Ball, O'Neal, Thiombane standout at Classic at Fairfax
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The drive from my home-base of Huntington Beach to Fairfax high school might be the most mind-numbing of trek’s in all of the Southland. Miles and miles of freeway’s to get to either the Melrose Avenue or the Fairfax exits - pick your poison - followed by slow-moving, three-mile stretch of residential, retail and business-lined streets littered with street lights and pedestrians with no regard for human life. I’m just glad there was no traffic. And finally, navigating the treacherous drive Saturday was well worth it to watch some of Southern California’s best high school basketball teams go head-to-head in the one-day Classic at Fairfax fall league. In the first game that I saw, the 11 a.m. tilt between Santa Ana Mater Dei and Brentwood, the Monarchs coasted to a 78-34 win behind the dazzling handle and vision of sophomore point guard Spencer Freedman. The smooth Hawaiian-import Justice Sueing, a broad-shouldered, 6-foot-5 lefty, was another standout for Mater Dei. Sueing has a great feel for the game and court awareness. He was knocking down spot-up 3-pointers and getting to rim with ease. Six-foot-9 forward Michael Wang was good for the Monarchs, as well. There’s no question he’s one of the more skilled big men in SoCal and he continued to prove that with an array of baby hook shots in the lane and long-range set-shots. The second game pitted Long Beach Poly against Pasadena Maranatha and we had a ball game on our hands through two quarters as Poly lead by just six, 36-30. The Jackrabbits, led by Hawaii-commit Drew Buggs and sophomore point guard Darryl Polk, turned up the defensive pressure in the second half and ended up winning by a large margin, 70-52. Maranatha has two big-men that will be tough to deal with this season in 6-foot-10 senior Trevor Stanback and 6-foot-8 Jesse Elrod. Stanback, who is a highly-rated prospect by all of the recruiting services, is more the muscle of the two players, doing his damage near the rim, while Elrod is effective as a 15-foot face-up guy with great touch on his shot. Next, host Fairfax and Encino Crespi faced-off in what ended up being the best game of the day, with Fairfax holding on to win by a 60-55 decision. Army-commit Babacar Thiombane was spectacular in the victory for Fairfax. The 6-foot-7 senior did a little bit of everything - he was blocking shots and running the floor, finishing transition opportunities with dunks and hitting some face-up 15-footers. Fairfax freshman guard Ethan Anderson’s crucial four-point play at the end of the third quarter helped spark Fairfax heading into the fourth. Anderson caught a tough pass in the right corner, but was able to square up and get a shot off through pressure, drained it through contact and sunk the free throw. Crespi was led by versatile guard and USC-commit De’Anthony Melton and one of the top sophomore guards in the state, Brandon Williams. The interchangeable duo of Melton and Williams is going to be a tough cover in the upcoming season. Both can act as point guards because of their ball skills and each can play off the ball with their ability to score in a variety of ways. Los Angeles Windward and Mission Hills Alemany were up next with Alemany pulling off a 60-59 win in a sloppy overtime game. The best young prospect on the day was Windward’s 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Shareef O’Neal. O’Neal, yes, Shaq’s son, plays with a high motor, tries to block everything at the rim, rebounds both on the offensive and defensive sides of the glass, and was knocking down 3-pointers in front of the watchful eye of his father who was sitting court-side. Alemany was paced by 2018 guard DJ McDonald and 2017 wing Ernie Sears. McDonald had a strong first half scoring the ball and Sears joined the party in the second half, using his superior athleticism to cause problems in transition. After a short break for some food with friend and ESPN west coast recruiting guru Joel Francisco, it was time for the second half of the Los Angeles Loyola and La Cañada contest. The Cubs took the win, 59-48, behind Harvard-commit Henry Welsh and point guard Khristion Courseault. The first of two nightcap games was between Chino Hills and Redondo Union. The Huskies didn’t have their most efficient game, but still ran past Redondo, 121-97, behind a 35-point performance from UCLA-bound Lonzo Ball and 29 points from freshman LaMelo Ball, who is also committed to the Bruins. The final game of the event had Chatsworth Sierra Canyon matched up against Santa Monica. SaMo kept things close at half, trailing 40-38, thanks to USC-commit Jonah Mathews, but 2017 forward Ira Lee and the Trailblazers blew it open in the second half, winning by a 90-61 margin.