PHOENIX — Shortly before the NCAA College Basketball Academy held at Grand Canyon University last week, Fairfax (Los Angeles) rising senior guard Keith Dinwiddie worked out one-on-one with incoming transfer Dior Johnson.
“He’s smooth — silky smooth,” Dinwiddie said. “He’s super crafty. The ball doesn’t – the ball is his hand.”
Johnson, widely regarded as one of the top prospects in the class of 2022, went down a turbulent path this year to find a new school. He transferred to Findlay Prep (Las Vegas) in February, but the basketball program was shut down in May. He briefly was set to transfer to Hillcrest Prep (Phoenix), according to the Arizona academy, but two weeks later, he transferred again.
It’s been a journey, but he’s found a home at Fairfax in which both his game and attitude will be a welcome addition.
In 2016, Sports Illustrated published an article calling the series between Fairfax and crosstown LA school Westchester the “most intense high school hoops rivalry.” Current NBA players Solomon Hill (Fairfax), Trevor Ariza (Westchester) and Amir Johnson (Westchester) have been parties to the rivalry, and with celebrities including Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers in attendance, the atmosphere gets frenetic.
Last season, Dinwiddie’s first on the team, Fairfax swept the three games between the schools.
“The first game, I’m not going to lie, (I) was nervous because all the people in the stands,” Dinwiddie said. “It’s just like talk in your ear, so you have to be focused. If you’re not focused coming into that first game, it’s going to get you.”
By the second game, Dinwiddie was accustomed to the pressure and yelling from the stands, putting up a career-high 34 points.
Looking forward, Dinwiddie believes Johnson will fit into the rivalry seamlessly.
“He talks a lot of trash,” Dinwiddie said. “And we need that to play against Westchester, because that’s all that game is about.”
Johnson can also bolster a guard rotation that no longer boasts standout point guard Ethan Anderson, who is off to the college ranks at USC.
The guard core now consists of Johnson, one of the top young players in the country; Dinwiddie, who can defend three positions and has great control of his body when driving, passing and taking off-balance shots; Justyn Hunter, who Dinwiddie said is strong enough to guard all five positions despite being listed at just six feet; and Justin Gladney, who came off the bench last year and “controls the pace for our team,” in Dinwiddie’s words.
Last year, Fairfax went 27-2 and took down Westchester in the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division championship, but was upset 76-75 by Centennial (Corona) in the first round of the state tournament.
There will be a lot of change this year. The team is losing starters in Anderson and forwards Daylen Williams and Robert McRae, and head coach Steve Baik resigned and was replaced by Steve Moore.
The team will likely rely on its guards, including its hopes for a seamless transition into the program for Johnson, as it works to move deeper into the playoffs next season.
“Everybody needs to buy in,” Dinwiddie said. “Everyone (needs) to know their role and to know this isn’t about yourself. This is about the team. You gotta do whatever that’s gonna benefit the team.”