ALL-NORTH COAST SECTION
Player of the Year
JAMES AKINJO, SALESIAN
By NATE SMITH
This year’s top player in the North Coast Section did not come out of the blue, and did not surprise anyone in Northern California with his domination on the court. Rather, Salesian’s James Akinjo took an already high set of expectations and somehow surpassed them, leading the Pride to a 30-win season, including an unbeaten run through the always-grueling TCAL-Rock schedule and an NCS Division III title.
As always, Salesian coach Bill Mellis set a daunting schedule for Akinjo and his teammates. The senior leader who is currently being courted by top Division I programs around the country made sure he delivered in one marquee match-up after another.
At the Gridley Tournament, it was a 26-point win over Capital Christian in the title game. At the Tarkanian Classic, Salesian took down Illinois 3A state champion Morgan Park-Chicago, Idaho 5A state semifinalist Post Falls, and Oklahoma 6A state champion Putnam City North. The lone regular season loss for the Pride also occurred at the Tarkanian, a six-point defeat to Nevada 4A state champion Bishop Gorman. Later, in individual showcases, Akinjo led Salesian to wins over Modesto Christian and San Joaquin Memorial.
“(James) came up big in the biggest games, on the biggest stages,” Mellis said. “Modesto Christian and San Joaquin Memorial were two huge performances this year. He is one of, if not the best, point guard we have ever had.”
In the win over SJM, at the Crush in the Valley showcase, Akinjo displayed his true all-around game, going for 22 points, nine assists, six rebounds, and three steals. In the earlier win over Morgan Park, Akinjo lit up the Illinois champs for 20 points and six assists. He finished the year averaging 21 points and five assists, including a 28-point performance in Salesian’s CIF Open Division loss to Folsom. He will also be defined by his lasting legacy to the Pride program.
“His impact on this program has been huge. One of the biggest things with James is he has been a great example of how to go about working on your game. He is the biggest gym rat I have ever coached,” Mellis added. “He would often leave our gym and go to 24-Hour Fitness, and then take shots for another hour. He has just been a great example of how to constantly improve all aspects of your game.”
After being honored as the North Coast Section Junior of the Year after last season, Akinjo lived up to those accolades and more during his senior year. As a result, we are pleased to honor Akinjo as our 2017-2018 North Coast Section Player of the Year.
Other players considered for this award include Bishop O’Dowd’s Naseem Gaskin, Bishop O’Dowd’s Elijah Hardy, and Las Lomas’ Nate Robinson.
Coach of the Year
PAT CRUICKSHANK, HERITAGE
Heritage’s Pat Cruickshank is the choice for Prep2Prep NCS Coach of the Year.
By NATE SMITH
Throughout his two decades of being a head basketball coach, Heritage’s Pat Cruickshank has seemingly only gotten better at his craft as time has worn on. This year, the veteran coach and athletic director guided the Patriots to unprecedented territory – back-to-back league titles for the first time in program history and the first-ever section title, as Heritage beat Clayton Valley to win the North Coast Section Division I championship.
Despite having won the 2016-2017 Bay Valley Athletic League title – the program’s first in seven years – Heritage entered this year with numerous question marks after advancing to the 2017 NorCal Division I regional semifinals. Sure, the Patriots returned league MVP Jonathan Ned, who captured his second straight award in 2018, but graduated all three members of their backcourt, along with their only true post presence. Heritage would start three underclassmen during the 2017-2018 season, one which started with nine straight victories before an overtime loss to Dublin in the championship game of the Don Nelson Classic.
One of those underclassmen was 5-foot-8 point guard Ezra Manjon, who took the reins in Cruickshank’s system after moving from Ohio. Manjon and sharp-shooting senior Jacob Williams ended up out-performing the previous year’s trio of guards which were catalysts for the Patriots’ success. And after the early nine-game win streak was interrupted by the loss to Dublin, Heritage quickly reached a career milestone for their coach, as he earned his 300th victory all time – with previous coaching stops at San Leandro and Liberty before Heritage opened – with a win over Urban in the opening game of the Bambauer Classic at Marin Catholic.
The Patriots fell to Serra-San Mateo in the semifinals of the Bambauer, but responded with an 18-game winning streak. The win streak included a perfect 10-0 mark in BVAL play, plus a four-game run to the NCS title, one which included blowout wins over San Leandro and College Park before a thrilling double-overtime win against Dublin in the semifinals and a back-and-forth win over Clayton Valley to cut down the nets.
“I could coach for another 30 years and never coach in another game like Wednesday night (against Dublin),” Cruickshank said after the win over Clayton Valley. “And then to have another thriller and to play for a championship, it was just an incredible stretch of basketball.”
The bond on this year’s team was evident in the reaction of the players to the section title, who were quick to credit the coaching staff for a successful run, and for a school-record 29 victories.
“Our coaching staff really deserved this title, especially being the first one in school history,” Manjon said. “They deserve a ton of credit for helping me to adjust so quickly after arriving here. They just spent so much time helping me through the beginning of the season, and to learn everything I needed to know.”
Cruickshank, who finished the year with 319 career victories, is quick to acknowledge the work of his assistant coaches, especially long-time assistant Rich Castellano. He laughed a bit at the notion of making it 400 career victories, but has continued to up the program’s non-league schedule again next year, in an effort to raise the bar for a team which will graduate a couple significant pieces but also return a handful of key contributors from this season.
For his ability to guide Heritage to unprecedented success this year, we are pleased to recognize Pat Cruickshank as our North Coast Section Coach of the Year.
Other coaches considered for this award include Las Lomas’ Brian Dietschy, Salesian’s Bill Mellis, O’Dowd’s Lou Richie, Stuart Hall’s Charles Johnson, University’s Randy Bessolo, and Branson’s Jonas Honick.
FIRST TEAM ALL-NCS
Naseem Gaskin, Bishop O’Dowd
The Utah commit was named Co-Player of the Year in the WACC-Foothill Division, averaging nearly 15 points and seven rebounds per game. In a late regular season game against Berkeley, he set the Dragons’ single-game record with 44 points, and finished as the third-leading scorer all-time in school history.
Elijah Hardy, Bishop O’Dowd
The Washington commit was named Co-Player of the Year in the WACC-Foothill Division, with teammate Gaskin, averaging over 14 points to go with nearly seven assists and over five rebounds per game. With Gaskin and Hardy, O’Dowd won league and section titles, and reached the final of the NorCal Open Division regionals.
James Akinjo, Salesian
The MVP of the TCAL-Rock, Akinjo averaged nearly 21 points and over five assists per game, leading Salesian to league and section championships. Even in a NorCal Open Division loss to Folsom, he was the marquee scorer on the court, dropping 28 points.
Jonathan Ned, Heritage
The 6-foot-7 Ned was named the MVP of the BVAL for the second straight year, after averaging 21.3 points per game to go with six rebounds and two blocks per game. He led Heritage to back-to-back league titles and the school’s first-ever NCS Division I title. In two games against Dublin, including the section semifinals, Ned scored 77 points, and added another 27 points in the NCS title game win over Clayton Valley. He finished as the second all-time leading scorer in school history, with 1,331 career points.
Nate Robinson, Las Lomas
The MVP of the DAL-Foothill Division, Robinson led the Knights to a league title and a CIF North Division I regional championship in his only year playing for his hometown school. He averaged 21 points, five rebounds, and four assists per game.
SECOND TEAM ALL-NCS
Robby Beasley, Dublin
Beasley was named MVP of the EBAL after a season in which he averaged 21 points per game. The Gaels are 24-2 in league play during Beasley’s two seasons, including a 13-0 mark in league play this year, part of a 21-game winning streak for Dublin. His play was also stellar down the stretch, scoring 29 points in a playoff win over Amador Valley, and dropping in 24 more points in a NorCal win over Serra.
Garrett Pascoe, Clayton Valley
The first-team All-DAL Foothill Division selection averaged over 14 points, nearly six rebounds, and over seven assists per game, as the Eagles reached the NCS Division I championship game. The Boston University commit set a new school record by scoring 49 points in a double overtime loss to Campolindo.
Viktor Rajkovic, Branson
Named the Player of the Year by the Marin Independent Journal, Rajkovic was a first-team All-MCAL selection and averaged 18 points per game to lead the Bulls to league and section titles. The 6-foot-5 junior led Branson to a 30-win season, including a 22-point effort in the NCS Division V title game win over University.
Ezra Manjon, Heritage
The first-team All-BVAL selection averaged nearly 16 points per game, to go with five assists and two steals per game, in his first season after moving from Ohio. In the NCS Division I semifinal win over Dublin, Manjon exploded for 33 points and eight assists.
THIRD TEAM ALL-NCS
Rob Prince, Las Lomas
Robinson may have been the leading scorer and league MVP from the Knights, but coach Brian Dietschy was quick to recognize Prince as the team’s offensive sparkplug, the point guard who made it all go. And he could score as well, made clear by his team-high 24 points in the state final against Chino Hills.
Benno Zecic, Alameda
The Hornets went on an unprecedented run for the school this winter, following an unbeaten WACC-Shoreline slate by advancing to the Division II semifinals against O’Dowd, and then reaching the CIF Division II title game, where Zecic led Alameda with 16 points in a loss to Crossroads. All year, the 6-foot-3 senior guard was a catalyst for the Hornets on both ends of the court, using his length and tenacity on defense to go with his scoring ability on the offensive end.
Max Anderson, Moreau Catholic
The dual-sport standout was named MVP of the Mission Valley Athletic League after leading a young and balanced Mariners team to a league title. Anderson averaged 12 points, three rebounds, three assists, and over two steals per game. He racked up back-to-back seven-steal performances in the Rancho Mirage Classic in December, and scored in double figures in seven of the final eight games.
Spencer Spivy, University
The Williams College commit was named MVP of the BCL-West, and led the Red Devils to the NCS Division V title game. Spivy put up one of the best single-game performances of the year in the NorCal playoffs against Patterson, scoring 45 points in a triple-overtime victory.
Riley Smith, Windsor
The MVP of the North Bay League, Smith averaged over 19 points and nearly eight rebounds per game. The 6-foot-7 senior finished his career with 1,199 points, and led the Jaguars to regular season and league tournament titles this year.
Ben Baker, Berkeley
The first-team All-WACC Foothill selection was an all-around force for the Yellowjackets, averaging 17 points, six rebounds, and four assists per game, as Berkeley finished as the runner-up to O’Dowd in league play and reached the semifinals of the NCS Division I championships.
Ryan Cibuil, Noah Schwartz
Julian Bryant, Avri Finch
Tommy Kramer, Demetrius Williams
Kyree Brown, Avery Burt
CALIFORNIA SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF:
CLAYTON VALLEY CHARTER:
CONTRA COSTA CHRISTIAN:
Jalen Scott, Jalen Chandler
DE LA SALLE:
Elijah Laird, Justin Masilang
Noah Bice, Danny Roland
Conner Jackson, Jack Nielsen
Hasani Hockenhull, Kenden Robinson
Tristen Martin, Kyler Becksted
Zac Claus, Donald Willis
Melvin Lipsey, Oliver Hamilton
Trey Chapman, Carl Hubbell
Gabriel Hawkins, Brah’jon Thompson
Trey Conrad, Randy Pfann
Jason Holman, Devin Payne
Evan Poulsen, Harvey Rouleau
Leonard Turner, Dallas Rider
Alex Schaufler, Alden Friedman
OAKLAND MILITARY INSTITUTE:
Brendan O’Neil, Jack Anderson
PLEASANT HILL ADVENTIST:
RINCON VALLEY CHRISTIAN:
Jason Roche, Darius Jackson
Josh Jefferson, Jovon McClanahan
Patrick Pancho, Saveon Campbell
SAN RAMON VALLEY:
Garrison Finck, Lane Thrap
ST. JOSEPH NOTRE DAME:
Cameron Ba, Adam Campos, Julian Vaughns
ST. PATRICK-ST. VINCENT:
Dishon Jackson, Akil Edwards
Miles Amos, Nigel Burris
Max Fried, Charley Moore
Jaylen Edmonds, Atmar Mudu
Travis Carlozzi, Justin Smith