Danny Cheek put on a show last week in San Diego at The Holiday Classic, one of the premier tournaments in the country.
Strangers approached the Corona del Mar High guard after he poured in 28 points against Taft of Woodland Hills, ranked No. 10 in the ESPN RISE West Region poll. They all had one question for the senior.
"Where I was going to school," Cheek said. He said they wanted to find out his collegiate future, and when he told them it was at Northern Arizona University, many were surprised. "[They were] telling me I should have went Pac 10. I should have waited a little bit longer [before I committed], but I just felt comfortable with my decision with Northern Arizona."
The Lumberjacks are fortunate to have landed a player as talented as the 6-foot-4 Cheek.
Some of the nation's top recruits were on full display during the 21st edition of the tournament held at Torrey Pines High. Cheek belonged in the class.
With his all-around performance in five games, Cheek put himself in that group of elite players. He earned all-tournament honors, helping the Sea Kings on the first day of the tournament beat Compton and Coolidge of Washington, DC, before keeping it close the next three days in losses to the likes of Long Beach Poly, Westchester and Taft.
Cheek and the rest of the Sea Kings (9-6, 1-0 in the Pacific Coast League) learned something after competing against some of the powers on the West Coast.
"Any team can be beat any time," Cheek said. "I don't care what's on your jersey, I just come out to play and I'm going to do whatever I got to do to win the game."
Cheek is motivated in his final season at CdM. Much of the added fuel has to do with the college recruiting process he went through.
Much of it has not been what Cheek expected.
Northern Arizona was not his first choice. The University of Portland was No. 1.
Before the summer, he admits he had never heard of Northern Arizona. The school Cheek told everyone he was going to was Portland.
The school wanted him as well. That is until Cheek said another recruit from the Pacific Northwest came into the picture at the last minute. The player offered Portland something better than Cheek.
"They said his jump shot was more consistent than mine," Cheek said. "They said the reason why they picked him was, one, he was ready to commit early. I wasn't ready to commit so fast.
"I was hurt. I was very frustrated. I didn't want to participate in class."
Cheek's mother, Carlita Ray, visited her son at CdM. She helped ease the disappointment.
Carlita took Cheek out for lunch. Cheek digested more than food.
"She told me to just keep my head up and you can't stop God's plans. What's for you is for you. Don't let it just scare you," Cheek said. "After that, that's when I actually started working on my jump shot the most. After a college told me that they were picking a guy over me because his jump shot was more consistent than mine."
Cheek showed hundreds of NCAA coaches, recruiters and fans at The Holiday Classic how deadly his shot can be.
In three games, Cheek scored at least 21 points, and averaged 19 points during the tournament. In the first half against Westchester, ranked No. 17 in the ESPN RISE West Region, he knocked down four three-pointers before CdM lost to the Comets, 63-55.
Cheek also displayed his defensive prowess, while guarding bigger players like 6-foot-8, 215-pound Ryan Anderson of Long Beach Poly, ranked No. 6 in the country by ESPN RISE. Cheek, giving up four inches and 23 pounds, held the Boston College-bound senior to a season-low four points.
Down the stretch, Cheek also came through in the clutch. He did so against some childhood friends from Washington, D.C.
With CdM trailing Coolidge, 46-45, Cheek drew a foul with less than a second left on the clock. Cheek was in the act of shooting a three-pointer. At the free-throw line, a lot crossed Cheek's mind after he missed the first of three attempts.
"I'm like, 'Oh my goodness. If I don't make the second one, then I've got to make this last one for sure to go into overtime,'" said Cheek, who stepped away from the charity stripe, something he rarely does. "I made the second one. Tied game. It was emotionally and mentally challenging because … these are the kids you used to hang around with in D.C. and you're about to send home your old friends, then you're about to lose this game for your team."
Cheek won it for CdM by converting the final free-throw attempt. He sent a message to his former middle school classmates.
"When I [lived] in D.C., I ran everything on the court. I was the king of the court," Cheek said. "When I played against these guys [last week], I had to remind them that I was still the king of the court."