Player of the Year: JEREMY HEMSLEY, Damien, Sophomore
By Steve Ramirez
For some, this was supposed to be a re-building season for the Damien High School boys basketball team.
Instead, it was the best season in the program’s history, ending with the school’s first CIF-Southern Section divisional title with a Division 3AA championship and a victory in the CIF State playoffs.
The difference for the Spartans, who had lost in the semifinals three out of the previous four years, was sophomore Jeremy Hemsley, who proved to be the difference between Final Four frustration and championship glory.
For his efforts, Hemsley is San Gabriel Valley Tribune Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
“I think we did a good job of bringing the school together,” said Hemsley, Damien’s go-to- player, who came up big down the stretch. “It was nice, having everybody (there) who likes sports, giving them something (they never had). I’m happy we were able to accomplish a lot this year.”
The key was Hemsley, who quickly got the Spartan faithful get over the loss of all-everything postplayer Chris Reyes, who graduated after last season and is now at St. Mary’s.
Hemsley, who averaged nearly 20 points a game, helped Damien to a 15-2 start before keying the stretch in the postseason, which included easy victories over Los Amigos (74-28), Wilson (60-45) and Temescal Canyon (62-32) before securing the title with wins over Corona del Mar (61-53) in the semifinals and Santa Margarita (54-40) in the 3AA title game. Hemsley averaged 20 points in the postseason, including dropping 25 on Corona del Mar and 17 against Santa Margarita.
“I never really felt the pressure coming into the season,” Hemsley said. “My goal coming into the season was to win ( a section title). I didn’t feel the pressure of it, I just wanted to accomplish that goal.”
Because of it, he pushed himself and his team in the critical moments down the stretch, including the close games in the final four. Hemsley made three of four free throws down the stretch before capping the win at Corona del Mar in the semifinals with a signature dunk. Then, after getting in early foul trouble in the title game, he responded with a monster fourth quarter to key the 54-40 victory over Santa Margarita.
“I tried to tell my teammates there going into the second half that we weren’t in a bad situation,” Hemsley said. “I tried to lead my team, and that’s what happened.”
But Hemsely wasn’t quite finished with the heroics. He added one more memory to the season when he drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Spartans a 74-72 victory over Mission Oak, of Tulare, in the first round of the state playoffs.
Damien’s magical run finally ended with a 59-48 loss at Chaminade in the Southern California Regional quarterfinals.
“It was a great year,” Hemsley said. “I’m really proud of my teammates and coaches and what we were able to accomplish this year. ”
And next season?
“Next year, I think we’re going to be a young team, but I think we’re going to be better,” Hemsley said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Coach of the Year: MATT DUNN, Damien
Dunn has turned around the culture at Damien, transforming the basketball team from a solid program to one of the best in the area that annually competes for CIF-SS glory. After advancing to the divisional semifinals three times in the previous four seasons, Dunn finally got the Spartans over the hump with a Division 3AA title, the first section crown in school history. Dunn, whose Spartans were 26-7, was 3AA Coach of the Year
TRIBUNE FIRST TEAM
PRIMITIVO GOMEZ, Arroyo, Senior, Forward/Guard
The senior proved to be one of the better front court players in the area. He earned Mission Valley League MVP and ranked about the area leaders in scoring with 25.7 points a game. He also had 10.7 rebounds per contest and 3.4 assists. Gomez keyed the Knights run to the school’s first Mission Valley League title and 20-7 record. He saved his best for Arroyo’s big games, scoring 30 points with 14 rebounds in the Knights’ 67-66 victory over second-place Gabrielino on Jan. 11, then had 28 and 10 in the rematch on Jan. 30.
OSNAR GARCIA, Workman, Senior, Guard
The senior earned Montview League MVP after keying the Lobos to one of the better seasons in the program’s history, which included going 26-2, winning the Montview League and advancing two rounds in the CIF-SS Division 4AA playoffs. Garcia was a prolific scorer with 24 points a game. He also averaged 5.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 4.0 steals per contest.
MIKE PETERS, Covina, Senior, Guard
Peters played a major part in Covina making a little school history, which included the Colts win back-to-back league titles for the fist time since the early 1980s. Covina shared the Valle Vista League crown last year and won it outright this season. The senior ranked among the area leaders in scoring, which earned in league MVP and first team All-CIF-SS Division 3A
CAMERON CURRY, Chino Hills, Senior, Guard
The senior was a key factor for the Huskies, who went undefeated in winning the Sierra League and advanced two rounds in the CIF-SS Division IAA playoffs. Curry ranked among the area leaders in scoring and earned first team All-Sierra League.
JARED DIZON, Damien, Senior, Guard
Dizon was a key factor, along with area player of the year Jermey Hemsley, to the Spartans winning the school’s first CIF-SS crown. He was Damien’s outside option, averaging 13.7 points a game with 85 3-pointers. He was first team All-CIF-SS Division 3AA and All-Sierra League.
NNADI UDENGWU, Diamond Ranch, Senior, Forward
The senior averaged 16.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game to help the Panthers to a 16-13 record. He earned first team All-CIF-SS Division 3AA and Hacienda League co-MVP.
DANE HOLLAR, Bonita, Junior
Hollar helped Bonita to a 25-6 record and continue its string of Hacienda League titles. He ranked among the area leaders in scoring and was league co-MVP.
JOE RUSHING, La Verne Lutheran, Junior, Forward
The junior helped the Trojans to CIF-SS Division 4AA finals and a 26-8 record, which included a 63-59 victory over Bishop Montgomery in the quarterfinals. Rushing averaged 15.1 points a game and was first team All-CIF-SS Division 4AA.
SKYLER WILLIAMS, La Verne Lutheran, Senior Guard
The senior was another key part of the Trojans run to the CIF-SS Division 4AA finals, which included a victory over highly-regarded Bishop Montgomery in the quarterfinals. He averaged 12.2 points a game.
A.J. BIGORNIA, Glendora, Junior, Guard
The junior helped Glendora advance to the CIF-SS Division 1A quarterfinals and a 19-11 record. He ranked among the area leaders in scoring, including dropping in 30 points in a 55-49 victory over Dominguez in a second-round playoff game. He was first team All-CIF-SS Division 2A and first team All-Baseline League.
Elias Hernandez, Covina, Jr.
Jordan Stokes, San Dimas, Sr.
Westley Ondatje, Chino Hills, Sr.
Keith Cavanaugh, Damien, Sr.
Joseph Cook, Bishop Amat, Sr.
Joseph Dionisio, Rowland, Sr.
Ryan Ramirez, Bonita, Sr.
Christian Manalo, Diamond Bar, Jr.
Thomas Rico, Glendora, Jr.
Jeriko Santos, South Hills, Sr.
1. Damien (26-7)
2. La Verne Lutheran (26-8)
3. Chino Hills (24-5)
4. Glendora (19-11)
5. Bonita (25-6)
6. Workman (26-2)
7. Covina (21-6)
8. Claremont (20-10)
9. Arroyo (20-7)
10. Rowland (19-9)