The Christian Brothers loss did not sit well with Malik Ghiden.
American Canyon’s senior standout had a chance to sink the go-ahead free throw with 5.5 seconds left in the program’s first-ever playoff home game, but missed the second attempt. In overtime, Ghiden split another pair of free throws with a chance to make it a one-possession game late, and the Falcons were able to hold on for a four-point upset.
Ghiden exceeded every expectation placed on him this year but those were the moments that stuck with the 6-foot-2 guard from Vallejo after the season ended – at least, at first.
“I gave myself about maybe two weeks to think about it and everything,” Ghiden said. “But I just knew that’s what I need to focus on later in life when I get into the next level of basketball. Those free throws, it kind of haunted me for a second, but you live and learn. Just got to do what you got to do the next time.”
After coming to peace with the outcome, Ghiden was able to look back on a special year for the Wolves, who finished 16-12 overall and a program-best 7-3 in Solano County Athletic Conference play – good enough for second place behind perennial power Vanden.
Individually, it was a prolific campaign for Ghiden, who averaged 22 points and seven rebounds per game. As the focal point of the Wolves, he earned SCAC Co-Most Valuable Player honors, was First Team All-SCAC, and was an All-Tournament selection three times during the preseason.
That success, coupled with American Canyon’s multiple milestones as a program, helped Ghiden clinch the Register’s 2017-18 All-Napa County Boys Basketball Player of the Year award.
“Everybody expected me to do this,” he said. “My parents, my coaches, everyone (saying) like, ‘You have the talent and skill for this. Now go out and do it.’ The confidence they had in me, I had to have in myself. So it didn’t surprise me, but it was like ‘Wow, I can actually do this.’”
Ghiden began playing basketball in the first grade. He was captivated watching older kids in the neighborhood play and soon got his parents to enroll him in organized competition.
But it wasn’t until he began playing on the AAU circuit with NorCal Power that his life around basketball began to change. As Ghiden and the American Canyon-based team toured the West Coast in cities like Reno, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, he was exposed to numerous styles of play and began to elevate his game.
He started working on his craft year-round. He sought out Vallejo Sports Hall of Famer Victor Wallace and began to harness his shooting as he trained at Mare Island. Over time, he grew into a fervent basketball player that embodied the habits all great players have at a young age.
“Maybe I am actually a little bit good,” he recalled thinking. “I want to see what else I can do. I started training a lot, training every single day to get better and better.”
In high school, Ghiden played 3½ years of varsity ball, and Wolves head coach Brett Wedding, the All-County Coach of the Year, described him as “one of the main guys that helped build this program.”
Added Wedding, “I think if you want to be really good at something and successful, you have to put in more work than just showing up to practice every day, and he’s done so on his own. He’s gotten better and better every year, and his confidence level has gone up. We, as a staff, have believed in him for years. I think this year he realized how good he really is and showed it on the court.”
Ghiden’s athleticism is the most striking element of his game. He plays above the rim, and has been dunking the basketball since his freshman year. This season, he tallied the most dunks of his prep career.
“I remember catching my first in-game lob against Benicia at their home court (in January), and that was fun,” he said. “We always worked on this play and I never really dunked it. I always laid it up. But that time I dunked it. It was the atmosphere; the atmosphere really hyped me up. So I was like, ‘You know what? Let’s try to dunk this.’ And it went in. That was fun.”
It wasn’t just about the highlights, though. Ghiden stretched the floor as a 3-point threat and when defenders closed in, he blew by them on his way to the rim. On defense, he dominated the glass and often guarded the tallest and most talented players on opposing teams.
“He’s extremely strong,” Wedding said. “He’d get hammered all season long and, because of his strength, it wouldn’t prevent him from scoring. But it’d also prevent some of the fouls from being called because he took those hits so well.
“It’s funny, some of the officials would ask if he played football because of how strong he is and I’d say no, and they’d talk about, ‘Man, he sure can take a beating,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Well why wouldn’t you call some of the fouls.’”
It wasn’t just Ghiden that helped the Wolves contend this year, either. Joee Gantan was named All-County Offensive Player of the Year and Davin Lusung was Defensive. Multiple others were finalists.
“This was the best team chemistry we had ever,” said Ghiden. “From my four years, this was the team. Usually we’d all be in separate groups, but this team, we were all together. All the time, we were talking at school, talking at practice, talking after practice. It was the most team chemistry I’ve ever seen. We were a family; we were a brotherhood. We trusted each other on the court and off the court. That really helped.”
As the school year winds down and Ghiden finalizes his college plans, one thing is for sure – wherever he ends up, basketball is going to be a big part of it.
“I am going to play at the next level,” he said. “I don’t know where I am going to play at; either a four-year (university), maybe a junior college, or I might just go to a preparatory school in New York. But I do want to play at the next level.”
As for being named the top player in the county for the 2017-18 season, Ghiden said he’s “just glad that people are noticing.”
Other Wolves honored
The All-County Defensive Player of the Year is American Canyon’s Davin Lusung.
“Every day he brought defensive energy and effort,” head coach Brett Wedding said of the senior point guard, who led the Wolves with five steals and four deflections per game and “caused havoc and frustrated opposing teams’ ball handlers.”
The All-County Offensive Player of the Year is the Wolves’ Joee Gantan. The senior missed the first half of the season with a knee injury but averaged 11 points and five rebounds per game, scoring a season-high 18 points against rival Benicia.
American Canyon’s John Wade is one of five finalists for Defensive Player of the Year. The senior averaged eight points a game and led the team in shooting accuracy for 3-pointers (35 percent) and free throws (82 percent), scoring a season-high 15 points against Fairfield.
“John is a high IQ basketball player and is able to play any position on the court,” Wedding said. “He used his basketball smarts to outplay players who may have had an edge athletically. Offensively he played very smooth with a very quick release, and defensively used his length to get steals and deflections.”
Finalists for Newcomer of the Year included Wolves senior LaVar Seay and sophomore Oliver Aandahl.
Seay, after being named Napa County Football Player of the Year, decided to give basketball a try and gave the Wolves size and physically. Coming off the bench, he netted two points and four rebounds per game and had season highs of eight points and nine rebounds against Vallejo.
“LaVar’s game wasn’t about scoring,” Wedding said. “It was the less glamorous job of setting screens and grabbing boards, which he embraced for a team that generally was smaller than its opponents.”
Wedding was named All-County Coach of the Year for second straight season.
After the first two coaches went 0-30 in the school’s first three SCAC campaigns, the defensive-minded Wedding went a combined 19-21 in his four seasons – topped by this year’s second-place record of 7-3.
American Canyon’s Robyn-Elizabeth Yan is a finalist for All-County Girls Player of the Year. The junior led the Wolves with 12.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.4 assists. She helped them put behind a two-win preseason against tough competition and make the playoffs with a 4-6 Solano County Athletic Conference mark, draining a career-high 26 points in a close loss to Bethel.
The Wolves’ Adriauna Samodio is a finalist for Offensive Player of the Year. The junior led the team with 1.8 assists and was second with 9.8 points and added 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals.
American Canyon’s Trinity Tapia is a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year. The senior was the Wolves’ second best at steals with 1.5 per game, and netted 5.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists.