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ALL-EMPIRE SMALL SCHOOL BOYS BASKETBALL

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Jayson McMillan, jr., Cloverdale

FIRST TEAM

Pablo Avendano, sr., Roseland Univ. Prep

Marcus Poe, sr., Cloverdale

Lucas Triplett, jr., Fort Bragg

Frankie Valdez, sr., Roseland Univ. Prep

Hokulani Wickard, soph., Lower Lake

SECOND TEAM

Liam Galten, sr., St. Vincent

Abraham Sanchez, sr, Anderson Valley

Cesar Soto, sr., Anderson Valley

Sean Symonds, jr., Mendocino

Will Tarrant, sr., St. Vincent

COACH OF THE YEAR

Steve Bernardi, Cloverdale


Backed by two generations of basketball legends in Cloverdale, one might expect Jayson McMillan to cop a little bit of an attitude about his hoop skills.

The school, after all, has for 50 years hosted a basketball tournament named after his grandfather, John. His dad, Craig, played in the NCAA Final Four with Steve Kerr at the University of Arizona.

But instead of boasting about his family’s name, Jayson McMillan is thoughtful and unassuming.

A 6-6 junior, McMillan averaged 17 points a game this season, helping lead his Eagles to a 26-5 overall record and 13-2 North Central League I title.

McMillan, who looks to have a strong senior season ahead of him, is The Press Democrat’s 2015-16 All-Empire small school boys basketball player of the year.

“Jayson has consistently gotten stronger and fundamentally better,” said his coach, Steve Bernardi. “He has just become a dominant player. He’s one of the top players in the area. I look forward to him continuing to improve.”

Technically, McMillan is a two-year varsity player. But he actually made the varsity team his freshman year.

He realized, though, that he wasn’t going to get enough playing time to improve his skills. He took advice from his older brother, John, who also starred at Cloverdale.

“I moved myself down (to junior varsity) after the first tournament,” he said. “I could have stayed and played a little bit here and there … but I went down and played more.”

That JV team won the league and McMillan was able to play consistently and improve, rather than sitting at the end of the bench or going in during garbage time.

Bernardi praised McMillan’s work ethic.

“He’s always in open gyms. He plays all the time, works hard to improve his game,” he said. “Jayson does everything the coach wants him to do.”

McMillan has the height and the ball-handling ability, often drawing double-teams from opponents’ defense.

“His versatility makes him hard to guard,” Bernardi said. “He used to like to go outside. Last year he was a great outside player. This year he worked on his inside game to become complete.”

McMillan came up big in several games this season, scoring 25 points three times, even while the team also had seniors Marcus Poe and Adrian Bernardi to depend on.

He shot well from inside and out: he shot 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc.

“I got a lot bigger and stronger from last year to this year,” McMillan said. “That helped a lot. I just lifted a lot more. It helped down low. I didn’t get pushed around as much, and I could do more what I wanted.”

The coach said McMillan showed his growing confidence while going up against a 6-7 adversary from Stuart Hall of San Francisco. Zeke Crawford averaged 25 points and 16 rebounds a game.

McMillan held his own, Bernardi said, and scored a game-high 25 points in the playoff loss.

“Jason prepares well and never gets too high or too low. He is consistent and dependable,” he said. “He will have a big year next year.”

ALL-EMPIRE SMALL SCHOOL BOYS BASKETBALL

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Jayson McMillan, jr., Cloverdale

FIRST TEAM

Pablo Avendano, sr., Roseland Univ. Prep

Marcus Poe, sr., Cloverdale

Lucas Triplett, jr., Fort Bragg

Frankie Valdez, sr., Roseland Univ. Prep

Hokulani Wickard, soph., Lower Lake

SECOND TEAM

Liam Galten, sr., St. Vincent

Abraham Sanchez, sr, Anderson Valley

Cesar Soto, sr., Anderson Valley

Sean Symonds, jr., Mendocino

Will Tarrant, sr., St. Vincent

COACH OF THE YEAR

Steve Bernardi, Cloverdale

Having been around basketball his whole life — his dad said there was a hoop in Jayson’s room from the time he could crawl — McMillan comes with a deep understanding of the game.

“He knows the game. He’s a smart player,” Bernardi said. “He wants to win but he’s also a good, pleasant kid. He plays the game the right way. He’s a good teammate, good to his opponents. He’s a great student.”

McMillan said no one ever pressured him to play ball, but he does have high expectations of himself. He wants to win league MVP again next year, win another league title and go further in the playoffs.

“If my team does well, I’ll do well,” he said.