Steve Baik is feeling blessed.
He coached point guard Lonzo Ball, who led Chino Hills to a 35-0 record and a state Open Division championship in 2016. His point guard this season, Ethan Anderson, has helped Fairfax go 26-1 entering the City Section Open Division championship game against Westchester on Saturday at L.A. Southwest College.
“They do have that quiet leadership ability,” Baik said of the two players. “Lonzo always made winning plays — rebounds, blocked shots — things out of character for point guards. That’s what we challenge Ethan to do. He’s playing defense, getting steals, rebounding, getting blocked shots.”
There’s little doubt that the best player in City Section basketball this season has been Anderson, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior who continues to distinguish himself with his growing strength.
He plays like a linebacker in football, throwing his body around, bouncing off defenders, attacking constantly. It’s that kind of physicality that causes problems for opponents.
“Physicality is a big part of my game,” he said. “I pride myself on being stronger than the defender.”
Since he was a freshman, his work ethic and willingness to adapt for the good of the team have always been apparent. In games, you never know if he’s going to be a facilitator or scorer. He’s comfortable with either, depending on what his team needs.
"We have very unselfish leaders on our team, and that’s made a difference,’’ Anderson said. “When I was a freshman, I had so much stuff to work on, and a big part of getting better is calling out your weaknesses.”
Anderson said he’d been fortunate to have learned from two top coaches, Baik and Harvey Kitani, during his time at Fairfax.
Anderson said Kitani showed him that humility was one of the biggest parts of player development. “If you want to get better,” he said, “you have to be humble even when you’re at the top.”
And Baik, who is in his third season at Fairfax, “taught me a whole new style,” Anderson said, “how to think on your toes, playing a lot faster.’’
People often wonder what kind of football player Anderson might have been. He played as an eighth-grader but gave it up.
“I didn’t love football like I love basketball,” he said. “Basketball I could play all day and never get sick of it.”
Fairfax has twice beaten Western League rival Westchester, but the Lions know that means nothing. They’ve always assumed there would be a third meeting with the Comets, and it would be for the City championship.
“They’re the one team we want to play in the championship,” Baik said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Anderson recalled the scene from last year’s final when Fairfax lost 63-53 to Westchester.
“We sat together and cried in the locker room,” he said. “We feel they stole something from us.
“We’re going to come in and give it everything we got. It hurt a lot of people. We really wanted that game, but I don’t think we deserved it.
“This year, I feel something is different. It all comes down to work. Saturday, there’s no pressure on me or the team. We’re going to play like we’ve been playing all year.”
It will come down to execution, and Anderson plans to be heavily involved.