Armed with a press pass, a full tank of gas and a determination to see the very best in high school basketball, I spent night after night last week trying to get a big-picture view of the Southern California scene just three weeks before the playoffs begin.
It was an exhilarating but exhausting endeavor.
There's more to life than who wins or loses a game, but people love their sports experience, whether they're a fan, coach or player. And I get paid to write about it, so who's the luckiest person in Los Angeles?
The week started with a Monday night Mission League showdown between Encino Crespi and host Los Angeles Loyola. What I observed was a Loyola team trying to take pressure off its coach, Jamal Adams, whose mother was undergoing surgery for a serious health issue. Loyola won, 70-52.
"It's been really difficult with my mom and father both dealing with some health issues, but candidly, you lean on each other," Adams said. "They knew what my situation was. They were laser-focused. It takes a village to win, and collectively, these guys have been lifting me up. I was honored that they would play with the effort they did considering everything that's gone on."
On Tuesday, I was off to Los Angeles Windward for an Alpha League matchup against Pacific Hills. This game proved how much high school basketball has changed in the last decade. Those who think all the talent is at the big schools, forget it. The ambitious small private schools are loading up, and one of those players making major strides is Pacific Hills point guard Brandon Taylor, who scored 34 points in a 68-56 victory.
What's impressive about Taylor is the improvement he has made. Many hours spent in the gym working on his shot have paid off.
"I've been listening," he said. "You have to listen to learn."
On Wednesday, it was on to Westchester High, where one side of the gym is covered with the 11 City Section championship banners and six state championship banners won by the Comets in Coach Ed Azzam's 34 seasons. He and Harvey Kitani, who has coached Fairfax for 32 seasons, probably know each other's traits better than their own wives.
This time, Fairfax prevailed, 53-46, in an upset, because Brendyn Taylor, who has been ineligible for much of the last two seasons over transfer rules, is beginning to play like the Brendyn Taylor of old.
"The rust is starting to come off," he said. "I'm starting to play like the regular me."
On Friday, it was time for a trip to Bellflower St. John Bosco, where the atmosphere was electric. A capacity crowd packed the gym for a Trinity League showdown against No. 1-ranked Santa Ana Mater Dei.
I've seen the likes of Tracy Murray, Casey Jacobsen and Josh Shipp fire away from long range in high school basketball, and Mater Dei's Katin Reinhardt can hang with them. He's showing confidence and maturity. He made five three-pointers in the first quarter and finished with 22 points in an 86-71 Monarch victory.
"I've really watched a lot of film lately, looking where I can attack the basket, where I can shoot the ball, when I can shoot the ball," he said.
Said Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight: "Katin has been on fire."
On Saturday, I watched six games of the Fairfax State Preview Classic, and one of the best players was 6-foot-8 senior Skylar Spencer of Los Angeles Price.
Spencer is a prolific shot-blocker. There's no one better in Southern California. It's as if he takes it personally if someone gets off a shot when he's in the area.
"I'm the tallest dude on my team," he said. "I don't want anyone to get through the paint."
What a week. Ten games in six days. I even found time to drive Saturday morning to San Juan Capistrano to watch Studio City Harvard-Westlake pitcher Lucas Giolito throw a few 96 mph fastballs in a winter baseball game.
There are no complaints, except can they please finish the construction on the 405 freeway before the playoffs begin?