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Super-sized crowd will get its money's worth at Chino Hills-Birmingham regional playoff game

Eric Sondheimer
Contact ReporterVarsity Times Insider

At Chino Hills High basketball games it seems like everyone in the crowd is on a smartphone, posting pictures and videos on social media to try and explain the crazy things they’re seeing.

Players shoot from anywhere. (Remember when coaches only wanted “good” shots?) Dunks are started with passes thrown behind the back or off the backboard. (Think Harlem Globetrotters). Cherry-picking is OK, and scoring 100 or more points is routine. It’s no wonder Chino Hills games are packing gyms everywhere.

After being off for two weeks following an overtime loss to Santa Ana Mater Dei in a Southern Section Open Division semifinal, the Huskies (29-2) resume play on Friday night at Ontario Colony High, taking on City Section Open Division champion Birmingham in a first-round game of the Southern California Regional Open Division playoffs.

CIF officials searched long and hard to find a gym large enough to handle the expected crowd. Colony seats about 3,000. It’s the Ball brothers, LaMelo and LiAngelo, plus talented big men Eli Scott and Onyeka Okongwu, going against Birmingham’s Doutrive brothers, Devante and Devonaire, making for another intriguing fan-pleasing game.

Since both teams like to shoot and score a lot of points, it could be the most entertaining game of the state playoffs. Even Spectrum has decided to join the Chino Hills spectacle by televising the game on the Lakers channel, SportsNet, at 7 p.m.

Chino Hills players have spent the last two weeks trying to stay in shape and working on defense. The Huskies’ only two losses this season have come when they failed to make last-second shots. So it’s beginning to look like the key to beating Chino Hills is to stay close, then force the Huskies to execute at the end of the game.

Birmingham is well prepared for a frenzied environment. Its players have wanted to face Chino Hills all season. The Patriots have wins over some very good teams, such as Santa Margarita, Long Beach Poly, Westchester and Oak Park. They played Mater Dei tough before losing, 74-67. They can dunk and run just like Chino Hills.

But can they out Chino Hills Chino Hills?

“It’s going to be fun,” Birmingham Coach Nick Halic said.

Birmingham fans want to support their team and come and see LaMelo Ball, the 15-year-old sophomore who scored 92 points in a game. Birmingham students were lining up to buy tickets on Wednesday morning at the student store. Within seven hours, more than 500 tickets had been sold. The school will have five rooter buses going to Colony.

Tickets to Chino Hills games have become like gold coins. At the Galen Center two weeks ago, when a crowd of 10,258 showed up, a courtside seat was going for $500 on Craigslist.

If Chino Hills wins and plays top-seeded Torrance Bishop Montgomery on Tuesday in a semifinal, the game will be played at El Camino College, which has a seating capacity of about 2,000. You might need to win a lottery to get in.

This fan frenzy has to do with the way Chino Hills plays and the interest in the Ball brothers, both of whom are headed to UCLA and are the younger brothers of Bruins standout Lonzo Ball. UCLA fans have become Chino Hills fans, and vice versa. Then there is the outspoken LaVar Ball, the boys’ father. And it doesn’t hurt to have TV highlights of Chino Hills games running on ESPN and elsewhere.

Interest keeps growing, and there are few gyms or facilities big enough to allow everyone who wants to come to see what all the fuss is about.

But if you do get in, prepare for the unexpected. LaVar Ball promises if you pay $9 for a ticket, you won’t get $8.50 worth of entertainment. And you’ll be talking about what you see long after the final buzzer sounds. It’s a continuing L.A. story in a town that loves entertainment.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: latsondheimer

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