Commentary

Jersey boys hope to tarnish Golden State

Updated: February 16, 2009, 3:12 PM ET
By Mark Tennis and Doug Huff | ESPNRISE.com

New Jersey might have been the most surprising state to be placed directly into the bracket of the ESPN RISE Great State Debate for boys' basketball.

If you follow the national rankings regularly, however, the Garden State always has a strong representation, as there are several outstanding programs in the state.

The third first-round matchup in the Great State Debate will immediately test Jersey pride. It won't be a walk in the park, because the Garden State is going up against No. 3 seed California.

The winner of this week's Great State Debate will face No. 2 seed Illinois in the semifinals. Illinois defeated No. 7 Kentucky, 60.8 percent to 39.2 percent, in last week's voting.

The case for California

Just as in football, the depth of talent in California basketball can be overwhelming. No state in the nation has as many players in the NBA, and just about every NBA team counts a significant player on its roster who comes from the Golden State.

The state includes not one but two of the nation's top metro areas for producing hoops talent. The Los Angeles region, including Orange County and extending to the Inland Empire, doesn't have a Bill Russell or Jason Kidd on its list, but it does have a vast collection of NBA All-Stars such as Reggie Miller, Paul Pierce, Baron Davis, Paul Westphal, Tayshaun Prince and many others. The San Francisco Bay Area, on the other hand, is the home of Russell, Kidd, rebounding machine Paul Silas, Gary Payton and many others.

Pitting the Bay Area against L.A. could be a debate of its own, but that still would leave out many other portions of the state. San Diego's all-time greatest player, Bill Walton, is an all-time great on many lists, while Sacramento's best have included retired player and current Phoenix Suns coach Bill Cartwright as well as the current mayor of the city, former Sacramento High and NBA point guard Kevin Johnson.

Dwayne Polee, a junior at Westchester High of Los Angeles, says it's all about attitude and coaching.

"There are just so many great players here in California, and they all love to get up and down the floor," said Polee, an all-state underclassman pick by CalHiSports.com last season. "They like being in the highlights."

"The coaching also makes so many of us better," added Polee, who is coached by one of the state's all-time winningest mentors, Ed Azzam. "No doubt, my coach is wonderful. It's the same at Fairfax, Mater Dei and other places. You'll become a better player for sure when it's like that."

All-time best California players

Bill Walton
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty ImagesBill Walton is among a long list of basketball greats from California.

Gilbert Arenas (Grant High, Van Nuys)
Bill Cartwright (Elk Grove)
Tyson Chandler (Dominguez, Compton)
Phil Chenier (Berkeley)
Baron Davis (Crossroads, Santa Monica)
Gail Goodrich (Poly, Sun Valley)
Dennis Johnson (Dominguez, Compton)
Kevin Johnson (Sacramento)
Marques Johnson (Crenshaw, Los Angeles)
K.C. Jones (Commerce, San Francisco)
Jason Kidd (St. Joseph, Alameda)
Bill Laimbeer (Palos Verdes, PV Estates)
Hank Luisetti (Galileo, San Francisco)
Andre Miller (Verbum Dei, Los Angeles)
Reggie Miller (Poly, Riverside)
Gary Payton (Skyline, Oakland)
Paul Pierce (Inglewood)
Jim Pollard (Technical, Oakland)
Leon Powe (Technical, Oakland)
Tayshaun Prince (Dominguez, Compton)
Bill Russell (McClymonds, Oakland)
Byron Scott (Morningside, Inglewood)
Bill Sharman (Porterville)
Paul Silas (McClymonds, Oakland)
Phil Smith (Washington, San Francisco)
Reggie Theus (Inglewood)
Kiki Vandeweghe (Palisades, Pacific Palisades)
Bill Walton (Helix, La Mesa)
Paul Westphal (Aviation, Redondo Beach)
Jamaal Wilkes (Santa Barbara)
John Williams (Crenshaw, Los Angeles)
George Yardley (Newport Harbor, Newport Beach)
Note: Doug Gottlieb (Tustin), Jay Bilas (Rolling Hills, Rolling Hills Estates) and Steve Lavin (Drake, San Anselmo) are ESPN on-air talents who were standout high school basketball players in California.

Top five current California players
(Based on ESPNU Scouts Inc. recruiting rankings)
1. Renardo Sidney (Fairfax, Los Angeles) 6-foot-10, senior
2. Jordan Hamilton (Dominguez, Compton) 6-8, senior
3. Jeremy Tyler (San Diego) 6-11, junior
4. Tyler Honeycutt (Sylmar) 6-8, senior
5. Tyler Lamb (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) 6-5, junior

Top five current California teams
(Based on ESPN RISE FAB 50)
1. Mater Dei (Santa Ana)
2. De La Salle (Concord)
3. Westchester (Los Angeles)
4. Fairfax (Los Angeles)
5. McClymonds (Oakland)

The case for New Jersey

Garden State high school basketball has made major strides in the past two decades with the emergence of national team powers.

[+] EnlargeAl Harrington
Chris McGrath/Getty ImagesDo Al Harrington and New Jersey have enough fans to upset No. 3 California?

St. Anthony (Jersey City) and St. Patrick (Elizabeth) are regular contenders in the major national rankings, while St. Benedict's of Newark has made its mark the past few seasons under coach Dan Hurley, son of legendary St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley.

St. Anthony has been a dominant in-state program during the elder Hurley's 37-year coaching career -- which has included 25 state title teams and a 933-101 record entering this season. Last season, the Friars won their 10th all-class state Tournament of Champions and capped a 32-0 record campaign with the mythical national No. 1 ranking.

St. Patrick, under current coach Kevin Boyle, has fared well in intersectional play during the past decade while Dan Hurley has guided St. Benedict's into the national spotlight.

One of Dan Hurley's players, sophomore guard Tavon Sledge, said about Jersey basketball, "All the players work hard and practice hard. When you can learn from someone like Coach Hurley, that just makes it better."

Historically, one of the best Jersey Boys has been International Hall of Famer Rick Barry, the high-scoring ABA and NBA forward whose four sons all played in the NBA.

In 2000, the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper selected Bloomfield's Kelly Tripucka as New Jersey's boys' basketball player of the 20th century. He later starred at Notre Dame before a career with the Detroit Pistons in the NBA.

All-time best New Jersey players
Alaa Abdelnaby (Bloomfield)
Al Attles (Weequahic, Newark)
Rick Barry (Roselle Park)
Gary Brokaw (New Brunswick)
Walter Dukes Jr. (Seton Hall Prep)
Al Harrington (St. Patrick, Elizabeth)
Tommy Heinsohn (St. Michael's, Union City)
Bobby Hurley (St. Anthony, Jersey City)
Bobby Martin (Atlantic City)
Bill Raftery (St. Cecilia's, Kearny)
David Rivers (St. Anthony, Jersey City)
Rodrick Rhodes (St. Anthony, Jersey City)
Samardo Samuels (St. Benedict's, Newark)
John Somogyi (St. Peter's, New Brunswick)
Tim Thomas (Paterson Catholic, Paterson)
Kelly Tripucka (Bloomfield)
Milt Wagner (Camden)
Dajuan Wagner (Camden)
Kevin Walls (Camden)
Luther Wright (Elizabeth)

Top five current New Jersey players
(Based on ESPNU Scouts Inc. recruiting rankings)
1. Dominic Cheek (St. Anthony, Jersey City) 6-6, senior
2. Dexter Strickland (St. Patrick, Elizabeth) 6-3, senior
3. Michael Gilchrist (St. Patrick, Elizabeth) 6-8, sophomore
4. Isaiah Epps (Plainfield) 6-2, senior
5. David Bruce (Linden) 6-9, senior

Top five current New Jersey teams
(Based on ESPN RISE FAB 50)
1. St. Patrick (Elizabeth)
2. St. Benedict's (Newark)
3. St. Anthony (Jersey City)
4. Science Park (Newark)
5. Paterson Catholic (Paterson)

Mark Tennis is the deputy sports editor for ESPNRISE.com. Doug Huff is a senior editor for ESPNRISE.com.