The opening rounds of boys basketball competition in the 19th annual Los Angeles Games gave Fairfax High's Chris Mills a chance to escape the shadow cast by teammate Sean Higgins.
Mills, a 6-6, 185-pound forward, averaged 18.5 points and 12.6 rebounds per game last season, but Higgins, a 6-9, 197-pound forward, averaged 25.9 points and was named a third-team All-American by Parade magazine to overshadow Mills' season.
Last weekend, however, Higgins sat on the bench in street clothes, nursing an injured left knee, during what was formerly called the Watts Summer Games.
And thanks largely to Mills, who will be a junior in the fall, Fairfax coasted to three victories at Hamilton High School: 76-25 against Arcadia, 71-39 over Gahr and 58-42 against Morningside.
Doesn't Miss Spotligh
"I'm not disappointed that I'm not in the spotlight," Mills said after scoring 22 points, dominating the boards, blocking several shots and reminding Morningside that Fairfax isn't a one-man show. "We are better when Sean's in there, but I can get in there and bang and score and rebound, too."
Higgins, who is attending a national basketball camp at St. Joseph's University in Indiana this week and then will participate in another at Princeton, N. J., said his teammates don't let his near-monopoly on publicity interfere with team goals.
"We're not in it for the media," he said. "We're in it to win basketball games."
And he said Mills is as deserving of the spotlight as he is.
"Chris is one of the best. With him on one side, it just makes it easier for me."
Fairfax Coach Harvey Kitani echoed those sentiments.
'Top Junior' in State
"I really believe Chris is the top junior in California," he said. "He plays a total game. Mills can do it all.
"And going against Sean day in and day out only makes Chris a better player."
While the Colonials were able to win last weekend without Higgins, who will be a senior next season, they will be missing Mills too for their game against Taft in the round of 16 Saturday at 11 a.m. at El Camino College.
Mills is attending both basketball camps with Higgins. A third Fairfax player, J. D. Green, is attending the St. Joseph's camp but the 6-5 senior guard will return to play against Taft.
Kitani, however, is unconcerned. He said that winning the title is secondary to evaluating where his players need to improve. After all, he and his players are already thinking about next season.
Two years ago Fairfax finished at 25-2, won the 3-A Los Angeles City championship and lost to Edison in the state semifinals. Last year, Fairfax, 19-5, was co-champ of its league with Cleveland and lost to Carson in the quarterfinals of the 4-A City championships.
"We're the team to beat next year," Mills said confidently. "I think we should win City, state, the universe."
The universe may be a little farfetched, but Kitani said that if Mills gains needed strength and experience, City and state titles are within reach. The camps, of course, will help fill the experience bill.
And if he learns as much at the camps as Kitani expects, Mills may not be just one of Higgins' supporting cast this year. He may share the spotlight.
Other Westside teams still alive in the L. A. Games are the Westchester boys basketball team, which will meet Crenshaw on Saturday at 10 a.m. at El Camino, and the Santa Monica boys soccer team, which will play Palos Verdes in the quarterfinals Saturday at 11 a.m. at El Camino.