It's a Familiar City Showdown

The pretenders have been sent home. They never had a legitimate chance of competing for the City Championship in boys' basketball because Fairfax and Westchester have risen to a different level.

Get ready for a flurry of dunks and blocked shots, a little trash talking and lots of oohs and ahs as the most intense neighborhood basketball rivalry in Southern California takes its final act to the Forum at 5 p.m. Saturday to decide the City title.

Fairfax (26-2) dispatched its last challenger on Saturday, methodically opening an 18-point halftime lead and never letting Carson (23-4) come closer than 12 points in a 62-46 semifinal victory at L.A. Southwest College.

Afterward, the Lions wasted little time in starting to focus on Westchester (27-3), their Western League rival. It will be the seventh meeting between the two schools in the last two seasons. Westchester has won four times, including last year's City final. Everyone knows the stakes, everyone knows the emotional energy that needs to be invested when the teams collide.

"It's great," Fairfax junior forward Josh Shipp said. "There's no other game like it."

Added point guard Kevin Bell: "It's one of the greatest rivalries in Los Angeles right now."

Fairfax and Westchester have clearly separated themselves from the other basketball programs in the City Section. The reason isn't talent alone. It's coaching, the strength and size of the players, the willingness to play defense, the absence of a star system and the belief they can't lose.

Both teams won semifinal games by having four players score in double figures. At other schools, Trevor Ariza of Westchester or Shipp would be averaging more than 20 points per game. But neither complains nor seems to care as long as the team wins.

Fairfax Coach Harvey Kitani is in his 22nd season. He last won the City title in 1987. His teams are always fundamentally sound.

Westchester Coach Ed Azzam is in his 24th season. He has won 501 games and six City Championships. He used to get beat up by Crenshaw and Coach Willie West, who won 16 City titles from 1971 to 1997.

"It wasn't a lot of fun," Azzam said. "We didn't compete early on with Crenshaw because they were such a dominant team."

Now it's Westchester in the dominant role bidding for its fourth consecutive championship.

Fairfax is a worthy challenger with many weapons. Alex Bausley, who's 6-foot-6, outplayed Carson's 6-9 Ekene Ibekwe from start to finish Saturday. Ibekwe missed eight shots in the first half, many of them when off balance because Bausley refused to yield any ground.

"I try to stop players," he said. "I try to make them earn every basket."

Bell is hardly noticed because he rarely shoots, but he controls the game through his expert ball handling and decision making.

Shipp, the younger brother of California guard Joe Shipp, shut down Carson sophomore Bryan Harvey with his defense. He's also on his way to shooting three-pointers almost as flawlessly as his brother.

Jason Gilzene, a 6-6 senior, had three dunks against Carson and rose up whenever the Lions needed a big basket.

Then there's Jamal Boykin, a 6-7 sophomore with the instincts, toughness and skills to be one of the best players in the nation. He had a dunk attempt blocked by Ibekwe early on and ignored it. He finished with 10 points and showed the poise of a senior.

Westchester has Ariza, 6-6 Scott Cutley, 6-6 sophomore Marcus Johnson and guards Bobby Brown and Jonathan Tolliver. The Comets play defense like the old Indiana teams coached by Bob Knight.

What will it take to topple Westchester? "It doesn't take one player to beat Westchester," Bell said. "It takes the whole team."


Has the talent level in Southern California boys' basketball slipped so much that no senior is good enough to make the McDonald's All-American game?

The game organizers apparently think so, because it's only the second time in the 26-year history of the game that Southern California won't be represented among the 24 players selected. Call it a snub of immense proportions.

It's surprising that the Maryland-bound Ibekwe and the UCLA-bound Ariza were judged not gifted enough.

"It's not the end of the world," Ariza said.

His coach, Azzam, said the McDonald's people made an error.

"Without a doubt, he's one of the best players in the country," Azzam said.


Eric Sondheimer can be reached at

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