Prep2Prep 2019-20 CCS Boys Basketball Honors
St. Ignatius's King Jhsanni-Wilhite is the CCS Freshman of the Year.

CCS Freshman of the Year

With a name like King, it’s hard not to be the subject of attention.

Playing on a high-profile team in the West Catholic Athletic League, there were plenty of eyes on St. Ignatius point guard King-Jhsanni Wilhite, who dealt with the challenges of being a freshman on a senior-heavy team and learning the ropes at point guard at a new level.

Throughout the course of an up-and-down season for the Wildcats, Wilhite was the consistency that kept the team afloat through rough waters, and for his excellence, he’s been named Prep2Prep’s CCS Boys Basketball Freshman of the Year.

There had been buzz before the 2019-20 school year that St. Ignatius’ losses from a talented outgoing class would be supplanted by the introduction of a star-caliber freshman, and when Wilhite arrived, those rumors proved to be true. The first freshman to start for the Wildcats since Stephen Domingo, he scored in double figures in 22 of 29 games, including three performances of 27 points.

All three of those top games came on the biggest possible stage, with the first under the dim lights and big stage of the Cow Palace, which hosted the Bruce-Mahoney Game for the first time. Though SI ultimately lost, he nearly led a comeback from 25 down. He matched that mark in a 76-60 win over Monterey in the CCS semifinals, then did it again two days later to win the section title and get revenge on Sacred Heart Cathedral.

“The moment is never too big for him,” said head coach Rob Marcaletti, who stepped down from his post following the season. “When he’s on that stage and the competitive juices are flowing, you see the best of what he has to offer.”

As good as he was in the spotlight, Wilhite was more than just a scorer. Top talent reveals itself in any setting, but he quickly became a true point guard, even with all of the voices in his ear.

The pressure and attention put on players labeled as blue-chip recruits has been well-documented, and Wilhite was no exception. In addition to the staff at St. Ignatius, he’s got to deal with parents, friends, AAU coaches and college recruits, which comes with the territory that accompanies any player who’s accompanied on lists of top freshmen in California with the likes of Bronny James. Even with all that noise, Wilhite showed that he’s got his eyes on success at the high school level, rather than just priming himself for individual accolades. At every brief pause before free throws, Wilhite was quick to head to the SI bench to confer with the coaching staff, learning finer details of the game that typically go unnoticed by most freshmen.

“We threw a lot at him,” Marcaletti said. “Running an offense, new defensive schemes and concepts, plus you had other teams focused on containing and stopping him. Nothing phased him in all of those scenarios.”

Less than a year after graduating from middle school, Wilhite was quickly thrust into the gauntlet with SI, playing three straight rivalry games in an eight-day stretch to open league play. The Wildcats lost all three, but nearly came back in that aforementioned Bruce-Mahoney defeat and took Serra down to the wire in the Jungle Game.

“Losses made him hungrier to learn, watch film and ask the coaching staff how he can be more efficient in different situations,” Marcaletti explained.

That commitment paid off quickly. On January 17, the Wildcats fell to 0-5 in WCAL play with an 85-39 loss to Mitty, in which the Monarchs came out swinging to impress Aaron Gordon, who was accompanied by many of his Orlando Magic teammates for his jersey retirement ceremony. In an embarrassment of a loss, SI allowed the first 24 points and could never recover. Three weeks later, the teams met again in the Sunset District for an incredible turnaround, where Wilhite scored 17 in a 55-54 upset victory that even the most optimistic of Wildcat fans couldn’t have anticipated.

The fledgling young team would drop their next three games to close the regular season, but with Wilhite’s 20 points in a blowout quarterfinal win over Westmoor and back-to-back 27 point performances in the semis and title game, the Wildcats had their first section crown since 2014, with their freshman point guard a key player in the run. He finished off his year with a team-high 18 in a NorCal win over Bullard, then another 11 in a season-ending loss to Carmel. In all, he averaged 15 points, four assists and four rebounds for the season, and in five playoff games, he scored an average of 20.6.

Wilhite’s freshman year leaves plenty of optimism for what’s to come, both on an individual and team scale. He was accompanied by three sophomores in Ryan Conroy, Rory Kenneally and GC Toledo Rivera, plus freshman center John Squire was pulled up from the JV team for the playoff run. There may be a new coaching staff in the Sunset District next year, but there’ll be plenty of talent to work with.

For his efforts this past season, we are pleased to recognize St. Ignatius’ King Jhsanni-Wilhite as the Prep2Prep Central Coast Section Freshman of the Year.

Other players considered for this award were Alvarez’s Jalen Brown, Pacific Grove’s Jamar Howard and Valley Christian’s Jaiden Paran.

NOTE: We would like to thank our media partners, coaches, parents, players and fans for contributing photos for our all-section features. We salute all of the players that have made this a wonderful season of CCS basketball.