Alright, I know I said I was excited for football season in the last column but last week’s Nike Fairfax Classic got me refocused on the summer.
It was great to finally watch teams that brought nearly all of their star power so fans could get their money’s worth and watch great games in a playoff-like atmosphere.
First impressions are everything so let’s run down what I saw, starting with the team that won the classic, Dominguez.
In succession, the Dons defeated Taft, Fairfax and Westchester en route to the title - only the Comets weren’t at full strength - and looked like they are ready to jump back where they left off last year.
While senior forward and tournament Most Valuable Player Jordan Hamilton displayed his well-known offensive repertoire (31 points against Fairfax, 32 vs. Westchester), role players such as Thurman Woods and Myron Green shined as well and showed why the Dons may have the best supporting cast in the state.
But Hamilton impressed me more with his ability to keep his emotions in check and channel them towards winning and leadership, not unbridled anger.
Simply put, if he is declared eligible for a fifth season, the defending Southern Section champions and Division I state finalists could very well finish the season undefeated due to their depth and chemistry. They’ll surely be the No. 1 team in the state entering this season.
For Taft, life won’t be so hard after the Larry Drew era. They’ll be armed with the City’s best pure shooter in senior guard Michael Williams - who has grown a bit since last year - , a beast in senior forward Terran Carter and the City’s best defender in UNLV-bound senior guard Justin Hawkins.
Williams may not be the proven ball-handler Drew is but he is steady and if he gets any space, all you’ll hear the net swish and on the rare occasion he misses, the 6-foot-6 Carter is right there to muscle his way to a rebound.
Got to see my first glimpse of Landon Drew, Larry’s younger brother, and I must say the young freshman is impressive. He handles the ball well, has a great jumper and best of all, he has the poise of a senior and didn’t get rattled when thrown into the fire against Dominguez in the quarterfinal.
Personally, his poise was his most promising attribute and as I said to his father, Larry Drew Sr., it’ll be a joy to watch him over the next few years.
It’ll be hard to count out Fairfax next year but it’ll be tough with a capable point guard. Especially if their best ball-handler is senior forward Solomon Hill.
On the flip side, I don’t know any team with a more versatile frontline than Fairfax with Hill and Renardo Sidney. They played well off each other against Dominguez (19 and 20 points, respectively) and if shooters like Jordan Weathers can hit their open looks, they’ll be right in the mix as usual.
The biggest mystery from the Classic is Westchester, who gave the Dons a great game until the final three minutes.
Junior Jordin Mayes is going to be a great scorer for the Comets (23 vs. Dominguez). He was solid as a sophomore last year and he looks ready to be the second link in a solid backcourt for Westchester.
Senior Dominique O’Connor’s ball-handling skill, solid jump shot and ability to get to the basket with ease makes him my No. 1 overall point guard in the City next year. He may not have as great a jumper as Williams but in every other category, O’Connor is the better player.
The mystery comes from not knowing how good they’ll be with 6-foot-9 senior center Auri Allen, who was granted a fifth year of eligibility after missing the previous season. Guess we just have to wait and see...
Long Beach Poly forward Julian Camper gave a nice showing as his soft jumper and strong post presence made him one of my favorites to watch over the weekend.
Finally, some quick advice to coaches. There’s a right way and a wrong way to develop young players.
At the tournament, one coach pulled a player quickly after he made some early mistakes that got his team into a hole. Instead of showing him what to do better, the player was left to figure it out on the bench the rest of the half. When he finally returned in the second half, his confidence was clearly shaken.
Another coach saw his player make a mistake and instead of just berating him and letting him figure out what happened on his own, he showed him what to do better and the player was better for it.
This isn’t an attack on someone’s style but as someone said to me, coaches have clear power over how a kid progresses. Yes, kids must be mentally tough to handle playing at high competition but at a young age, coaches need to also be willing to teach players while dropping the proverbial hammer.
The best coaches know how to be tough while developing the best out of their players. That’s why they don’t just have rings but solid reputations that help them attract and develop the best talent.