Riordan's best: Hard work makes difference 

Rob Jones paused for a moment and laughed before offering a telling response to an unexpected question.

The Riordan senior forward mentioned Kevin Durant as his favorite college basketball player and was asked how he’d handle the Texas phenom if asked to guard him.

"Durant? I’m not sure," Jones said. "I guess I’d just try to work harder than him."

It’s a plan that has worked pretty well for Jones throughout his prolific prep career.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound forward was always double- and often triple-teamed this season, but still averaged 16.6 points and 11.6 rebounds per game in leading Riordan to 28 wins and a share of the West Catholic Athletic League regular-season boys’ basketball championship. Jones, who also anchored a Crusaders defense thatset the school record for fewest points allowed per game (43.2), is The Examiner’s Player of the Year for the second straight season.

"I knew he was a special player the minute I saw him as a freshman," Riordan coach Rich Forslund said. "He’s dominant in the paint; an incredible rebounder with great hands. And he’s won at every level he’s played at."

St. Ignatius coach Tim Reardon almost had the pleasure of coaching Jones, who didn’t decide between enrolling at SI or Riordan until the summer before his freshman year. And ever since then, Reardon has been trying to figure out a way to slow down a player who has consistently improved through hard work. Jones finished his career fifth on the Crusaders’ all-time scoring list (1,318) and second in rebounds (1,157) to become just the third player in school history to reach more than 1,000 in both categories.

"When you’re preparing to play [Riordan], it seems like you hear Rob’s name more than your own players," Reardon said. "He’s not that tall, but he makes up for it in guts and leaping ability. He’s fierce and has great timing."

Jones used his unique skill set to put together some monster games this season, starting with a 31-point, 13-rebound performance against San Ramon Valley in the Crusader Classic and continuing with nine double-doubles in 14 conference games. He played mostly on the blocks at Riordan, but has been working hard to improve his perimeter game to get ready for college.

"[Playing down low] was a little tough when I knew next year I’d be playing more outside," Jones said. "But something I’ve always been is team-first."

College is the next step for Jones, who committed to play at the University of San Diego last summer but is currently re-evaluating his decision after Toreros coach Brad Holland was fired at the end of the season. Forslund feels confident Jones will continue to improve no matter where he goes.

"He’s very coachable and has a great work ethic," Forslund said. "I have no doubt he’ll continue to get better and better."

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: ROB JONES

» STATISTICS: 16.6 points per game, 11.6 rebounds per game

» FAVORITE SUBJECT: Math

» CAREER AMBITION: "Something where I’m involved with sports."

» WHAT PEOPLE DON’T KNOW: Quiet outside the gym. "On the court, I’m a different person."

» SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Dedicating the championship game of the Crusader Classic to Aunt Susanne Hauciano, who had passed away earlier in the week, and then scoring 31 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in a 59-46 win over San Ramon Valley.

» FAVORITE ATHLETES: LeBron James, Kevin Durant

» GO-TO MOVE: Hook shot

THE OTHER FIRST-TEAMERS

RONNEY FREEMAN

» STATISTICS: 14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists per game

» FAVORITE SUBJECT: Physics

» FAVORITE ATHLETE: Allen Iverson

» WHAT PEOPLE DON’T KNOW: "Off the court, I’m a jokester."

Ronney Freeman and twin brother Rodney were in the middle of everything for Wallenberg this season, leading the team to a school-record 22 wins and a berth in the section semifinals. In perhaps the Bulldogs’ most impressive victory, Ronney scored 16 of the team’s 19 second-half points in a 51-50 win over Lowell, including a three-point play with 2.4 seconds remaining that provided the winning margin. Never afraid to go to the basket, the Freemans depended on their finishing ability and fitness level to outlast opponentslate.

"[Ronney] can drive, pass, shoot and play great defense," Rodney Freeman said. "And we kind of have that twin thing going on out there too."

TRAVIS HOM

» STATISTICS: 15 ppg, 5 rpg, 5 apg

» FAVORITE SUBJECT: English

» FAVORITE PLAYER: Kobe Bryant

» SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Winning the San Francisco Section title

Hom flawlessly handled new and increased responsibilities this season at Lowell, leading the Cardinals to a second consecutive section title. The junior moved to point guard and became the team’s leader, delighting in setting up teammates such as Arthur Jones and Jordan Wong just as much as scoring himself. In Lowell’s tense 41-39 win over Wallenberg in the section semifinals, Hom scored the Cardinals’ first 11 points of the second half to keep it close and then found Wong for the game-winning 3-pointer. And he did it all with a rare humility.

"When it was time to talk about the all-league team, Travis wanted all the attention to go to Jordan and Arthur," coach Robert Ray said. "He’s exactly the kind of kid that deserves to be celebrated."

DOMINIC STEWART

» STATISTICS: 23 ppg, 8 rpg

» FAVORITE SUBJECT: Spanish

» SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Scoring 47 points in a 94-76 win over Mission

» FAVORITE ATHLETE: Kevin Durant

Nobody played harder this season than Stewart, a San Francisco native who transferred back up to The City after two years at Sequoia in Redwood City and hit the ground running.

"I used to like to slow the tempo down and let the game come to me," he said. "But up here, I couldn’t wait. I hadto jump on it right away."

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Stewart often relied on his superior physical and athletic skills to overwhelm opponents in transition and down low, but also showed a nice midrange game and the ability to hit 3-pointers. He combined with twin brother Marseilles to average more than 43 points and 23 rebounds a game, and the two will continue playing together next year at West Valley College in Saratoga.

PAUL TOBONI

» STATISTICS: 12.6 ppg, 5.4 apg

» FAVORITE SUBJECT: Math

» WHAT PEOPLE DON’T KNOW: Also plays football and baseball for SI

» FAVORITE PLAYER: John Stockton

» SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Winning the CCS D-III title

Whether it was a drive, deep jumper or defensive play, Toboni always seemed to be at his best in the biggest moments for St. Ignatius.

A prime example came in the CCS final, when the point guard scored 23 points to help the Wildcats erase a 14-0 deficit and beat Riordan 51-48. Toboni’s skills — along with his stellar 3.9 GPA — has him already earning looks from Ivy and Patriot League schools, where he could play multiple sports. The junior will likely be SI’s starting quarterback in the fall and is a highly rated middle infielder for the baseball team.

"He’s a quiet leader with the confidence to want the ball in his hands in big situations," coach Tim Reardon said.

COACH OF THE YEAR: TIM REARDON

» YEARS: Four

» CAREER RECORD: 76-45

» EDUCATION: Notre Dame

» PROFESSION: English teacher

» FAMILY: Married, wife Gina, daughters Kate, 10, Claire, 8, and Lizzy, 6

» MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Winning the CCS Division III title

» BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Following in the footsteps of two SI coaching legends (Bob Drucker and Don Lippi)

» BASKETBALL PHILOSOPHY: Uses a form of the Princeton offense. "It’s kind of a boring style for some people, but to me it’s fascinating."

Reardon blended a soothing, cerebral style with just enough fire this season to coax St. Ignatius to some of the most satisfying victories in his four years at the helm. And the Wildcats did it without depending on one star to carry them, instead relying on great chemistry and a team-first concept that counted on everyone to contribute.

"This was an unbelievably tight group — you look around school now and still see them hanging out together," Reardon said. "Just the luck of the draw, I guess."

St. Ignatius began the season by winning 13 of its first 14 games and really started opening eyes with an emphatic 60-37 win over St. Mary’s of Stockton in the championship game of the Leo LaRocca Sand Dune Classic. But the biggest triumph undoubtedly came in the CCS Division III final, when the Wildcats overcame a 14-0 deficit to beat Riordan 51-48 and avenge three losses to the Crusaders during the season.

"That actually had nothing to do with coaching," Reardon said. "The guys never panicked. It’s something that came from inside them."

That kind of modesty has served Reardon well at SI, where he has leaned on legendary predecessors Bob Drucker and Don Lippi for advice. It’s also endeared him to his players.

"He’s an awesome coach to play for, a hilarious guy," guard Paul Toboni said. "He does a great job keeping it light but also making sure we’re working hard and ready to go."

melliser@examiner.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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