Valencia’s Kawakami named All-Foothill League boys basketball Player of the Year

Valencia's Richard Kawakami (1) drives past Saugus defender Stephen Tampus (32) at Valencia High. Dan Watson/The Signal

Re-writing history is difficult.

Re-writing history two years in a row is even harder. But the Valencia boys basketball team did just that by reaching the CIF-Southern Section semifinals for the second time in program history in as many years.

Coincidently, two years ago, Richard Kawakami transferred into Valencia High School unsure of what his status or role on the team would be. Two Foothill League titles later, Kawakami finds himself among the league’s greatest winning the 2018-19 Foothill League Player of the Year award.

“That’s crazy. We are history-makers, really,” Kawakami said. “It’s two years back-to-back and we are not done this year so hopefully we can make another history-maker, I guess. It’s crazy to think that no one has done this before and we did it two years in a row.”

In his first season as a Viking, Kawakami saw teammate Dexter Akanno win the award and made it a goal of his to win the award in his senior season at Valencia.

“I’m really excited because all of the hard work I put in paid off and it showed,” Kawakami said. “I’m honored to win it because last year Dexter Akanno won it, so I kind of looked up to him and said: ‘I want that next year.’ I made it a goal and eventually with all the hard work and dedication I got the title.”

Capping an undefeated, 10-win Foothill League season, Kawakami guided the Vikings to a 24-7 record overall and slid into the role that Akanno played on the team a season ago by taking over the point guard duties.

“Growing up I always brought the ball up so I was used to it, but after last year we lost a lot of seniors and all of our guards, really, so there was an open spot and I wanted to play the spot and be the leader of the team,” Kawakami said.

“I asked coach and he gave me the opportunity and I went with it. I feel like as a point guard you have to control the tempo and at the end of the day I just want to make my teammates better and I think I’ve done a good job of it.”

In his first season as a true point guard, the 6-foot-4 senior averaged 15.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5 assists and 1.7 steals per game in 31 games so far this season with the state tourney still looming.

“I’ve been playing in the Foothill League for four years and not getting it, it hurt,” Kawakami said about capturing the league title. “I just wanted this last year to get that Foothill League title and make this state run.”

Falling to Rancho Cucamonga in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2AA semifinals, Valencia and Kawakami have one last assignment: the 2019 CIF State Tournament.

“It’s really a family over here at Valencia and that’s why I love it so much, but we are young so we still have some years and it’s going to be a bright future for Valencia basketball for many years,” Kawakami said.

“I just want to thank the whole Valencia coaching staff because they put me in a position to succeed and to have a phenomenal year that hasn’t ended just yet. I want to shout out Yasmine (Ahllamara) on the Valencia girls basketball team. She got Player of the Year too, that’s my girl, so you know power-couple.”

First Team

Adrian McIntyre, junior, Saugus

Nathan Perez, freshman, Saugus

Jake Hlywiak, junior, Valencia

Robert Myers, senior, West Ranch

Willie Yomba, senior, Canyon

Anthony Gallo, junior, Canyon

Second Team

Jayden Trower, senior, Valencia

Joshua Assiff, senior, Valencia

Alex Grant, senior, West Ranch

Deaken Stangl, senior, West Ranch

Joey Harand, senior, Hart

Kenan Quila, senior, Golden Valley

Honorable Mention

Aaron Berko, senior, Canyon

Braxton Williams, sophomore, Golden Valley

Jesse Barrientos, senior, Hart

Alexander Phan, senior, Saugus

Nick Jenney, senior, Valencia

Clyde Seo, junior, West Ranch

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