A minor panic set in on Twitter on Saturday evening. The game feed on the ESPN App was out, so viewers trying to watch Chatsworth Sierra Canyon’s much-anticipated game against Akron (Ohio) St. Vincent-St. Mary saw only a message about technical difficulties.
It only served to highlight the clamor for Sierra Canyon boys’ basketball.
Because of the frenzy that follows them, the Trailblazers have found themselves in big-game situations where opponents target them, fans greet them as if they were more than a group of high school kids, and a national audience watches their games.
Some might consider it a distraction. Sierra Canyon coach Andre Chevalier considers it preparation.
“I don’t know why I was crazy enough to come to everybody’s city and play a top team,” Chevalier said. “But I think they can handle it. And it’s going to prepare us for the playoffs and hopefully be the thing that propels us to win a CIF state championship.”
Until Saturday, their biggest stage had been against Texas high school Duncanville, where around 12,000 people saw Sierra Canyon‘s 66-63 victory. The Trailblazers have plenty more awaiting them. Remaining on their schedule are nationally ranked teams The Patrick School, Paul VI and Long Island Lutheran — all games that will be nationally broadcast.
“I knew it was going to be big,” said Brandon Boston Sr., the father of five-star senior wing B.J. Boston. “But I didn’t know it was going to be this big.”
Sierra Canyon, which hosted a midnight madness in the style of college teams and a media day this year, is not new to fielding talented basketball players.
The prep school, which opened its high school in 2006, made headlines with the arrival of Marvin Bagley III, who transferred there for 2016-17 and became the No. 2 NBA draft pick in 2018 after a year at Duke. Sons of former NBA stars Scottie Pippen and Kenyon Martin helped Sierra Canyon win the first of consecutive CIF Open Division state titles in 2018 and ’19.
The national interest in Sierra Canyon comes for a variety of reasons. This season’s team features the sons of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Bronny and Zaire. It also features two five-star 2020 prospects in Boston and Ziaire Williams, and highly rated guard Amari Bailey, who will be part of the class of 2022.
Boston enrolled at Sierra Canyon this year after starting his high school career in his home state of Georgia. His parents, sister and cousin moved with him and all three children attend the school. He’ll play at perennial powerhouse Kentucky next year.
“It’s going to be a smooth transition,” Boston’s mother, Alissa, said. “He has that advantage coming in. He’ll be used to bright lights and big stages.”
Two kids who were used to the glare of the spotlight before Sierra Canyon were Bronny James and Zaire Wade.
Chevalier made it clear when they joined the team this year they weren’t going to get any special treatment. As the season’s gone on, he’s learned that they don’t want it.
“He don’t really like the attention. He wants to be a basketball player. I don’t think he wants to be dealing with the people,” Chevalier said of James, after the freshman played his best game of the season Saturday against his father’s alma mater.
“A lot of times he just keeps his head down and goes out to warm up and wants to do well. Every day he’s learning and every day he’s getting better. You see his confidence start to bolster and his head is coming up.”
Saturday night’s game was their most well attended of the season, with LeBron James sitting courtside for the first time. And as often happens for the Trailblazers, who have only played two of their eight games as the home team, and just one on their own campus, the crowd was against them.
It was on the older players to make sure the team was ready for the moment.
“I just tell them there’s a lot of people here, we’ve gotta play like we’ve been here before,” Boston said.
Chevalier’s message of collaboration has resonated.
“You have to win collectively as a unit,” Bailey said. “Coach says it all the time, we’re not good enough to win by ourselves, so that’s all that matters.”
In the 17 years since LeBron James’ first nationally broadcast high school game, things sure have changed. Back then, organizers had to convince networks that it was a good idea.
Now there is demand.
Sierra Canyon‘s coaches and players hope that demand sharpens them.