December 12, 2018

Fair Finding a Home with Stuart Hoops, Providing Post Presence for the Tartans

FAIR PLAY: Stuart Country Day School basketball player Laila Fair, middle, goes up for a shot last week against Hun. Sophomore transfer Fair contributed 10 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, and four blocks as Stuart rolled to a 62-33 win the December 4 contest. The Tartans, now 2-1, host Princeton Day School on December 12 before playing in the Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) Tip-Off Tournament from December 14-15 and then hosting Montgomery on December 18. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Laila Fair struggled through a lost season in 2017-18 as a knee injury prevented her from taking the court in her freshman campaign with the Middlesex High girls’ basketball team.

Turning the page, Fair transferred to Stuart Country Day School and has found a home with its hoops program.

“Coming to Stuart there were a lot more opportunities for me, academically and for college,” said Fair. “I am looking into my future now. Basketball-wise, it has been good. They have been really welcoming to me.”

Last week as Stuart played at the Hun School, the 6’3 Fair was very good, contributing 10 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, and four blocks as Stuart rolled to a 62-33 win over the Raiders in the December 4 contest.

In reflecting on the team’s performance against Hun, Fair noted that she and senior star Bey-Shana Clark have formed a potent partnership in the post for the Tartans.

“It is amazing what we can do because it is two bigs on the team and you never actually have that,” said Fair of Clark, who chipped in 14 points, 10 rebounds, and four steals in the victory.

“You get to work the high-low situation and you get a lot more assists. It makes the game a lot easier. It opens up not just us but the guards too. We get the opportunity to shoot open straight up.”

Fair is relishing the opportunity to get back on the court after recovering from her knee injury.

“I feel really good, there might be times where it hurts, but you have to push through,” said Fair, who is still wearing a brace on her left knee.

Fair is pushing herself to be a more versatile player. “I am working on being a more effective player around the foul line,” said Fair.

Stuart head coach Justin Leith believes that Fair helps make the Tartans a more effective team.

“Her size and her athletic ability are great and she has a real knack for the game,” said Leith, noting that Fair had two slick assists down the stretch against Hun. “She can rebound well and she really sees the floor. She is a game changer for our program.”

The arrival of Fair gives Stuart more options in the paint. “It helped alleviate the pressure against Pennington,” said Leith, referring to Stuart’s 54-53 overtime loss to Pennington in the opening round of the Peddie Tip-Off tournament on November 30.

“It wasn’t just Bey down there banging with Leah Johnson, they have got to pick their poison. Our first scrimmage certainly wasn’t as good as today and even our last game wasn’t as good as it was today. I think that they are going to continue to really improve.”

While Stuart got another superb effort from sophomore guard Nia Melvin, who has 17 points, seven rebounds, and seven steals against Hun, Leith was also heartened by the play of sophomore Aleah James and junior Jasmine Hansford in the backcourt.

“Aleah is another kid this year; she is just so improved, it is wonderful,” said Leith of James who had 11 points, five rebounds, and five steals while Hansford chipped in four points, four rebounds, and six assists.

“Jasmine has been struggling a little bit. She hit a jumper at the end today so we shot ourselves out of that. She has been great.”

Going forward, Leith wants his players to focus on making daily progress, not the win-loss record.

“We took a step forward today; I don’t care about the score, but the things that we were doing,” said Leith, whose team, now 2-1, hosts Princeton Day School on December 12 before playing in the Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) Tip-Off Tournament from December 14-15 and then hosting Montgomery on December 18.

“We want to improve in all areas. We have a very tough schedule, especially when we get into January, so we can’t afford to skip a beat. We have to continue to look to improve every game, regardless of who we are playing.”

In Fair’s view, the Tartans showed improvement from their performance over the opening weekend of the season.

“I think we built on the Peddie Tournament, even though it was a tough loss on Friday [to Pennington]. We regrouped ourselves and got back together,” said Fair.  “We brought each other back up. It might have taken some time, but eventually we got there.”