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All-Empire large school boys basketball: Hammell’s hustle energized Newman

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Cardinal Newman senior Corey Hammell (Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat)

Cardinal Newman senior Corey Hammell (Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat)

Tom Bonfigli has been coaching high school basketball for 31 years. He has notched more than 650 victories combined at Cardinal Newman and Justin-Siena in Napa. In all that time, Bonfigli says, he has had exactly two great rebounders.

One was Mike Hostetter, a CIF all-state first-team selection who led Newman to the state championship game in 1989 and went on to play at the University of South Florida. The other? Corey Hammell, The Press Democrat Large School Player of the Year for 2012-13.

“He was always kind of a great rebounder — just a great nose for the ball,” Bonfigli said of Hammell. “I think the area he improved in was his attitude. He became more coachable, more willing to share the ball. He got more understanding of him being a piece of the whole thing instead of trying to do everything himself.”

Everyone expected Cardinal Newman to have a strong team this year, based largely on the stellar backcourt tandem of Kenny Love and Tim McCullough. What made the Cardinals’ season truly ascendant was the unexpected emergence of Hammell.

The 6-foot-6 senior worked hard to make a difference. Bonfigli’s practices can be intense, and Newman has a year-round weightlifting program. But most evenings after practice, Hammell would go to the Airport Club for another two hours of lifting and shooting baskets.

It paid off for Cardinal Newman. He became the first option on offense (averaging a team-high 16.2 points per game) and a terror on the boards.

With Hammell leading the way, the Cardinals were back in the state title game for the first time since 2007. They nearly came away with their first championship, going up by a point with 4:16 left on a pair of free throws by Hammell before fading down the stretch and falling 58-52 to Pacific Hills.

When the dust cleared, Cardinal Newman had gone 32-4, breaking the Redwood Empire single-season record for wins in established by the ’89 Newman squad. Bonfigli credited Hammell with becoming a better defender, defensive rebounder and especially a better passer out of the post.

The true mark of Hammell’s excellence is that this selection was met with almost no opposition from local coaches.

“He played tough in every aspect of the game,” Casa Grande’s James Forni said. “He handled the ball, he could shoot and he was a physical presence out there. He was a man among boys.”

LARGE-SCHOOL BOYS BASKETBALL

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Corey Hammell, Cardinal Newman, Sr.

FIRST TEAM

Alec Raven, Montgomery, Jr.

Tim McCullough, Cardinal Newman, Sr.

Kenny Love, Cardinal Newman, Sr.

Cetrick Yeanay, Casa Grande, Jr.

Noah Orlik, Montgomery, Jr.

SECOND TEAM

Gabe Greenberg-Pines, Analy, Sr.

Casey Myers, Windsor, Sr.

Mohannad Halaweh, Analy, Sr.

Josiah Sorensen, Analy, Sr.

Kyle King, Cardinal Newman, Sr.

THIRD TEAM

Paul Steliga, Ukiah, Sr.

John Aitchison, Maria Carrillo, Sr.

Natu Hezchias, Piner, Sr.

Arnold Silva, Healdsburg, Sr.

Frankie Garcia, Ukiah, Sr.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Tom Bonfigli, Cardinal Newman