Close to 3,500 basketball fans filled the Meruelo Athletic Center at Santa Ana Mater Dei on Saturday night for the conclusion of the nine-game Nike Extravaganza that featured plenty of future college standouts and maybe even a future NBA player or two.
The Laker girls performed at halftime, Hall of Famer Ann Meyers Drysdale was honored for her contributions to the Southern California sports scene, and the matchup of No. 1 Fairfax against No. 2 Mater Dei produced a rousing second-half performance by the Monarchs. Mater Dei prevailed, 47-34, to hand the Lions (25-1) their first defeat.
One of the most impressive players all day was C.J. Hankins, the senior guard from Orange Lutheran who made seven of eight shots and all four free throws in a 69-66 win over La Habra Sonora.
No one was seeking him out for autographs afterward, but he could end up making the biggest impact of all. He wants to become a surgeon.
He has a 4.4 grade-point average and has had only two grades other than A in his life — B-pluses, both in AP Calculus.
This semester, he's taking an honors class in molecular genetics, which means he's probably smarter than his coach.
"I took biology in 1984," Coach Chris Nordstrom said. "He's very bright."
Hankins, who is in the running to become a National Merit scholar, wants to play basketball in college. But his long-term future figures to be about using his hands and mind to save lives.
That's someone to get an autograph from.
Fairfax players were stunned that their 25-20 halftime lead against Mater Dei could disappear so easily.
"We weren't there mentally," guard Lorne Currie said afterward. "We didn't play as a team. The cameras, the big lights, the crowd . . .I guess it got to us. I believe we'll bounce back."
Perhaps the most telling clue as to how big a game it wasinvolved Gary McKnight, in his 33rd season as coach at Mater Dei, with 1,017 career victories, the most in California prep history. He usually stays seated, unless he wants to say something to an official or he gets upset with a player. But there he was, standing repeatedly and coaching vigorously from the opening tip.
"It was a challenge and a fun day. I was looking forward to it," McKnight said. "The kids really responded. Defensively, we held them to nine points in the second half. You can't ask for much more than that."
It was a valuable lesson: McKnight can still get fired up and coach with passion.
"I needed that workout," McKnight said. "People are saying I'm starting to get more chubby."
The Ball factor
The 16 teams for the Southern Section Open Division playoffs will be announced this weekend. Expect Chino Hills to be selected. And don't think the Huskies, with 6-foot-6 junior guard Lonzo Ball, won't cause some trouble.
"We're not backing down from nobody," Ball said. "We feel we can go the whole way."
In a 58-52 win over Westchester, Ball finished with 34 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, six steals and four blocks.
"I'm just going to do what coach asks me to do," said Ball, who's committed to UCLA.