It was January 2013, and Fairfax High Coach Harvey Kitani confirmed that promising sophomore guard Lorne Currie was academically ineligible.
Looking up at the top row of the Fairfax bleachers during a basketball game, I saw Currie cheering like a regular fan. He was 15, immature, a little lost. It was stunning that someone so young and talented could fall to the bottom so quickly.
“Life hits, then you have to grow up,” his mother, Priscilla, told me last week.
Fast forward to Saturday night at Cal State Dominguez Hills, where Fairfax will face Westchester for the City Section Open Division championship. One of the best players on the court will be a rejuvenated Currie, who hit the books, went to work and put himself in position to earn a college scholarship and create the future he always envisioned.
“Being in the stands having to watch a game I love — that’s one of the worst feelings,” he said.
The question is how does the son of an elementary school principal let himself get Ds and Fs?
Currie said he allowed family issues to affect him.
“It was a tough time,” he said. “I’m a mama’s boy. I love my mom so much. Her dealing with cancer was hard. I didn’t want to listen to nobody. I didn’t want to hear anything. I just kind of shut everybody out of my life. Sometimes you need positive people in your life to help you get to where you need to be.
“I was always listening to Coach. He always told me, ‘Don’t quit.’ He always told me, ‘Don’t give up.’ I was at the point I was going to give up. I’m sure glad I didn’t because basketball changed my life.”
When his father’s job location changed, Currie enrolled at Bellflower St. John Bosco. He got to practice against college scholarship athletes Tyler Dorsey, Daniel Hamilton and Isaac Hamilton. He was forced to cut his hair, tuck in his shirt, check his socks and most important, focus on his grades.
“Bosco’s no joke,” he said. “They take academics very seriously. It’s not a place to be goofing around.”
He never played in a game for the Braves. He transferred back to Fairfax for his junior season and was a different person. He faced a big challenge. He had to catch up. He had to make up classes. He had to regain the trust and support of coaches and teammates.
“I probably took more online classes than some people took classes,” he said. “It was just the will to want to be successful. There’s nothing like that taste of being successful. Colleges are coming back. Every night, I get a new call. It feels great to know it’s all paying off.”
Kitani said, “He just had to mature and be consistent with responsibilities.”
There never has been any doubt about Currie’s basketball abilities. He scored 29 points against Harvard-Westlake as a sophomore. This season, he was most valuable player of the Torrey Pines tournament for his division. He’s a 6-foot-2 senior whose dribbling and scoring kills have caused fans to openly ooh and aah during games after one of his spectacular moves.
“He can do some things that can blow you away,” St. John Bosco Coach Derrick Taylor said. “If he really gets it, he’s an NBA talent.”
Currie said he has learned many lessons during high school, but the most important one is this: “If I could talk to any young kid, focus. You can’t just think ninth and 10th grade, I have some time. No. It all matters. You have to come into high school focused. It’s no joke. It’s your career and it’s up to you to decide what you’re going to do with it.”
Currie’s mother is feeling better and said of her son, “I’m very proud of him.”
Loyola Marymount and Fresno State have made scholarship offers. His grade-point average is closing in on 3.0.
“No looking back,” he said. “I’m focused on the future, and I plan to keep progressing. I want more.”
Follow Eric Sondhiemer on Twitter @LATSondheimer