Chace Stanback was so thin and fragile as a 14-year-old freshman at Los Angeles Fairfax that a mere bump could send his shot off target. A slight push and he’d lose a rebound.
“He wasn’t strong enough to finish against guys two and three years older,” Coach Harvey Kitani said.
Everyone envisioned a day Stanback’s body would begin to mature. It started last summer. Suddenly, there were muscle sightings and times he’d drive down the key, get hit and finish the play.
It has carried over to a magnificent senior season in which the 6-foot-8 Stanback is averaging double figures in rebounds, making three-point shots in bunches, driving the middle with no hesitation and becoming a talent like few others.
“I knew my time would come,” he said.
The UCLA-bound Stanback has only one game remaining in his Fairfax career, a Saturday night engagement with Oakland McClymonds for the state Division I boys’ championship at Arco Arena in Sacramento.
There are few more satisfying moments for a coach than watching a young talent begin to blossom, and that’s the joy Kitani is experiencing as he marvels at how Stanback has taken his game to another level.
“You knew it was going to happen,” Kitani said.
Scouting is all about projecting how someone might perform when they mature physically, and Stanback’s body frame and coordination indicated good days ahead.
“The thing I remember is that once a month, he’d walk as if he were injured because his knees were aching because of growing pains,” Kitani said.
Added Stanback: “My freshman year, I really didn’t get off the bench much. But I was patient. I never got an attitude. I was doing whatever the team needed.”
Once Stanback gained strength, everything began to come together. He was always considered a top outside shooter, but his willingness to drive and draw fouls has made him tougher to stop.
This season, he’s averaging a career-high 25.8 points and 11.9 rebounds.
“He’s always had a great feel and understanding of the game,” Kitani said. “He’s slowly putting it together.”
Patience and being inquisitive have been Stanback trademarks. His father, Harry, introduced him to a variety of sports growing up, letting him try bowling, golf, fishing and baseball, among others.
“But basketball took the cake,” said Stanback, who still appreciates going fishing with his father or uncles. “You get a rush every time a fish bites and you catch it.”
Stanback experienced the same rush last week in the Southern California Regional final at Pauley Pavilion, his future home court. He scored 35 points in a 77-44 victory over City Section rival Westchester.
“I soaked in the energy like I was already there, like I was already playing for UCLA,” he said. “It was a great feeling.”
In November, when Stanback signed with the Bruins, he was largely overshadowed because the No. 1 center prospect in the nation, Kevin Love of Lake Oswego, Ore., also signed with UCLA.
Four months later, Stanback has thrust himself into the competition for player of the year in Southern California. The fact he has picked up 10 or more rebounds in 31 of 32 games for Fairfax is proof enough of the development he has made.
“His willingness to dive on the floor for loose balls, take a charge, rebound, do whatever it takes to win for his team has been fantastic,” UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. “Likewise, his ability to push himself to meet his potential at the most crucial moments has been special to watch.
“That is a big reason why his team has won close games, and why they have won, period. He can make shots, but he can do a lot of other things too, and that is what makes him such an effective player.”
As Stanback looks into a mirror and examines what he sees, he can smile with a sense of accomplishment.
“You see all the hard work you put in pay off,” he said. “It’s a great sight.”
Eric Sondheimer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Prime time performers
Players to watch from Southern California and Northern California competing in the state championships this weekend:
Southern California boys:
* Ja’Shon Hampton, Los Angeles Fairfax: 6-foot senior guard has proven to be a steady court leader and has a team-high 91 steals. He is uncommitted as to a college choice.
* Taylor King, Santa Ana Mater Dei: 6-8 senior forward headed to Duke has 3,187 career points, good for fourth on the state’s all-time list, but is looking for his first state title in his third championship-game appearance.
* Renardo Sidney, Lakewood Artesia: 6-10 sophomore center playing his first year of high school basketball, has averaged 18.1 points and 8.8 rebounds and is already considered a can’t-miss prospect.
Northern California boys:
* Frank Otis, Oakland McClymonds: 6-6 junior forward scored 23 points and had 15 rebounds in the regional final.
* Drew Gordon, San Jose Mitty: 6-8 junior is the No. 1 big man in the state in his class and has the jumping ability to battle Mater Dei’s tall front line.
* Shawn Lewis, Oakland Bishop O’Dowd: 6-3 senior guard can also rebound, but he scored 27 points in the regional final, including five three-pointers.
Other boys to watch (seniors):
* Kamyron Brown, Mater Dei: 6-2 guard headed to Oregon
* James Harden, Artesia: 6-5 guard headed to Arizona State.
* Justin Holiday, North Hollywood Campbell Hall: 6-6 forward headed to Washington.
* Alex Jacobson, Mater Dei: 7-1 center headed to Arizona.
* Rod Singleton, Fairfax: 5-11 guard headed to Cal State Northridge.
* Chace Stanback, Fairfax: 6-8 forward headed to UCLA.
* Brandon Walker, Bishop O’Dowd: 6-3 forward headed to Loyola Marymount.
Southern California girls:
* Jasmine Dixon, Long Beach Poly: 6-foot junior forward is a rebounding machine, averaging 9.5. Remarkably strong and quick, she has averaged 14.9 points and 4.7 steals.
* Jeanette Pohlen, Brea Olinda: 6-0 senior guard, who has signed with Stanford, has averaged 22.7 points and 10.1 rebounds -- and has even better numbers in the playoffs.
* Candice Brown, La Puente Bishop Amat: 6-3 senior wing, headed to UCLA, is the one opponents gear their game toward stopping. She has averaged 12.7 points and 9.1 rebounds.
Northern California girls:
* Alexandria Mitchell, Berkeley: 6-3 Oregon State-bound center will be the tallest player on the court, but she disappeared a year ago in a lopsided loss to Long Beach Poly.
* Danielle Robinson, San Jose Mitty: 5-9 guard is headed to Oklahoma and rated by some scouting services ahead of Brea’s Pohlen, but it’s the latter who many think will be state player of the year.
* Rachael and Sam Bliney, Ross Branson: Junior twins, Rachael is a guard and Sam a forward, are 1-2 in almost every statistical category for Branson, which looks to extend its winning streak to 30 games.
Other girls to watch (seniors):
* Brittany Brumfield, Poly: 5-8 guard headed to Long Beach State.
* Jennifer Gross, Berkeley: A 5-11 guard headed to Nevada.
* Lindsay Louie, Marlborough: A 5-5 guard headed to Harvard.
* Kassandra McCalister, Mitty: A 5-9 guard headed to Oregon State.
* Candice Nichols, Poly: 5-11 guard headed to Washington.
Staff writers Eric Sondheimer, Martin Henderson and Mike Terry and CalHiSports.com contributed to this report.
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STATE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
All games at Arco Arena, Sacramento
* Los Angeles Fairfax (27-5) vs. Oakland McClymonds (28-3), Saturday, 8 p.m.
* Santa Ana Mater Dei (32-4) vs. San Jose Mitty (29-5), 8 p.m.
* Lakewood Artesia (32-2) vs. Oakland Bishop O’Dowd (26-6), Saturday, 2:45 p.m.
* North Hollywood Campbell Hall (32-1) vs. Santa Rosa Cardinal Newman (28-7), Saturday, 11:15 a.m.
* Los Angeles View Park (23-11) vs. Ross Branson (32-2), today, 2 p.m.
* Long Beach Poly (35-1) vs. Berkeley (27-6), Saturday, 6 p.m.
* Brea Olinda (33-1) vs. San Jose Mitty (30-4), today, 6 p.m.
* La Puente Bishop Amat (27-5) vs. San Francisco Sacred Heart Cathedral (31-2), Saturday, 1 p.m.
* Los Angeles Marlborough (26-6) vs. Vallejo St. Patrick/St. Vincent (30-3), Saturday, 9:30 a.m.
* Los Angeles Pacific Hills (30-5) vs. Ross Branson (32-3), today, 4 p.m.