By Stephen Ramirez
@SteveRRamirez on Twitter
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Louis Bangai, St. Paul, Center, Senior
At 6-foot-11 inches tall, St. Paul High School’s Louis Bangai provides a tough match up for the opposition.
But the senior knew if his goal to win a CIF Southern Section championship was to be accomplished, he couldn’t just rely on his natural gifts.
He had to get better.
He did, and the Swordsmen benefited. They came up short in their quest to win the school’s second CIF-SS crown, but led by Bangai, St. Paul advanced to the Division 3A title game, losing to Twentynine Palms in overtime.
For his efforts, Bangai is the Whittier Daily News boys basketball Player of the Year.
“I just knew I had to get better,” Bangai said. “It was very different from last year. Last year, I couldn’t shoot the ball from distance, like (making) a 3-point shot. But this year it was easy. But I worked on it a lot.
“I’m just (tried) to get better. I (wanted) to play with the (mind set) of being a winner.”
It showed up on the court, where Bangai was difference maker for the Swordsmen in the playoffs. The senior, after leading St. Paul to its second consecutive league title for the first time in school history with a Santa Fe League crown, averaged 25 points in the Division 3A playoffs to get his team to the school’s first trip to a CIF-SS final in 16 seasons,
His effort did not go unnoticed.
“He got better by ten-fold,” St. Paul second-year coach Damaine Powell said. “(Success in) sports is 90-percent confidence, and once his confidence got up — and he’s always been a hard worker — he was able to take what he worked on in practice right to the game.
“He just took off from there. Being 6-11, definitely helps. He was going to have an advantage every night. But it was nice to see his maturation.”
Bangai, who was Santa Fe League MVP, showed that fearlessness on the court in the postseason. He scored 22 points and had 10 rebounds in the Swordmen’s playoff opener vs. Eastside (62-44) before scoring 32 and 22 points in wins over Lompoc Cabrillo (61-60) and San Bernardino (56-52), respectively, in the quarterfinals and semifinals. He had 26 points and 16 rebounds in a 70-68 loss in overtime to Twentynine Palms in the final.
“It was a good season,” said Bangai, who has received an offer from UNLV. “We didn’t win the (title), but we learned a lot. We got to the final, which we couldn’t do last year. We didn’t win, but everyone (on the team) learned a lot. We learned how to play, compete, and we were proud of ourselves as a team.”
He didn’t’ go unrewarded.
Bangai earned co-Player of the Year for Division 3A, which is a rarity for a player who is not on the championship team, and now he’s area player of the year. He cherishes both accomplishments.
“It means a lot,” said Bangai, who along with fellow senior Kylan Mann and junior Nate Kasongo formed St. Paul’s terrific trio. “This shows how hard work pays off. I’ve been working hard just waiting for the result; (this is) the result for me.
“I worked real hard to improve my game. I wasn’t surprised to get co-player of the year (in the division) and player of the year in the area. I was proud of myself, and it (motivates) me to keep working hard.”
COACH OF THE YEAR
Damaine Powell, St. Paul
There was a time when the St. Paul boys basketball team was considered the No. 2 basketball program on the Santa Fe Springs campus. But no more. Damaine Powell changed all that. He’s changed the culture at St. Paul, transforming the Swordsmen from an afterthought to one of the top programs in the area. In two years under Powell’s leadership, St. Paul has gone 44-13, winning back-to-back league titles for the first time in school history with two Santa Fe League crowns. This season was special. St. Paul went 24-7 and advanced to the CIF-SS finals for the first time since 2001.
“We just took it one game at a time and before you knew it, we just felt every game we played we could win,” Powell said. “We just took it one game at a time and tried to maximise what we had.”
Powell previously coached at Cal State Dominguez Hills and Compton College.
Guard: Kylan Mann, St. Paul, Sr.
Mann was a key part in St. Paul’s run to a second consecutive Santa Fe League title and it’s first appearance in a CIF-SS final since 2001. He averaged nearly 20 points a game during the playoff run and was first team All-Santa Fe League and All-CIF-SS Division 3A. He had 19 points in the title game loss to Twentynine Palms.
Guard: Nate Kasongo, St. Paul, Jr.
Kasongo was part of St. Paul’s three-pronged attack that keyed the Swordsmen’s run to a second consecutive league title — a first in program history — and their first trip to the CIF-SS finals in 16 seasons. He averaged 15 points in five playoff games and first team All-Santa Fe League.
Guard: Dawit Wilson, Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary, Sr.
Wilson came up big down the stretch to help the Cardinals to the CIF-SS Division IAA semifinals. He averaged 11 points per game for the season and scored about 20 a game in playoff wins over La Mirada, Temecula Valley and Santa Monica. He had 29 against Temecula Valley in the second round.
Guard: Walter Franco, La Serna, Sr.
Franco was part of the Lancers’ one-two tandem, along with forward Cedric Sobers, that keyed La Serna to one of its better seasons in program history. The Lancers won their first Del Rio League crown since 2011 and made a rare trip to the CIF-SS quarterfinals. Franco helped the cause by averaging 12.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. He also averaged 3.8 assists and 2.4 steals a contest. Franco was first team All-Del Rio League.
Guard: Khieem Williams, Pioneer, Sr.
Pioneer advanced to the postseason for the second time in three seasons, and Williams played a big part in that success. He proved a challenge both inside and outside and averaged more than 10 points a game to lead the Titans to a 19-9 record and a first-round appearance. Williams was first team All-Del Rio League.
Guard: Jaedyn Bonilla, Schurr, Sr.
Bonilla, a transfer from Cantwell-Sacred Heart, was the missing ingredient to put Schurr over the top. The senior helped the Spartans achieve one of their better seasons, which included a share of the Almont League crown and advancing to the CIF-SS Division 3AA quarterfinals. Bonilla averaged double-digit scoring and co-MVP of the Almont League. He was also first team All-CIF-SS Division 3AA.
Forward: Cedric Sobers, La Serna, Jr.
Sobers, who is on the first team for the second consecutive season, keyed the Lancers to one of their better seasons in history. He averaged 17 points a game to help La Serna win the Del Rio League for the first time in six seasons and advance to the CIF-SS Division 3AA quarterfinals. Sobers was Del Rio League MVP and first-team All-CIF-SS Division 3AA.
Forward: Shemar Morrow, La Mirada, Fr.
If there was a newcomer of the year for basketball, Morrow would get it. The freshman had that big of an impact on the Matadores, traditionally one of the top programs in the area. Morrow put up 17 points per game to help the Matadores finish second in the Suburban League and a spot in the CIF-SS playoffs. He was All-Suburban League.
Forward: Matt Corona, Santa Fe, Sr.
Corona was a key facture in the Chiefs run to the CIF-SS Division 3AA quarterfinals. The senior averaged 21 points per game, including a best 18.3 in Del Rio League contests. He had three games of 36 points or more. Corona also earned three all-tournament selections. He was first team All-Del Rio League.
Forward: Andre Fields, Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary, Jr.
Fields was part of the Cardinals three-pronged attack that also featured senior Dawit Wilson and sophomore Avery Martinez. He averaged double-digit scoring, including scoring a game-high 16 points in a victory over region rival La Mirada in the first round of the CIF-SS playoffs. CSHM advanced to the Division IAA semifinals.
Guard: Alfredo Reyes, St. Paul, Sr.
Guard: Kevin Marlow, Sonora, Sr.
Guard: Nick Colosi, La Mirada, Jr.
Guard: Sean Murphy, Sonora, Sr.
Forward: Avery Martinez, Cantwell, So.
Forward: Austin Carter, Sonora, Sr.
Forward: Daniel Cabrera, La Mirada, Jr.
Forward: Ryan Veljacic, Schurr, Sr.
Forward: Justin Osborn, Whittier Christian, Sr.
Center: Donald Risper, Santa Fe, Sr.
FINAL TOP TEN
1. St. Paul (24-7)
2. Cantwell-Sacred Heart (15-15)
3. La Serna (26-3)
4. La Mirada (22-6)
5. Sonora (25-4)
6. Schurr (22-8)
7. Santa Fe (19-10)
8. Whittier Christian (17-8)
9. Pioneer (19-9)
10. Whittier (16-12)
Almont: Schurr, San Gabriel
Del Rey: Bishop Montgomery
Del Rio: La Serna
Olympic: Maranatha, Heritage Christian
Santa Fe: St. Paul
By Stephen Ramirez