It’s another big year for hot-handed, play-making guards, as The Arizona Republic announces this seasons’s high school Players of the Year.
Last year, Dewayne Russell, a 5’10” senior guard at Peoria High School was named the boys’ Big Schools Player of the Year, while the girls’ honors went to Shilpa Tummala, another guard who led St. Mary’s High School to a state title and No. 1 national ranking.
This year, the selection committee narrowed it down to point guards.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect to this year’s picks is the selection of Sydney Wiese to be the Girls’ Player of the Year. The 6’1″ Wiese ran the point for Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, which lost in the state championship game to St. Mary’s. The obvious selection might have been Chantel Osahor, the 6-2 senior guard for St. Mary’s, who was named to the All-Arizona team – but was passed over for Player of the Year.
However, there’s no argument that Wiese deserved the honor. After all, losing to St. Mary’s is no disqualifier since the Knights haven’t lost a game to an Arizona team in two years – and have owned the state title now for three years running. Pinnacle actually held a six-point lead at the half of the championship game, forcing St. Mary’s into an unfamiliar position of having to come from behind to win the crown.
St. Mary’s keyed on Wiese in that game, limiting her to three baskets and seven points total; Osahor scored nine points for the Knights.
But Wiese averaged 18.5 points a game over the season – and added 5.2 assists and 2.5 steals to go with the scoring output – in helping Pinnacle to a 32-3 record and a shot at the title. Two of those three losses were to St. Mary’s and the other was to a California team in the Nike Tournament of Champions.
On the boys’ side, it was Corona del Sol‘s high-flying point guard, Casey Benson, who snagged Player of the Year honors. The junior averaged 20.7 points a game this season in leading the Aztecs to a second straight Division I state championship.
Thanks to some God-given height, the 6’3″ guard was also active under the boards, where he picked up 3.3 rebounds a game. But that probably wasn’t as critical to the team’s success as the 3.7 assists he dished out each game.
One interested observer this season evidently found Benson’s talents worth an invitation to play at the next level. Arizona State’s head coach, Herb Sendek, is one of numerous suitors for the young man’s services, providing Benson a scholarship offer he can consider as he begins preparing for his senior season.
The Small Schools Players of the Year awards went to Jorrell Smith at Cortez High School and Shandiin Armao from Winslow High.
Smith played shooting guard this year, but was converted to that position after playing point last year. He produced 25 points a game in running the offense as a junior, but says he was more comfortable in his new role this year. He still put up the same number of points per game, but in some ways was more effective away from the responsibilities of the point position. That was readily apparent when he opened the season with a 38-point performance against Glendale High.
And the team’s results show the wisdom of the move as the Colts went from winning nine games last year to 20 this year.
The 5’8″ Smith played bigger than his stature all season long, averaging 25.8 points a game, while adding 3.7 assists and 4.2 steals. He made 48 percent of his 3-point shots and was 51 percent from two-point range.
Armao was also productive for Winslow – but from a different spot on the floor. The 5’10” post was a steady performer who contributed 15 points a game, but also added an average 10.7 rebounds to help her team to its ninth state title.
She scored 17 points in the championship win over Sanders Valley High School last month, connecting on seven of her eight shots and throwing in 21 rebounds. Her career high is 32 points, which she posted against Holbrook High in the semi-finals. Winslow literally rode on her back to its state title.
The All-Arizona Teams:
On the girls’ side, Wiese and Osahor are joined by Katie Werner, a senior forward from Xavier Prep; Courtney Christmas from Liberty High School and the only underclassman on the roster; and Lyndsay Leikem, a 6’1″ senior from Flowing Wells High School.
The boys’ team includes: Benson; Dorian Pickens, a 6’5″ junior from Pinnacle High School; senior Paul Watson, a 6’6″ post from Paradise Valley High; Pablo Rivas, a 6’5″ junior that averaged 23 points a game for Cesar Chavez High; and Rolando Rhymes, a play-making guard for Desert Mountain High School.