February 10, 2021

With Senior Fair Showing Her Offensive Prowess, Stuart Basketball Rolls Past PDS, Improves to 4-0

FAIR VALUE: Stuart Country Day School basketball player Laila Fair, center, heads to the basket in recent action. Last Thursday, senior forward Fair had 11 points and nine rebounds as Stuart defeated the Princeton Day School 73-17 to improve to 4-0. In upcoming action, Stuart plays at Rutgers Prep on February 11 and at Cherokee High on February 13 before hosting Paul VI on February 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Even though Laila Fair committed months ago to attend St. Joseph’s and play for its women’s basketball program, she is not on cruise control this winter in her senior campaign for the Stuart Country Day School hoops squad.

“I am not more relaxed, I am working to get better for them,” said senior forward Fair.

“I am working on my offense because I am known as a defensive player. I am also trying to develop my shoot more. I have to get confident shooting it in the game.”

Last Thursday, Fair displayed her all-around game, contributing 11 points and nine rebounds as Stuart rolled to a 73-17 win over the Princeton Day School and improved to 4-0.   

“The main thing that we wanted to do was focus on running  our offense because we need to prepare for our next five, six games against some really highly ranked local games,” said Fair.

“Today we did start a little bit slow but I think we are getting into the rhythm now. So it is getting better as we move on.”

The 6’1 Fair has developed a rhythm in the low post with classmate and fellow 6-footer Ariel Jenkins, who has committed to attend Georgetown University and play for its women’s hoops program.

“We both share the inside-out, I try to go down low because it is easier when she gets the ball up top,” said Fair.

“I feel like she is more versatile, she can really shoot all around. She is able to notice me whenever I am open. I usually drive.”

Clamping down defensively on PDS, Stuart jumped out to a 41-5 halftime lead.

“Today our goal was to focus on traps and the helper,” said Fair.

“I think we did pretty well on the defense except when the other team fast breaks. We have to make sure that we are picking up ball and then get the rim. It is a process.”

Adding three blocked shots to go along with her nine rebounds, Fair helped key the Tartan defense.

“I do take pride being able to guard any position; for the majority of the offenses, coach (Justin Leith) puts me towards the basket as a big person,” said Fair.

“I am able to protect the basket when we are in 1-3-1 zone defense. I am usually in the back because the most athletic person goes in the back.”

Reflecting on Stuart’s 4-0 start, Fair believes the team has found a higher gear offensively.

“Last year we didn’t get that many fast breaks; we weren’t like the go, go, go team,” said Fair.

“Now I feel like we can really run and we have more tempo to our game so that is something I take pride in.”

Stuart head coach Leith liked seeing a number of players get a run against PDS.

“I told the girls, this is about some kids gaining some more confidence so we can play a little bit deeper of a bench,” said Leith, who had 11 players score in the win with senior Nia Melvin tallying 12 points, senior Aleah James adding 10, and sophomore Kayla Glasser-Hyman and freshman Leila Washington chipping in seven apiece.

“We were working on some small stuff in practice, like running our offense, seeing the floor and sharing the ball and playing for each other. It was great to see that with no fans, the girls that play more are enthusiastic on the bench. They were super excited for them. It was a total team effort.”

Leith liked the defensive effort he got from his players. “That was a huge point of emphasis today, really fine-tuning our man-to-man,” said Leith, noting that his squad is facing a gauntlet of high-powered foes in the next week, playing at Trenton Catholic on February 9, at Rutgers Prep on February 11, and at Cherokee High on February 13 before hosting Paul VI on February 16.

“We only played man in the first quarter and we did some trapping; things that we worked on in practice the last couple of days so we can bring those into next week. We are not going to be able to play zone against Trenton Catholic or Rutgers Prep. They are both just too good of a shooting team and so is Cherokee.”

Fair’s good play was another bright spot for the Tartans. “Laila is really working on fine-tuning her game,” said Leith.

“She is getting out in the perimeter more, she is running the floor and she is doing a great job defensively.”

Looking ahead to the challenges of the next week, Leith believes his squad will raise the level of its game.

“They are all teams that are in the top 10, top five in the state, we now have the most difficult schedule in New Jersey,” said Leith. “I think we are in a good place to take a big step forward.”

In Fair’s view, the Tartans are poised to step up. “We definitely have to work on boxing out even though we have two tall people, teams like Trenton Catholic have some big people,” said Fair.

“I also know that we have to focus on our passing, moving the ball. What happens with our team is that we end up telegraphing our passes so it is easier for the other team to intercept it. We need to work on being more versatile.”