There isn’t a high school basketball team in Southern California that possesses a better inside-outside combination than the L.A. Fairfax High duo of Josh Shipp and Jamal Boykin.
Each is blossoming into a college-bound player because of an unwavering work ethic. Each has an older brother who provides inspiration. Each has a family support system that instills the kind of values required to make it through good and bad times.
Anyone who visits the Shipp family home knows the basketball court in the backyard is where the Shipp boys hang out.
Joe was an All-Pacific 10 Conference player last season at California and is now playing professionally in Belgium. The 6-foot-5 Josh is averaging 27.7 points in 11 games for the Lions and has signed with UCLA. Jerren is a 6-5 sophomore at Fairfax.
The Shipps know how to shoot because they were trained by their grandfather, James Knight, who’s the Yoda of shooting coaches.
“That’s his love and he gave it to us,” Josh said.
James is in his 70s, according to Josh, and if any of the boys want to take him on in a game of one-on-one, they should be wary.
“If his knees were not hurting, he’d get us,” Josh said.
They had to get a new rim at home because the boys bent the old one with too many dunks. Josh blames Jerren for the damage.
The youngest are the only ones playing one-on-one these days. There can be heated battles.
“Just pushing and brotherly love,” Josh said.
When last season ended, Josh made All-City but wasn’t close to the player he has become. He was inconsistent, even tentative at times. No more. The summer saw him become stronger, physically and emotionally.
“He’s a senior,” Coach Harvey Kitani said. “This is his team.”
Added Josh: “My confidence went up. I just felt I could play with anybody.”
Kitani has coached all three Shipp brothers and keeps having to revise his evaluation of who’s best.
“I never thought I’d ever say it, but Josh is turning into a better player than Joe,” he said. “Jerren has the potential to be a combination of the two.”
The Shipps are works in progress, making improvements each year while keeping their mouths shut and letting their performances speak for themselves.
“When we get on the floor, we take care of business,” Josh said. “We don’t yell. We do what we have to do.”
Boykin is a boisterous, mature 6-7 junior whose older brother, Ruben, is a freshman forward at Northern Arizona. The two were inseparable at home. When they talk by phone, their friendship and closeness are sincere.
Ruben came home for Christmas break and gave Jamal some pointers on guarding big men.
“It’s all about footwork and positioning and knowing where you are on the court and frustrating the player you are guarding,” Jamal said.
Those who meet Boykin might wonder whether his polite, courteous demeanor is an act. After all, what 16-year-old treats everyone, young and old, with respect? Boykin, that’s who.
“There’s not another kid like him,” Kitani said. “He’s a throwback to the age of great family values. He’s just a model citizen and if you were to spend a day with him, you’d shake your head, ‘You know what? Coach is right. He’s incredible.’ ”
Boykin’s mother is an English teacher who corrects his grammar if he speaks poorly, even in front of friends. He’s an artist who draws, paints and works on computer animation. He’s studying drama and was recruited to participate in the Fairfax winter concert, playing an elf who does ballet.
As much as he loves basketball, Boykin never shuts himself out from other areas of school life.
“Before I was a basketball player, I was an artist and very involved in church and those things keep carrying on,” he said. “Right now, there’s some friends I have that really wouldn’t know I was a very good basketball player. They think I’m more into art and drama. I like variety in my life.”
However, watching him go all-out in practice, never loafing, never losing his intensity, leaves an observer wondering whether basketball consumes his life.
“I have a theory that champions never complain because they’re too busy getting better,” he said. “If I come to practice and I’m complaining about being sick or hurt, the younger guys will feed off that because they look at me as a person always ready to go and no matter what, I can’t show that in my face, in my attitude or how I move. I have to go hard all the time.”
Boykin is known as a “ ‘tweener,” a basketball term he hates to hear. It means he’s between a center and forward.
There are plenty of colleges who will offer him a scholarship, but proving to the upper echelon of schools that he can play power forward is his challenge.
This season, he’s averaging 15.3 points and 8.5 rebounds. He has held his own guarding players taller and smaller.
“He has played some future college centers and was way too quick and strong for them,” Kitani said.
Shipp’s outside scoring skills fit in perfectly with Boykin’s inside game, which had helped Fairfax to a 9-2 record entering Saturday’s game against Oceanside El Camino.
These are two teenagers with big-time futures as basketball players and community role models.
Eric Sondheimer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org