Back in July, news broke that could have profoundly changed the fortunes of two high school basketball teams. Jemarl Baker, a standout senior guard at Eastvale Roosevelt headed to California, was admitted to school at Santa Ana Mater Dei.
A month later, when classes began, Baker showed up at Roosevelt. He had changed his mind.
"No regrets," he said Saturday. "Now I feel great. I'm so happy I stayed. Roosevelt has always been my family. Playing with a group of guys that I've been with for four years and competing for a state and CIF championship is great."
Yes, sometimes the best moves are the ones not made.
Baker, one of the top shooting guards in Southern California, could have helped make Mater Dei close to unbeatable. The Monarchs are doing pretty well without him, having won 20 of 21 games with their only loss to No. 1 Chino Hills.
Roosevelt needed him a lot more, and he has teamed with Matt Mitchell to lead the Mustangs to an 10-6 record while playing one of the toughest schedules. Roosevelt has faced the likes of Westchester, Oak Park, Fairfax, Crossroads, Chino Hills, Damien and Corona Centennial.
"It's fun playing against the best, competing with guys who have been my family for four years," he said. "We're getting better and planning to be the best by the end of the year."
Roosevelt Coach Stephen Singleton never knew if Baker was going to stay until he saw him on that first day of school in August.
"It is what it is," he said. "I'm happy he decided to stay. He's such a big part of our school. Kids know him, teachers love him."
Baker has a chance to create a lasting legacy at Roosevelt, though it won't be easy. And that's the point sometimes about staying rather than going to a program that has a much better chance of winning a championship. You have to work harder to get others around you better, but in the long run, that can lead to greater satisfaction in the future.
On Saturday, Baker endured one of his worst games when he missed 13 shots and was held to six points in a 57-49 loss to Fairfax. He left the gym not feeling particularly happy, but others are grateful he's winning and losing with the neighborhood kids he has grown up with.
"We'll keep working and, hopefully, in the playoffs make a run," he said.
Wild Wednesday: You'll need a helicopter to attend three must-see games for first place in league competition on Wednesday.
There's the Trinity League showdown between Mater Dei and host Santa Margarita. There's the West Valley League showdown between Birmingham and host Taft. And there's the Western League rivalry game between Fairfax and host Westchester.
Taft hasn't lost a league game under Coach Derrick Taylor since 2005. That's an 81-game win streak. Birmingham, the City title favorite with a 15-3 record, aims to end the streak.
"I don't have to say much to get them ready for that game," Coach Nick Halic said.
Fairfax is 15-1 and set to get back Robert McRae, who hasn't played this season because of a broken hand. He's scheduled to be cleared on Tuesday.
Santa Margarita has been gearing up all season to play the Monarchs. It's going to be quite a Wednesday.
CIF response: California Interscholastic Federation commissioners met last week to discuss how to deal with players moving to prep schools outside California. There was no consensus solution other than to recommend that schools play education-based schools similar to themselves.
"We need to be promoting that and playing schools with the same philosophy," said Executive Director Roger Blake.
Two San Fernando Valley-based football players left for IMG Academy in Florida.