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High School Team Preview:
LA Fairfax High--(Oct. 8, 1998)

"We've got some of the best players in the City here. And just like every year, at least one of our guys gets a college scholarship." Harvey Kitani, head coach

Fairfax High is fairly unique among LA City High Schools in that it's situated to take advantage of several of the best features of LA. It's got a great academic environment,  a tremendous music facility (courtesy of alum Herb Alpert,  who played in the band there--he's the "A" of A&M Records); it's close to two major universities; it's smack in the middle of the Fairfax district's "bagel belt"; it sits right next to CBS' Television City, and it's within walking distance of Farmer's Market (anyone remember Gilmore Field?),  Pink's hot dogs, the LACMA and the La Brea Tar Pits, and it's becoming a part of the the cultural mecca  that is Melrose Avenue.  It's even pretty close to Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles (ok, so Hollywood High is much closer). It's probably the best example of an urban, cosmopolitan high school in the City, and for the last 19 years that Harvey Kitani has been the head coach, it's had some of the best basketball teams around too.

Coach Kitani is the kind of coach who wants his players to develop into more than just one-dimensional athletes, and he constantly reminds them that there's life outside of basketball. "I just  look at some of the other schools we play against who always have really talented players, and think, gee whatever happened to some of them.  They're all really good athletes, but many of them just disappear and never make it to college, not necessarily as players, but just to finish their educations. And that's something I don't think should happen.  I'm really proud of the fact that we help our players develop into students and athletes, and I'm proud that my guys go on to successful college careers." Harvey  is a hard working guy himself, and grew up attending Gardena High, where he played a little basketball himself.    He was always interested in coaching and teaching, and he went to Long Beach State where he majored in P.E. He attended CSDUH where he got a credential in teaching the learning disabled, and a few years ago he got a Master's from Cal State LA in administration. He got his start in high school coaching as an assistant to Don Nichols at Banning, then became an assistant at San Fernando, a college assistant at Dominguez Hills, then came to Fairfax 19 years ago. "I guess that Willie West, Howie Levine and I are now the 'old men'," he said.   He's married and has two sons.  In fact when we called him yesterday to do this interview, Harvey and his wife were busy with the baby.  Basketball would have to wait until they spent the time with their baby.

We caught up with Harvey this morning, and he was pretty enthusiastic about the team. This year's squad will be every bit as strong as last year's team, and features, at least according to Harvey, probably the single best senior in the City, Joe Shipp.  It also features, according to Harvey, the single best junior in the City, Jason Morrissette.  And it features the single best freshman in the City, (again according to Harvey) in unknown Evan Burns.  Hey, we don't know what happened to the single best sophomore in the City, but he's not playing for Fairfax, unless it's Craig Smith.

Last year's team featured some great players, including Flinder Boyd (6'-0" PG/SG) who will be at Dartmouth this year and for the next four. Also gone to graduation are Adie Morris (6'-3" SF), Greg Jefferson (6'-5" G/F) and Diondre Carter (6'-9" C).  And Fairfax also had a couple of D-I quality players transfer out: Scottie Stern (6'-4" Jr. SF) to LA High, and Tommy Johnson (6'-4" Jr. SG/SF) to Crenshaw--although there are rumors about him coming back to Fairfax, and he reportedly stopped by a couple of times, we'd have to say that the longer he stays away, the more unlikely it is he'll return.

Here's the squad this year.  Coach Kitani says that it's pretty set, but a couple of JV guys or one or two surprise seniors might make the team.  Here's who's on for sure:

Stanley Thorne, Jr. (5'-10" Sr. PG)
Fowzi Abdelsamad (6'-1" Jr. SG)
Lovester Adams (6'-1" Jr. SG)
Ismael Torres (6'-2" Jr. SG/SF)
Jason Morrissette (6'-5" Jr. SG/SF)
Joe Shipp (6'-5" Sr. F)
Marqui Jones (6'-4" Jr. SG/SF)
Evan Burns (6'-5" Fr. F)
Craig Smith (6'-6" So. C)

Yeah, that's only 9 players, but it features some really quick guard play, great forward action and some of the best shooting guards in the City Section.  The only position they lack is a true 6'-8'+ guy, but they'll more than make up for it with speed and quickness and with wide-body banging inside.

At the point, Stanley will start. He's a fireball of energy, one of the quickest passers in the class, with a great handle, always pushes the ball on the break, and has an incredibly quick cross-over.  How quick?   He just about broke Tito Maddox' ankles at the Rim Rattler Fall Showcase, and he can break down just about any defender.  His only drawback is that once he breaks the defender down, getting to the rack but he does manage to find his way there often enough. He's smart, rarely makes mistakes, and he's verbally committed to Loyola Marymount, and will sign in November. Fowzi is another quick guard, not as quick perhaps as Stanley, but he will backup at the one, and will probably be the starting point of the future. He's also developed a nice shot out to three point range, and can defend well. He's also a great student who goes hard all the time.

At the two spot will be Jason, Lovester and Torres, although  we'd really expect to see Jason play more of a combo 2-3 role, and mostly at the forward spot, given the team's lack of a truly huge center. Lovester is a very athletic player, who can shoot, defend and Fairfax will really need his play this season.  Torres Ismael is a very talented shooter, quick and active, moves well with and without the ball, and has great leaping ability which enables him to get up on glass   for the rebound or the dunk. A very quick first step which enables him to beat a defender off the dribble, and will score a ton for this team.

At mostly a three position, Jason is one of the fastest rising juniors, with great size, runs the floor well, but who must learn to be a bit more patient, and he sometimes gets frustrated, at least at the club/traveling team level, with his teammates' play and has been known to just take over a game.  He's had a good summer, and is maturing well, and has developed a reputation as one of the best ball-handlers in both the open floor and in traffic, and he loves to just dance around defenders and go to the basket. Jason is one of the best finishers we've seen, and he has serious hops and can dunk at will.  Harvey thinks that he'll be one of the best prospects next year, and we agree. Also at the 3 spot will be Marqui Jones, a slashing-type of athletic guard, who has great quickness, a good handle and a developing shot. He'll be a big rebounder here.

At the strong forward spot will be the player coach Kitani believes may be the best player in the City this year, Joe Shipp.  Joe has recovered very well from his injury last year, and he was All-City as a sophomore and is expected to repeat that honor again.  Joe is a big, solid tough guy, with a great handle, who could play just about anywhere on the floor he wants.  He's even developed some decent post-up moves, can take it to the rack, drive, penetrate, or spot up from outside and hit the long jumper.  Joe is a great student too, and he's recently had official visits to Oregon State and Vanderbilt, and will probably take a visit to Pepperdine shortly as well.  And no, as of this writing (October 8, 1998) he has not yet verballed to anyone.  Joining Joe at the forward spot will be Evan Burns, who Harvey believes could be just about the best freshman in the City as well.  Burns has not really played for any club teams, and is just a complete mystery to most people. He's a great shot-blocker, a very wide-body type of guy who will also see some time at the center position.  A very smart player, it may actually be a benefit he's never played club ball, as he hasn't had time to develop any bad habits. Look for him to get a lot of tutoring from Joe this year.

At the center spot, look for Craig Smith, a young soph who has a great offensive game, with a big body, at maybe 230 lbs, great hands and good footwork.  In fact with Jason, Joe and Craig and even freshman Evan, this will be a very hard team for opponents to figure out, since Jason and Joe are really guards in forward bodies, nimble and with the handles to take the ball to the hole or spot up and shoot, and with the size and ability to box out, rebound and set devastating picks and screens with their large frames.

Fairfax will see some great action in December before the start of the regular City 4A season.  First they'll be at the Pacific Shores Tournament (this would be the 49th version of that tournament) hosted by Redondo Union, from December 1 through 5, 1998.  Then in mid-December, Fairfax will jet off to the Iolani Classic in Hawaii, where they will be among some great company:  No. 1 seed, Christ the King from N.Y., No. 2 Seed Compton Dominguez, No. 3 Seed Lower Richland from South Carolina, and Fairfax probably as the No. 4 seed and University of San Diego High featuring the Walton boys as the No. 5 or 6 seed, and probably Mountain View from Arizona as well.  And those are just the top teams in a huge field.

Fairfax will probably pass up the winter version of the Best in the West this year (although that's not certain) and will probably head down to San Diego to the Nike Prep Classic to be held from December 26 through 31.   We'll have more on that later.

And for a mid-season break, Fairfax will play in two MLK events:  First they'll appear in the Adidas/Double Pump MLK Hoops Festival on January 16, 1999 at Cal State Dominguez Hills where they'll match up against Fontana High.  Then they're scheduled to appear in the 5th Annual MLK Jr. Challenge at Pauley Pavilion against Simi Valley (which itself will also play in the Pump MLK event against Sylmar).

Coach Kitani believes that just about anything can happen in City 4A this year.  "I've got to believe that Crenshaw is the team to beat this year, but then Westchester is also very talented, so is Manual, and you never know about what's going to come out of the Valley.  But  I'd have to believe we're right up there too, " he told us.  And we'd agree.  A quick, exciting high scoring team, with players who can dish out the scoring and play great defense.   You can't ask for much more.  Ok, well you might ask for a City Championship.   We'll see.  


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