Fairfax tournament showcases up-and-coming standouts


Last basketball season, after no players were selected from California for the McDonald’s All-American Game, there was concern about a talent shortage.

After watching the talent at this week’s Fairfax tournament, I can report those worries were unfounded.

Santa Ana Mater Dei fans should start humming the tune, “Happy Days are Here Again,” because 6-foot-5 freshman Shaqquan Aaron is going to be the Monarchs’ best first-year player since Taylor King. And just wait until he gains more strength. He had 16 points against Woodland Hills Taft, including three three-pointers. He’s a Kevin Durant in the making.

“He has all the potential in the world,” Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight said.

Soon, the Monarchs will be adding 6-6 Xavier Johnson, a transfer from Temecula Chaparral who’s only going to be a junior.

Another player to get excited about is 6-3 sophomore guard Jordan Mathews, the son of UCLA assistant coach Phil Mathews. He’s playing for Santa Monica after attending Riverside North last season.

“He’s got a good skills set,” Coach James Hecht said.

Mathews made a one-on-one move to remember Thursday night when Santa Monica defeated Los Angeles Price, 67-64. With 31 seconds left and his team leading by one point, Mathews scored against 6-9 Norvel Pelle, making a jump shot after he and the heavily recruited Pelle were going head to head.

“Norvel is really good,” Mathews said. “You have to make him move. It was fun because I made it.”

Mathews is going to help make Santa Monica a top team next fall even though the Vikings graduated 10 seniors. They are loaded with sophomores and juniors with good skills but not much height. Hecht doesn’t seem to mind.

“We’re young pups,” he said.

There are some terrific-looking young players at the Fairfax tournament, led by 6-7 sophomore Jordan Bell from Long Beach Poly. And Price has 6-8 Devin Burleson and 6-3 Namon Wright, both freshmen.

And don’t forget about Crenshaw’s Hamilton brothers, sophomore Isaac and freshman Daniel. Both can become standouts for the Cougars.

Taft has the best center in the City Section in 6-10 Kevin Johnson, who sat out last season after transferring from Gardena Serra. He’s playing much more under control, with Coach Derrick Taylor bringing him along slowly and putting him in position to dominate underneath.

The three top teams in the state could be Long Beach Poly, Taft and Mater Dei next season, which makes the Fairfax tournament so appealing. Poly and Taft will meet in Saturday’s 6 p.m. championship game at Fairfax.

Now that’s worth a trip to Los Angeles. Poly defeated Dorsey, 78-54, in the semifinals while Taft knocked off Santa Monica, 68-46.