Fairfax's Higgins Gets Recruiting Lesson : UCLA-Bound Star Realizes Everyone Had Reason for Seeing Him

Times Staff Writer

There is an inevitability about Sean Higgins when he has the basketball, and others sense it. When Higgins moves down the Fairfax High School practice court, passing off, directing traffic, faking an inside move and then passing off again, they watch.

And when Higgins finally sets up for that 20-foot jumper, a junior varsity player turns to another and says it like he's said it before:

"Fill 'er up, Sean."

It's almost that automatic. Sean Higgins is probably the best basketball prospect on the West Coast, not because he is 6-8 3/4, nor because he will probably be a 6-8 3/4 guard in college.

Higgins is probably the best college basketball prospect on the West Coast because he consistently fills 'er up from three-point range, and it is a skill to which he owes the most grueling period of his life.

It shouldn't have been that way, Higgins says, but it was. For where there is a 6-8 3/4 senior with a 2.8 grade-point average and a 25-foot range, there has been a crowd, all with the same question:

Whose hoop are you gonna fill up next year, Sean?

"It's a lot to deal with when your only 16, 17 years old," Higgins said. "All these people, leeching onto you and trying to leech on you, and you don't know what to expect."

Caught between living near his mother in Los Angeles or his father in Detroit, Higgins narrowed his choices to UCLA and Michigan. On Nov. 18, after Higgins had reportedly told his father he would attend Michigan, Fairfax principal Warren Steinberg announced to a group of befuddled reporters that Higgins had chosen UCLA.

"My mother changed my mind," Higgins said. "She wanted me to stay home. I still have some doubts. But you know somebody told me, you never know if it's going to be the right choice until you get there."

But Mr. Higg, as a banner draped in the Fairfax gym calls him, is not the same, and he draws an uncanny correlation between recruitment and maturation.

"There are some advantages to being sought-after," he said. "It helps you grow up a lot. You start to realize that everybody out in the world has a reason to see you.

"Recruitment's a drag. When it first starts, it's all happy-go-lucky, you're being recruited and everything, but when it gets down to crunch time, you get headaches. I had more headaches this, my senior year, than all the rest of my life."

On the court, Higgins isn't the same, either. He's better. As if his recruitment nightmare reaffirmed his love for basketball more than anything else, Higgins plays with a confidence few high school players ever know.

What he does best is what Higgins likes to talk about least. Filling 'er up, it seems, is a real bore when you can do something much more exhilarating, like making a pass.

"I like handling the ball and passing, getting everybody into the game," Higgins said. "I like that more than shooting the ball. But because of my shooting, I have to score some points, especially in high school."

Again he is reminded that such long-distance accuracy is rare.

"I like shooting the jumper, but it's not my biggest thrill," he said, almost annoyed.

"I think I can fill it up from about 25 (feet), consistently," Higgins said. "I can hit farther than 25, but I'm not as consistent. I like to be consistent, so I'd rather hit from 25."

In college or pro basketball, as Higgins is aware, filling it up from 25 means a not-so-boring three points.

"Oh yeah, that's too close," Higgins said, pointing to the court and laughing. "When they announced it would be 19-9 (the NCAA three-point distance), I couldn't believe it. I don't know why they have that thing so close. The top of the key? That's nothing."

Fairfax, The Times' No. 1-ranked City team, is considered one of the top teams in the state, and Higgins wants to end his high school career in the same spot. "I guess we're No. 1 in the state, aren't we? My goal is to win the state championship," he said. "I haven't won it yet."

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