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Before a national television audience of ESPNU, California power Fairfax of Los Angeles had a chance to move into the No. 1 position in USA Today's rankings where its been proven head-to-head results take little credence. Over the air, ESPN commentators Fran Franschilla and David Kaplan stated Chris Lawlor, the rankings compiler for the nation's daily newspaper, had told them Fairfax of Los Angeles would move in to the top spot should they dethrone perennial power Oak Hill Academy of Mouth of Wilson, Virginia in the championship game of the NIKE Academy National Invitational in Houston.
With a win, veteran coach Harvey Kitani's squad would own wins over both Oak Hill and Montrose Christian of Rockville, Maryland, a team the Lions beat 39-38 in the championship of the Iolani Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii. For the sake of national rankings, it didn't happen as Oak Hill overwhelmed a young Fairfax team, 75-48, in a game where it could have been a 40-point margin had Oak Hill Coach Steve Smith not regularly substituted in the final period.
One team that would have been unhappy with USA Today if Fairfax had won would have been Artesia of Lakewood, a team in line to be California's top-ranked club after defeating Fairfax earlier in the season, 69-56, at the Redondo Shores Tourney. That tournament is Southern California must not have counted or USA Today must have felt Fairfax winning two big tournaments is more impressive than Artesia not only beating the Lions head-to-head, but also downing Westchester of Los Angeles and San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno.
Oak Hill wasn't about to let that scenario take place, enough though the Lions did jump out to an early 6-0 lead on a lay up by six-foot senior Donovan White. Fairfax is a talented squad, but the Warriors have at least eight players who will sign with Division I universities, so Fairfax played a zone or a box and one on North Carolina recruit Tywon Lawson but it backfired as that defensive strategy left the middle of the key wide open. Junior Michael Beasley and Virginia Tech recruit Jeff Allen took advantage, as Allen rang up 16 points and nine rebounds, including five on the offensive end, in the easy win.
After trailing early, Oak Hill cut the lead to one (8-7) on a pretty spin move in the lane past White by junior Nolan Smith, who finished with 13 points. Earlier in the season when Lawson was suspended, the son of the late Derek Smith (a former Louisville University standout) shined and he again was impressive at the ANI. When Oak Hill applied a full court press, the smallish Fairfax backcourt had trouble and turnovers led to an 11-2 Oak Hill run as the Warriors led 17-11 after one quarter.
With Temple recruit Matt Shaw (team-high 11 points, four rebounds) as the only inside presence for Fairfax, the Lions resorted to jumpers and they were not falling as Lawson led numerous fast break opportunities for Oak Hill off long rebounds. His highlight reel, coast-to-coast lay up made the score 25-13 Oak Hill and was the signature play during a 12-2 Oak Hill run in the second period. A dunk by Allen stretched the lead to 33-19 and when Lawson blew by a defender for a lay up right before halftime the score was 35-20 at intermission. The Warriors out rebounded Fairfax 20-12, in the first half and shot 50 percent from the field in the first half while the Lions shot at a 32 percent clip.
The second half was all Oak Hill as a three-pointer by Beasley (13 points) made the score 46-31. Former Maryland and NBA standout John Lucas commented on the telecast about Beasley's lack of hustle on every play, even stating that he looked "bored." In his defense, the Lions didn't roar much and the left-handed Beasley, one of the nation's top juniors, dominated the paint when necessary on put backs and follow up dunks. The score was 56-35 at the end of three periods of play.
Back-to-back three-pointers by veteran Anthony Wright (10 points, eight rebounds) stretched the lead to 67-37 and when Lawson dunked on a breakaway with less than three minutes remaining the score was 73-39 and the game had already be long decided. The well-built and cat-quick Lawson excited the game shortly after the jam and finished with 21 points on nine of 13 shooting with three assists and four steals.
With the win Oak Hill improves to 21-0 while Fairfax falls to 11-2. Oak Hill reached the finals courtesy of a 76-56 semifinal win over preseason No. 19 Wheeler (Marietta, GA), the defending Georgia 5A state champions, as Lawson and Smith combined for 29 points and 10 assists. Wheeler head coach Doug Lipscomb (the 2005 Student Sports National Coach of the Year) received 15 points and 11 rebounds in a losing effort from top-notch junior James Hickson.
Fairfax advanced to the finals courtesy of its 57-47 win over Neumann-Goretti of Philadelphia. Junior Chace Stanback and senior Jerren Shipp paced the win with a combined 35 points. Stanback also collected 10 rebounds against Neumann-Goretti and the Philly school was in trouble when leading scorer Antonio Jardine fouled out.
Wheeler rebounded from the Oak Hill loss to down Neumann-Goretti in the third place game, 77-63. Wheeler led 32-31 behind 17 points from UAB signee John Tiller. Balanced scoring was the theme from Neumann-Goretti, as "Scoop" Jardine led the Saints with six first-half points.
Wheeler's J.J. Hickson opened the second-half with a lob dunk from guard Adrian Williams and that was a sign of things to come in the second half. Wheeler led, 52-47, at the end of three quarters and a tip-in by Hickson made the score 59-47 with 6:30 left in the ballgame. Hickson's dunk on Wheeler's next possession capped off a 9-0 run at the Wildcats pulled away down the stretch. Hickson recorded three double-doubles at the tournament and finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds against Neumann-Goretti.
More commentary from associate editor Ronnie Flores
Over the summer, Oak Hill head coach Steve Smith and assistant coach Yerrick Stoneman told us this year's squad would be much deeper than last season's team that finished No. 2 in the final FAB 50 national rankings even without departed forward Kevin Durant. After watching the Warriors play, we feel this is Oak Hill's deepest team in years, although the starting five is not as strong as the 2005 unit led by Jamont Gordon, Lawson and Durant or the 2004 unit led by NBA dunk champ Josh Smith and Kentucky standout Rajon Rondo. To put the Warriors' depth into perspective, Georgia recruit Albert Jackson played sparingly in the win over Fairfax and only scored four points in the semifinal win over Wheeler At halftime of the Wheeler-Neumann-Goretti game on ESPNU, Franschilla and Kaplan asked Lawlor the million-dollar question: "How do you compile national rankings?" Lawlor stated he "makes it a point to see the teams that travel to play in the top holiday tournaments and those that are not afraid to match up with other ranked teams." He said strength of schedule is important and for schools that may be having a great year but are not perennial powers, margin of victory and "the tradition at the program" are also important. Not once did he mention the most important factor in the compilation of national rankings in any sport: Head-to-head results Franschilla continues to do an excellent job for ESPN of its high school telecasts, stating he feels the NBA's 19-year old age limit is unfair. He doesn't feel prep players going directly straight to the pros is beneficial for the game, but remarked, "Who gives someone the right to tell an 18-year old he cannot make money. It's allowable in tennis and other sports. What if Greg Oden (the top big man prospect in 15 years) gets hurt next year at Ohio State? His salary and endorsements could be worth 50 million dollars. If it were your son, what would you think? It's up to the NBA clubs to make sound draft decisions." The only blunder he made was stating that Fairfax lost in the California state title game last season to Westchester, which in the current CIF state playoff format is impossible...... The announcing crew stated that Smith told them Lawson was the most talented guard to ever play at his program. Franschilla and Kaplan correctly noted how powerful a statement of Lawson's game that is, but incorrectly commented it means he was better at Oak Hill than Rod Strickland, Corey Alexander, Marcus Williams, Jeff McGinnis and even Jerry Stackhouse. What Smith means is that Lawson is the best lead guard he has ever coached, as many of the Warriors talented guards in the past were combo guards who often looked to score. Smith was also not the head coach when Strickland, a Bronx native, attended the school and to compare Lawson to Stackhouse is a stretch...
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