By Dan Lovi and Diego Marquez
Signal Staff Writers
Imagine a 6-foot-4, 205-pound freight train coming at you at full speed.
Just when you think he’s going to run you over, he does a nifty spin move and lays the ball in with a soft touch, putting just the right amount of English on the ball.
The next time down the court, he uses his frame to back you down in the paint and muscles his way to the hoop for a bucket.
On the other end of the court, he grabs a defensive rebound and initiates a fast break, making the defense collapse on him as he drives the lane and finds a teammate for a wide open look from 3-point land.
That’s Valencia point guard Richard Kawakami’s game in a nutshell.
“They call him the swiss army knife because he can beat you in so many different ways,” Valencia head coach Bill Bedgood said about his senior captain. “He has the size of a big but the skill and quickness of a guard. I think he’s one of the most versatile players I’ve ever coached.”
His skills, versatility, leadership and will to win are just a handful of reasons why Kawakami was named the 2019 All-SCV boys basketball Player of the Year.
Averaging 14.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.7 steals per game and shooting 55 percent from the field, Kawakami helped lead the Vikings to a historic season.
Valencia finished with a program-high 26 total wins and also went undefeated in the Foothill League, not losing a single contest at home.
Kawakami was honored as the Foothill League Player of the Year and made the All CIF-SS First Team in Division 2AA.
While the individual accolades meant a great deal to Kawakami, he is the ultimate team player, and nothing was more important to him than capping off the first undefeated league season in Valencia boys basketball history.
“After our Canyon game to finish off the season 10-0 was probably the best feeling. To know that all your hard work paid off,” he said after winning the Foothill League Player of the Year in late February. “Definitely to get Player of the Year, but I also wanted to win a Foothill League title.”
Kawakami’s ability to run a one-man fast break was unmatched in the Foothill League, and he crashed the glass with great ferocity, leading to several double-double games including two in the CIF State Championships.
The way he practiced and competed rubbed off on his teammates, as they continued to improve by learning from his example.
“I think that when you have one of your top players playing that way, it elevates everybody else’s game. He doesn’t like to lose and he is a heck of a competitor and he demands that from them,” Bedgood said. “He pulls the best version of those guys out of themselves and to me, that’s the ultimate compliment I can give any player. Do you make the guys around you better and he absolutely does that.”
“I’m just so happy he transferred last year. He was able to make the transition to point guard and I think it totally switched up our team,” said backcourt mate Jake Hlywiak after a league game in late January.
Up next in Kawakami’s basketball journey will be at least one year at Fresno City College, where he will continue to develop his game and pursue a path to a Division I program.
One thing is certain, the Fresno City College Rams will soon find out how lucky they are to have a player of his caliber and character — a freight train who can run right past you, or run right over you.
Jake Hlywiak, Valencia, Junior
Taking on a bigger role on this year’s Foothill League title-winning team, the junior sharpshooter was one of the league’s biggest threats from beyond the perimeter. Averaging 14.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, Hlywiak finished the season shooting a ridiculous 40 percent from 3, setting a new Valencia record with 96 3-pointers on the year.
Adrian McIntyre, Saugus, Junior
The Centurions’ workhorse, McIntyre contributed mightily on this year’s third-place Foothill League team, leading the squad in almost every statistical category. The junior averaged a league-high 22.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game and shot 49 percent from the floor. He also had a 39 point performance against Viewpoint early on in the season.
Robbie Myers, West Ranch, Senior
In his second year playing for the varsity team, Myers looked bigger, stronger and more effective in every facet of the game. He was a force down low with his back to the basket or crashing the boards, dwarfing opposing defenders to lead the team in points (12.8) and rebounds (7.3) per game plus he shot a team-high 55.9 percent from the field. He was also selected for the All CIF-SS First Team in Division 2A.
Caden Starr, SCCS, Junior
Taking over the reins for the Cardinals in his second year, the CIF-SS Division 3AA First Teamer didn’t always put up the gaudiest scoring numbers, but filled the stat sheet with his knowledge and feel for the game. Using his masterful dribbling skills, Starr was able to get to any part of the court, altering the dynamic of the team to finish averaging 10 points, six rebounds and five assists per game, and also led the team in blocked shots with two per game. The All CIF-SS First Teamer hit a 40-footer with 0.9 seconds left in a CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA semifinal playoff win against Highland to reach the title game.
Willie Yomba, Canyon, Senior
A spark plug for the Cowboys, all eyes were on Yomba when he put his head down and drove to the rim producing a number of highlight dunks throughout the season. He constantly did all that was necessary to lead his team to a victory every time he hit the court. Rounding out his Canyon career, Yomba was second on the team with 10.8 points and 0.6 blocks per game and led the team in rebounds (6.7), steals (1.8) and assists (2.8) per game.
Josh Assiff, Valencia, Senior
The 6-foot, 8-inch senior was a force to be reckoned with inside the paint or on the perimeter for a Vikings team that went undefeated with a perfect 10-0 record in Foothill League play. His tenacious attitude and shooting skills earned him Second Team All-Foothill League and almost finished averaging a double-double with 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds while dishing out 2.3 assists per game.
Anthony Gallo, Canyon, Junior
The junior captain filled a key need for the Cowboys supplying an outside shot, shooting 37 percent from 3-point territory and led the team with 11.1 points per game. Gallo was automatic at the charity stripe missing just three free throws all year, making 48-of-51 attempts. He was second on the team behind Yomba with 1.3 steals and fourth on the team with 1.3 assists per game.
Alex Grant, West Ranch, Senior
The Wildcats’ senior big man, Grant’s length and quick feet made him a nightmare for opponents as he was quick around the basket or could step out and hit the occasional 3-pointer. He rounded out his senior season averaging 11.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, one assist and 1.2 steals per game. In the final game of his West Ranch career, Grant led the team with 14 points and six rebounds in a CIF-SS Division 2A quarterfinal game against Colony.
Nathan Perez, Saugus, Freshman
Bursting onto the scene during his freshman campaign, the 6-foot-2 shooting guard lit opponents up from beyond the arc in almost every game. Coming off screens and shooting stand-still shots, Perez was always a perimeter threat, shooting 37 percent on 3-pointers and was second on the team averaging 17.2 points per game. He also pulled down 3.8 rebounds, dished out 2.0 assists and logged 1.2 steals per game.
Kevin Stone, SCCS, Senior
One of the purest scorers in the Santa Clarita Valley, the All CIF-SS Division 3AA First Team selection amazed those in attendance with his range and pinpoint shooting abilities to lead the Heritage League in scoring with 16 points per game and shot a whopping 44 percent from beyond the arc.
Canyon – Aaron Berko, Senior
Hart – Joey Harand, Senior
Golden Valley – Kenan Quila, Senior
Saugus – Camron Nale, Junior
SCCS – Justin Collins, Senior
SCVi – Cameron Cline, Senior
Trinity – Kyle Fields, Junior
Valencia – Jayden Trower, Senior
West Ranch – Deaken Stangl, Senior