All-Empire Small School Boys Basketball: Willits’ Montez a 3-position threat

Willits junior Jon Montez. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Willits junior Jon Montez. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)


When Willits needed someone to step up at center, they turned to Jon Montez. At power forward? Montez. At point guard? Why not? Give that assignment to Montez.

The Press Democrat’s All-Empire Small School Boys Basketball Player of the Year played three positions — wherever the team needed — in leading the Wolverines to the North Coast Section playoffs. Averaging 16.0 points and 13.6 rebounds per game, the junior still has another season to hone his game for college competition.

“My team really relied on me. I like it,” Montez said. “I know I have things I need to work on. I’m committed to that.”

Hard work is paying off for the 6-foot-5 center/power forward/point guard, who also averaged 3.1 assists and 2.7 steals per game.

From a steady sophomore to NCL I Most Valuable Player as a junior, Montez has become one of the Empire’s prep basketball best.

“He had the skills and then grew into his body. Things get better all of a sudden,” Willits coach Duane Nelson said. “He’s gotten very good.”

Montez has enjoyed competing in sports from a young age. Having three brothers will do that, with Montez taking to basketball, baseball and golf.

“I just love playing them all. Golf is probably the most relaxing,” he said.

Basketball has demanded the greatest effort to improve.

While he grew six inches his first two years in high school, Montez needed quickness and sharper dribbling to get open on offense and improve defensively.

A sharpshooter in a center’s body, Montez can score across the floor. He also played point guard against pressing defenses.

“The other big guys usually couldn’t guard me out on the perimeter,” Montez said. “It gave us more options. The ball will come around in our offense.”

This season, Montez moved down to the post on defense. Staying in contact with opponents, getting over the top or around players, Montez anchored a stingy Willits defense.

“He can guard any post player around. He held his own when we played large schools,” Nelson said.

Some of his best games were against larger schools. Montez still went for double-doubles in those contests.

Playing strong early signaled the beginning of a big season for Montez. A month before the season’s first game, he tore ankle ligaments, a setback that made him appreciate the game.

“It made me a stronger player,” he said. “It made me miss basketball a lot. I was more determined.”

Highlights on the season included:

Leading a 9-point comeback with less than two minutes remaining to defeat Cloverdale on the road.

Leading Willits to victory in the always tough Rincon Valley Christian Tournament.

Going 13-1 in NCL I play.

A team-first player, Montez could have padded his stats at times, but instead, recognized the talent around him.

“As a team we really worked good together. It was a lot of fun,” he said.

“We want to go farther next season.”

With four starters returning, Willits should enjoy another strong campaign. Winning a game in the always tough NCS Division 4 playoffs is a goal.

Now accustomed to defenses focusing on him, Montez should put up even better numbers his senior season.

Montez is one of the best players Nelson has coached in 19 years at three different Empire small schools.

“He’ll blossom,” Nelson said. “He’ll play at the next level, no doubt.”

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or





Jon Montez, Willits, junior


Isiah Warren, Cloverdale, Jr.

Adrian Perez, Clear Lake, Sr.

Wyatt Sanderson, Willits Sr.

Garrett Robert, Rincon Valley Christian, Sr.

Ilan Zur, Summerfield Waldorf, Sr.


Tyler Rockwell, Middletown, Sr.

Richard Hoppe, St. Helena, Sr.

Evan Knight, St. Vincent, Sr.

Cavin Hawkins, Rincon Valley Christian, Sr.

Corey James, Laytonville, Jr.


Paul Meihaus, Rincon Valley Christian, Sr.

Justin Sundstrom, Point Arena, Jr.

Nick Knoebber, Mendocino, Sr.

Tino Mkorombindo, Rio Lindo Adventist, Sr.

Tony Tovaraz, Archbishop Hanna, Sr.


Darren Nelson, Rincon Valley Christian

Duane Nelson, Willits


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