Sierra Canyon’s Amari Bailey always rises to the challenge

Amari Bailey elevates for a dunk.
Amari Bailey heads toward one of his multiple dunks in Sierra Canyon’s 103-80 win over Culver City this past season.
(Myung Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Amari Bailey walked down the court, his back to the free-throw shooter. His hands were on his hips, his disposition one of frustration. With less than two minutes to go in Chatsworth Sierra Canyon’s 82-76 loss to Etiwanda in the Southern California Open Division regional basketball playoffs, Bailey had just committed a foul that grew the Trailblazers’ deficit to 11.

Though his night wasn’t over — Bailey added a baseline dunk as part of a comeback effort that fell short — the 6-foot-5 junior trudged off the court minutes later, season over.

“There was a point in time where we cut the lead,” Bailey said later. “We tied the game.”

That effort came mostly on the back of Bailey, The Times’ boys’ basketball player of the year. After taking a fall that led to a slow start, Bailey came alive in the second quarter, scoring 13 points on his way to 37 in the game. Though it came in a losing effort, Bailey’s performance encapsulated a season in which he did everything and then some for Sierra Canyon.

“Amari’s a monster,” Trailblazers coach Andre Chevalier said. “Yeah, man. He’s special.”

In 18 games this season, Bailey averaged 29.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 6.5 assists. With Sierra Canyon‘s roster diminished by injuries, Chevalier estimated that during the course of the postseason, his star player was on the bench for a total of three or four minutes.

Sierra Canyon's Amariz Bailey goes up for a dunk during a playoff game against St. John Bosco in May.
(Nick Koza)

“He feels like when he’s out there, no matter who’s on his team [or] the other teams that being out there gives his team the best opportunity to win and so he just has a mentality that he’s gonna do whatever it takes,” Chevalier said. “If that means playing the full 32 minutes, then he’s gonna do that.”

There is no stat that measures highlights created per game, but if there was, Bailey might be among the leaders. Against Etiwanda, with Sierra Canyon trailing in the third quarter, the UCLA commit put together a personal 6-0 run, capped with a spinning layup around a defender that gave the Trailblazers a rare lead.

“People think that it’s flashy. It’s something that I actually work on in practice every day,” Bailey said. “Just having different ways of finishing, obviously. That did get the crowd involved. I try to give out a show and give people their money’s worth every time they come out and watch a Sierra Canyon basketball game.”

When asked where he’s tried to improve the most this year, Bailey mentioned his jumper. More importantly, Chevalier noted, Bailey made noticeable strides during the season’s protracted COVID-19 shutdown.

“I know that Amari was one of the few during COVID that really took advantage of his ability to work on his weaknesses and improve his game, become a better player,” Chevalier said. “It was very impressive to see his transition from being third or fourth option on his freshman and sophomore teams to being the primary guy. And the number one scorer and dealing with double teams and box-and-ones, and how he — no matter what the other team threw at him — he just kept going.”

Though Sierra Canyon’s season ended earlier than they wanted, Bailey’s contributions won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

“He was amazing,” Chevalier said. “Absolutely amazing in every way.”