If high school is about growing up, finding yourself and discovering a path to success, then the scene Saturday night at the Pyramid in Long Beach validates what playing high school sports is supposed to be about.
It was half an hour after Santa Ana Mater Dei had earned another trip to the state basketball championship game, eliminating Fairfax, 51-40, in the Southern California Regional Open Division final.
Rex Pflueger was magnificient, scoring 23 points. La'Vette Parker made four of six shots from three-point range and had 16 points. K.J. Smith had 10 points and M.J. Cage finished with 13 rebounds and five blocks.
Cleaning crews were working in the arena, sweeping up the trash, and there was Lindsey Drew of Fairfax preparing to leave after his final high school game. His face was hidden by a hoodie over his head. He finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
There were no tears and no regrets, only appreciation for the journey on which he has been.
"I can never look back on just the year," he said. "I look back on my four years being at Fairfax. It was just a great experience."
The kid who looked so clumsy, so awkward and so tiny four years ago as a freshman playing junior varsity had grown into a nearly 6-foot-4 gangly teenager by his senior year. Like his brother, Larry II, did in 2008, Drew most likely will be the City Section player of the year in 2015. He found himself. He matured. He won a City title as his brother did at Taft.
"I did grow up," he said. "It's crazy. I give all my credit to Coach [Harvey] Kitani. I love him as a man and as a coach. He really taught me everything. He brought my game from Point A to Point B."
Kitani did his best trying to get his team to stop the Monarchs' onslaught in the first half, calling timeouts and inserting and removing players, but a 31-13 halftime deficit was too much to overcome even though the Lions got as close as 51-45 with 3 minutes 8 seconds left. Standout guard Lorne Currie went scoreless (0 for 9) and another standout, Donald Gipson, sat on the bench, his knee in a brace after being injured in the semifinals.
It was not the ending everyone had envisioned.
Drew won't be playing college basketball next season. He has committed to Arizona State but will move to Florida to attend IMG Academy. By the 2016-17 season, he'll be ready to become one of the best freshman players in the Pac-12 Conference.
His development is one of the reasons Kitani will look forward to year No. 35 at Fairfax next season. There might not be a harder or more challenging job than helping teenagers find themselves amid their many ups and downs, but when it happens, it's powerful, it's meaningful, it's inspirational.
There were lots of losing coaches and losing teams Saturday that fell one game short of earning a trip to Berkeley to play for a state title. But if they can remember where they started from and how far they've come and how much work they put in, they'll understand it was worth it.