It’s 90 minutes before Chino Hills faces Long Beach Poly, and 15-year-old LaMelo Ball is practicing his shooting touch while brother Lonzo, arms stretched out, sits back in a chair at Cerritos College. Big brother has the night off from UCLA, so the pressure is on to perform well.
They announce the gym that seats some 2,500 is sold out at 6:14 p.m. Giggling teenagers armed with their smartphones stop to get their Twitter and Instagram shots of LaMelo shooting. Media with video cameras line up to shoot warmups. LaVar Ball, the father, is interviewed on the floor by another camera person (Is there a Steph Curry question?). Chino Hills mania, in its second year, is showing no signs of diminishing.
Oh, there was a quarterfinal game of the Southern Section Open Division playoffs, and Chino Hills triumphed, 98-74.
LaMelo, who scored 92 points in a game earlier this month, didn’t score in the first half. But he fired away in the second half, scoring 21 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter. He also had 11 assists. Brother LiAngelo had 17 points.
But the star of this game was 6-foot-9 sophomore Onyeka Okongwu. Just like he did last season as a freshman during the playoffs, Okongwu is elevating his game when the Huskies (29-1) need him most. He scored 29 points, including three threes. He grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked five shots.
“He’s coming with a vengeance,” Chino Hills Coach Stephan Gilling said. “It’s his time.”
Said Okongwu: “I’ve been working on my shot and all the intangibles I have.”
Also causing Poly (22-7) trouble was 6-5 Eli Scott, who finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Zafir Williams led Poly with 31 points and Darryl Polk Jr. had 16 points.
Tuesday’s Open Division results produced the dream matchups for Friday's semifinals at USC’s Galen Center. It will be Chino Hills taking on Santa Ana Mater Dei at 8:30 p.m. and Chatsworth Sierra Canyon facing Torrance Bishop Montgomery at 7 p.m. All four schools are ranked nationally and are loaded with future college and perhaps NBA players.
“The CIF set it up this way and everyone knew it was going to happen,” Gilling said. “We’re there and planning to win it.”
Bishop Montgomery received 21 points from Ethan Thompson in a 57-54 win over Santa Margarita. Mater Dei defeated Eastvale Roosevelt, 71-55. Harrison Butler and Justice Sueing scored 15 points each. Sierra Canyon defeated La Verne Damien, 95-81. Marvin Bagley III scored 23 points and Remy Martin 22.
In the City Section Open Division, Taft defeated Narbonne, 72-68, in overtime and will play Birmingham in Saturday’s semifinals at Roybal. Birmingham defeated Dorsey, 88-72. Devante and Devonaire Doutrive each scored 18 points.
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