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Johnson Makes Presence Felt

Center who transferred helps Westchester defeat Fairfax, 68-60, in his first showdown against the Lions.

January 22, 2005|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

Amir Johnson waited 14 months to experience his first Westchester-Fairfax basketball game, and the performance he delivered Friday night before a sellout crowd at Westchester won't be forgotten soon.

Johnson, a 6-foot-10 center, scored 26 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, contributed six blocked shots and had four dunks to help the Comets, ranked No. 1 in the Southland by The Times, rally from a 12-point deficit to defeat third-ranked Fairfax, 68-60, in a Western League game in which dozens of spectators were turned away because there weren't enough seats.

Johnson, coming off a foot injury that limited his playing time until late December, missed all but four games last season while appealing a City Section decision that declared him ineligible after transferring from Los Angeles Verbum Dei. He won his appeal in April, but by then, the season was over.

Now he's back and showing that his future college team, Louisville, might have to fight off the NBA for his talents next season.

"It was real fun," Johnson said. "All those days I missed, to come back and play, it was great."

Said Westchester Coach Ed Azzam: "I think he has a lot more to give. He's so effective going above the rim and going after the ball."

Fairfax (14-3, 3-1) seemed ready to pull off the upset. The Lions held a 34-29 halftime lead and opened an eight-point margin going into the fourth quarter thanks to a 2-3 zone defense.

But Westchester (10-2, 4-0) went on a 16-0 run, holding Fairfax scoreless for close to five minutes. Johnson was unstoppable at times, scoring repeatedly on offensive rebound baskets.

Aiding Johnson was Ray Reese, who came off the bench to contribute 16 points. Jamal Boykin, the Duke-bound senior from Fairfax, was limited to 12 points. Chace Stanback added 11 points for the Lions.

"Early on, they had the energy," Azzam said of the Lions.

Westchester's man-to-man defense wore down the Lions' guards, resulting in 21 turnovers. By the fourth quarter, it was Westchester in control despite playing without 6-foot-5 All-City forward Marcus Johnson, who was sidelined with a sprained ankle.

The two City Section programs have had much success. Fairfax won the Division I state title last season and Westchester won the title two seasons before that.

UCLA freshman Josh Shipp, a Fairfax graduate, and USC freshman Gabriel Pruitt, a Westchester graduate, were in attendance Friday to provide moral support.

"It's a great measuring stick to play them before the playoffs start," Fairfax Coach Harvey Kitani said. "This is a playoff atmosphere. There are far and few games where they shut the doors during the JV games."

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