High school basketball teams from the north half of the state have their share of national recruits and out-of-nowhere teams.
The south features big teams with big prospects and sparkling pedigree and scores of CIF state championship victories.
Sleep Train Arena against hosts the CIF’s marquee event, with 12 title games spanning six divisions Friday and Saturday.
The South boys lead the North 98-48 since the state format started in 1981. Among the girls, the North has a 77-69 advantage.
The showcase game is Saturday’s boys Open Division, with national No. 1 Mater Dei of Santa Ana defending its title against Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland. O’Dowd (28-4) is ranked second in the state to Mater Dei (34-0), which is playing in its 15th title game.
Future NBA players, including Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, Jrue Holiday and Klay Thompson, have played in CIF title games at Sleep Train, as has Aaron Gordon, a standout freshman at Arizona who started four seasons for Mitty of San Jose.
There may be some future NBA players at Sleep Train this weekend.
O’Dowd is led by 6-foot-10 junior center Ivan Rabb, whose size and versatility overwhelmed Capital Christian in the NorCal Open final. Mater Dei is led by Stanley Johnson, a powerful 6-7 guard who could become the first player in state history to win four consecutive larger-school state titles. His 6-10 sophomore teammate is M.J. Cage, son of former NBA player Michael Cage. Mater Dei’s Gary McKnight, the state’s winningest coach, has won a record 10 state titles with the Monarchs.
“They have the nation’s best coach, the nation’s best player and they’re ranked No. 1 in the country, so we have no business being on the same court as them,” O’Dowd coach Lou Richie said. “No one will give us much of a chance.”
That’s not entirely true. Mater Dei slipped past O’Dowd 63-59 in overtime in a December tournament in Las Vegas. Rabb had 25 points, 19 rebounds and five blocked shots, and Johnson had 25 points and eight rebounds.
Et cetera – Three of the four teams in the Open Division games are private schools. The lone public school is Long Beach Poly, which has the state’s largest enrollment (5,100) and features the state’s biggest girls front line, led by 6-3 Lajahna Drummer, who will play at UCLA. Poly (26-3) will play Salesian of Richmond (30-6) on Saturday. Salesian is led by McDonald’s All-American and Louisville-bound Mariya Moore. Poly is 5-1 in state title games, the only loss to Oak Ridge in 2010 in what is considered the biggest girls basketball upset in state history.
• Both Division I boys teams, Monte Vista of Danville (31-1) and Centennial of Corona (29-3), are playing for state titles for the first time. Monte Vista is led by 6-8 Spencer Rust.
• The Division I girls game also features teams seeking their first title in Pleasant Grove (25-9) and Canyon Springs (24-6) of Moreno Valley. Pleasant Grove is led by UC Irvine-bound forward Aaliyah Pena, and the Cougars feature San Diego State-bound guard Cheyenne Greenhouse and 6-3 center Charnea Johnson-Chapman.
• Moreau Catholic, the last team to beat Folsom this season, is in the Division IV boys final. Moreau coach Frank Knight had one of the most spirited efforts in state title-game history. Playing for Fremont against Mater Dei in the 1995 D-I final, Knight scored 31 points, including a 30-footer at the buzzer to send it into overtime. He scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to help Fremont erase a 15-point deficit, but Mater Dei won 71-67.
Knight went on to star at Saint Mary’s College, and he ran into Mater Dei’s McKnight several years ago, with McKnight telling him, “Man, I don’t want to see you again. Every time I see you, my heart beats extra fast.”
• Richie, the O’Dowd coach, made what appeared to be the winning shot to lead the Dragons to a 55-54 victory over Manual Arts of Los Angeles in the 1988 D-I final. He went coast-to-coast and tossed up a floater that bounced off the rim, went as high as the backboard and dropped in. While O’Dowd players celebrated, the play was waved off as referees ruled basket interference, allowing Manual Arts to win 54-53. “Still one of the most painful memories of my life,” Richie said.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.