Frank Burlison knows more about West Coast basketball than any scribe alive, so his list of the region’s best high school players from the past 35 years is supported by plenty of authority.
Burlison founded the prestigious “Best in the West” high school basketball team for the Long Beach Press-Telegram in 1977, which is the same year he become a voter for inaugural McDonald’s All-America Game.
He scoured his memory to come up with a list of the Top 20 all-time Best in the West players, a list that includes two former Arizona Wildcats — including one that might surprise you. (Burlison adds that ex-Cat Richard Jefferson was a “tough cut” from the final list of 20.)
You should guess that point guard Mike Bibby, from Phoenix Shadow Mountain High is among the best. Wrote Burlison:
“On college recruiters’ radar since he played as an eighth grader for his father (former UCLA and NBA guard Henry Bibby) during travel ball tournaments, Bibby was a three-time all-state selection who led his team to the state title as a senior. A year later, he became the first freshman point guard to start for an NCAA champion. He is probably the best-ever player produced in Arizona.”
The other ex-Cat on Burlison’s list is guard Leon Wood, who played one season for Arizona (1979-80). Wood is from Santa Monica, Calif.
“Today, you recognize Leon Wood as an NBA referee. But before he began totting a whistle, he was in possession of one of the sweetest jump shots anywhere. After a prep career as a three-time all-CIF 1-A selection, Wood spent a season at the University of Arizona before transferring to Cal State Fullerton. As a Titan, he was a first-team All-America as a senior and started in the backcourt for the U.S.’s 1984 Gold Medal-winning Olympic team, where one of his teammates was Michael Jordan and the head coach was Bob Knight.”
Check out the full list of the Best of the Best in the West.