Redondo Union’s Ian Fox, flanked by Ryse Williams (0) and Terrell Carter (34), celebrates winning the Pacific Shores championship and tournament MVP. Photo by Ray Vidal
It was a tale of two free throws.
The Redondo Union High School (RUHS) boys’ basketball team had not won its own prestigious holiday tournament in six years. The Sea Hawks were riding a 23 game win streak that included last year’s CIF Division II state title and an victories in the first two rounds of the 62nd Annual Pacific Shores tourney.
That streak appeared to be coming to an end Friday night in the semifinals as RUHS fell behind 15 points in the third quarter against a powerful Westchester team. But in the fourth quarter, senior point guard Ian Fox caught fire, nailing three 3-pointers – six for the game – to bring the Sea Hawks back from the brink of elimination.
“Coach [Reggie] Morris, he gives me the great light,” Fox said. “As a shooter, you want to shoot – but sometimes he’ll tell me to shoot and I’ll go, ‘Are you sure? I’m way out here!’ He believes in me a little bit more than I do, sometimes.”
“Every other shot was a heat check,” Fox added. “The ball just kept going in.”
Then, with 4.4 seconds to go and RUHS down a point, Fox was fouled.
It’s the scenario every basketball-crazed boy dreams of when practicing. Make one free throw, tie the game; make two, win. Fox remembers being a grade school kid inventing these kinds of clutch scenarios – he’d don Carmelo Anthony’s Oak Hills Academy jersey and make a shot in a little plastic hoop in one room, then switch to Michael Jordan’s Laney High School jersey and go take a shot in another room.
“My family would be like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’” Fox recalled.
Since seventh grade, he and his buddies had a different dream – to bring the Pacific Shores title back to Redondo Union. And now he needed to make two free throws to keep that dream alive.
Fox calmly sank the first. The Westchester coach, trying to ice him, called a timeout. During the timeout, Fox just focused on what the team’s defense would be after his free throw. Part of his workout every day is to take 100 shots, and if he doesn’t make 90 or 92, he has to start all over from the beginning.
So when he walked back out to the charity stripe with the whole gym howling, Fox was relatively unfazed.
“Every time it comes down to free throws, the other team is talking, saying stuff in your ear, trying to rattle you,” he said. “I tried to blind out all the noise, make it feel like just another shot, just like my workout.”
His free throw hit the back of the rim, and dropped in. The gym erupted.
“I was going crazy,” Fox said. “Like, please go in.”
The two free throws gave Fox 29 points, the Sea Hawks a 65-64 victory and a chance to win the championship the next night against Lakewood Mayfair, another highly touted team.
Saturday night, RUHS again found itself down double digits in the third quarter, and again inched its way back. With less than three minutes left, Fox drilled a three pointer. In the next possession, big man Terrell Carter, a 6’8 senior who was playing his first games as a Sea Hawk after transferring from West Torrance, sank two free throws to tie the score. With a minute left, Mayfair’s star point guard Kendell Small went up for a 3-pointer. Fox, who at about six-feet tall is hardly known as a shot-blocker, rose up with Small, an off-season friend. He blocked the shot, and again credited Coach Morris.
“This coach has pushed every last one of us to our limits,” Fox said. “As far as conditioning, we are never going to be the more tired team….That was a big block, and we were dead tired, but at practice he runs us through everything, practicing full court defense at the end of games. So we are used to playing tired in the fourth quarter. I was just trying to make sure that ball didn’t go in the hoop in any way, just making sure I got a hand on it.”
Carter drilled two more three throws to give RUHS a three point lead. But Smalls was fouled on a last second 3-point attempt. He went to the line and made two of three – but in this case, two free throws weren’t enough.
The Sea Hawks had pulled out another tight victory, 64-63, to capture the Pacific Shores title. Fox was named MVP, and Carter made the all-tournament team. RUHS is now 4-0 heading into this weekend’s Chicago Elite Classic tournament.
“This coach gets us to play for each other,” Fox said. “We gutted it out. The sky is the limit for this team.”
Mustang boys win
Mira Costa Shores
The Mira Costa boys basketball team won the 62nd Annual Mira Costa Pacific Shores basketball tournament with a come-from-behind overtime 59-58 victory over Culver City Saturday night. The Mustangs were led by senior power forward Justin Strings, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds and was named tournament MVP. Junior Dylan Kim, who also made the all-tournament team, had 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 steals. But the hero of the night was junior Chris Lebbin, who scored the most crucial of his 8 points on a buzzer-beating shot off a feed from String. Lebbin was also named to the all-tournament team.
Mira Costa is 4-0 heading into next week’s El Segundo Tournament.