, Fresno)
1977 -- Denise Curry (Davis)
1976 -- Denise Curry (Davis)
1975 -- Anita Ortega (Los Angeles)
1974 -- Ann Meyers (Sonora, La Habra)
1973 -- Ann Meyers (Connelly, Anaheim)
1972 -- Ann Meyers (Sonora, La Habra)