SACRAMENTO — From agony to redemption. That's the emotional roller coaster two All-City basketball players from Los Angeles Fairfax, Jamal Boykin and Josh Shipp, experienced the last two weeks of the season.
On March 6, the Lions were upset by Woodland Hills Taft, 64-60, in the City Section championship game.
Boykin, Fairfax's 6-foot-8 center, blamed himself for the defeat. He scored a season-low seven points and wanted to hide from family, friends and teammates.
"I just didn't want to face people," Boykin said.
Shipp, averaging 30.4 points, was equally disappointed. He would have traded any individual honor for a City championship ring.
"Oh, man, I felt terrible," he said. "We should have won it. We couldn't pull it out in the end."
Coach Harvey Kitani was suffering, too. Besides dealing with the crushing defeat, his son was rushed to the emergency room with an earache. His mother fainted during church services the next day and was hospitalized.
But Kitani and his players had no time to feel sorry for themselves. The state playoffs were to begin immediately.
"You talk about how to build character," Kitani said. "You do it through adversity."
On Saturday night in Arco Arena, Fairfax showed that redemption is possible for those who persevere. The Lions (27-5) won their first state Division I championship with a 51-35 victory over Concord De La Salle.
Their victory was fueled by memories of their Taft debacle.
"I felt that pain and didn't want to feel it again," Shipp said.
Shipp took control by tying the Division I state championship record with five three-point baskets, all in the second half. De La Salle had closed to within one, 23-22, late in the third quarter, but Shipp connected on consecutive three-point shots. In the fourth quarter, he made two more three-pointers to extend the Lions' lead to 12 points, 37-25. He finished with a game-high 22 points.
"It was an incredible performance in a tough championship environment where no one was stroking worth beans until he did," Kitani said. "I think it's evident he's the best player in the state."
A state championship instead of a City championship helps to heal the players' wounds, but the more important lesson is no matter how bleak a situation looks, giving up is no option.
Boykin felt badly for a couple of days, but he didn't let his Taft performance negatively affect the rest of his season. He finished Saturday with 13 points, eight rebounds and three blocks despite picking up his third foul in the third quarter.
"My teammates, my coach, my family all lifted up my spirits," he said. "I used that game to help me play the next game."
Shipp is the perfect example of an athlete who knows how to move on. He doesn't rant and rave, and he never throws tantrums. But there was no denying his disappointment last month when he learned he had been left off the McDonald's All-American team.
"I told him I'm just as disappointed as he is," Kitani said. "We discussed what happened and that was it. He hasn't looked back. He let it go."
Shipp has been letting his performances speak for themselves. He scored 843 points this season against the toughest schedule in school history, taking on the likes of Westchester, Taft, Etiwanda, Long Beach Poly, Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill and Oceanside El Camino.
That alone reveals how fortunate UCLA is to have signed him to a letter of intent last November. Considering he was a second-team All-City choice as a junior, the 6-5 Shipp might be the most improved player in the City this season.
And his younger brother, Jerren, a 6-5 sophomore, looks ready to follow Josh and oldest brother, Joe, an All-Pacific 10 Conference player as a senior last season at California, into the All-City ranks one day. Jerren scored 11 points Saturday, including two three-pointers. He's progressed further at a similar stage than his older brothers.
"He stepped it up big time," Josh said.
Marie Ishida, executive director for the California Interscholastic Federation, said that discussions are underway about holding a series of high school football bowl games at the end of each season, but a final format is at least three years away from implementation.
Crucial to the plan is devising "a fair computer ranking system" and coming up with specific criteria to select teams.
One idea is divide the bowl games into three divisions by enrollment. No formal proposal has been presented.
Eric Sondheimer can be reached at email@example.com.