Is there, at long last, a legitimate pretender to the basketball throne of Crenshaw High School, defending state champion and the dominant team in the Los Angeles City Section the last 15 years?
It could be defending 3-A City champion Fairfax, led by Prince of Players Sean Higgins, a 6-8 junior who is considered one of the best in the country, and a strong retinue that includes 6-5 junior J. D. Green and 6-6 sophomore Chris Mills.
Coach Harvey Kitani's Lions, who move up to 4-A competition this season, are loaded--even if much of the load is youth. Kitani isn't promising that his club will topple Crenshaw and Coach Willie West and Stephen Thompson, the 6-3 1/2 senior who averaged 28 points a game last season and is the reigning 4-A City player of the year.
Fairfax will first have to win its league, something called the 4-A League "C," which is loaded with A-1 teams, including Cleveland and 6-7 Trevor Wilson, Kennedy and its wily veteran Coach Yutaka Shimizu, always competitive Hamilton and a Taft squad that consists of a lot of veterans.
And if the Lions take their league championship, they still have to get by some strong challengers from other leagues, including Palisades, which has the tallest team in the city, led by 6-10 senior Derek Strong; Carson, Banning and San Pedro, which also moves up to 4-A after losing last season's 3-A final to Fairfax, 65-61.
The picture seems to be that if Fairfax is much better than last year, so is much of its 4-A competition.
But Kitani thinks his team will be a prominent part of the picture. Can the Lions win their league, he was asked, and he answered: "I think we definitely have a shot at winning it. We're going to have to overcome what young clubs have to, like working hard every day and playing together and being a team on and off the court."
Won 2 of 3 Outings
In its first three scrimmages, Fairfax defeated Banning, 82-68, lost to Carson, 70-63, and got by a strong alumni team, 89-81. Against the alumni squad, which included former NCAA Division I players Leonard Johnson, Gary Gatewood and Darrell Haley, Higgins led the way with 31 points, Green scored 21 and Mills, 20.
Kitani said the Lions are "very inconsistent at this time of year, maybe because we're a young club." He said the win over the alumni was "our best effort, but, counting the other two scrimmages, we're still a long way from where we want to be."
Where Lions want to be, before thinking of taking on Crenshaw, is in first place in the "C" league at the end of the regular season.
Hamilton Coach Dave Uyeshima, whose tallest player is inexperienced 6-3 senior Tennyson Parker, said he thinks that is where Fairfax will wind up. Uyeshima said succinctly: "They deserve to be up there; we don't deserve to be up there."
He said the Lions "should take Cleveland and Trevor Wilson" and also get by Kennedy, though he added that Kennedy "is pretty quick."
Meets Gardena Friday
Fairfax, which opened the season Wednesday against Polytechnic, a 3-A team, gets to see how it stacks up against a strong, experienced 4-A team when the Lions meet Gardena at 4 p.m. Friday at Gardena. Kitani said he thinks his team will "have to play an errorless-type ball game" to beat the Mohicans.
He has the players to do it in Higgins, the 3-A City player of the year last season when he averaged 19.8 points and 8 rebounds, and in Green, a transfer from Santa Monica high, where he averaged 8.4 points and 7.1 rebounds. Both can play any position.
Green could be a little rusty, since he has missed some recent practices because he had the flu. Kitani said that Green "is starting to understand how hard he has to work."
Higgins should be polished and ready to go. Kitani said of Higgins: "Physically, he is much stronger. He's a year older and playing with people his own age, so he stands out even more. He has the potential to be the finest player Los Angeles City has ever produced."
Kitani said Mills, in his first season of high school basketball, averaged about 19 points and 11 rebounds in the first three scrimmages and has been "super."
"People who see him (Mills) may think he is not too durable," Kitani said. "But they're asking for trouble because he can just flat-out play."
The Lions' starting guards will be seniors Peter Gerber (5-11) at the point and Mike Miller (6-2). The first players off the bench will be 6-2 junior guard David Henderson and 6-8 senior center Edwin McKinney, who did not play last year.
Summing up his team, Kitani said: "We have to overcome complacency, something that young clubs have to learn. Seniors usually learn those things in their junior year.
"We have the potential of doing very well this year. We don't want to look back in May and say that we should have done this or that. We have a chance to do those things now."