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Bronny James shows ‘he is a star’ in dominating Las Vegas tournament game

Bronny James palms a basketball while posing for a photo at Sierra Canyon High's media day.
Bronny James didn’t address reporters at Sierra Canyon High’s media day Wednesday but his actions spoke volumes in a Las Vegas tournament win Friday night when he led the Trail Blazers with 31 points.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
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The prince cradled the ball beyond the three-point arc, coolly sizing up his defender as the shot clock called for desperation.

Nothing would faze Sierra Canyon High’s Bronny James this night. This season. Confidence, coach Andre Chevalier made clear, would be no issue for James in his senior year.

“He knows his place on our team,” Chevalier said.

So with the clock ticking six, ticking five, James’ split-second dance began. Hard dribble. Sidestep. Fading on the release. Twine.

It was as nasty as it was clean, a hot hand blazing, his fourth three-pointer of the second half for Sierra Canyon— playing under the name CBC — in a Friday night Border League tournament game at Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas. James one-upped himself again and again to finish with 31 points, following a fast-break tomahawk jam reminiscent of his father, LeBron James, with a catch-and-shoot bomb and three-finger salute to the bench on the very next possession.

As trash talk with hometown Bishop Gorman, playing as LV Orange, zipped back and forth, James stayed poised. He attacked when energy was lacking. He returned to the court when momentum was shifting. And in a near-perfect night — 11-for-13 shooting from the field, six of seven from three — he left little doubt that this was his team.

“When you said he wasn’t the star,” Chevalier said, referencing a Times headline that labeled girls’ senior Juju Watkins as the standout from a Wednesday media day, “he showed you tonight that he is a star.”

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Couldn’t be argued. Not as VIP-ers sat courtside in awe, former NBA player John Jenkins murmuring James had taken over the whole game by himself.

“His feel is ridiculous,” Jenkins said, sizing up his NBA prospects. “Patient. Poised. If he’s shooting like that, he has a real chance, for sure.”

It was the first real game in front of a crowd this Sierra Canyon boys’ team has played, the deepest unit Chevalier’s fielded at the school, he asserted at media day, where James did not speak. And James proved more than capable of both stepping up to fill the void left by departed seniors Amari Bailey, Kijani Wright and Ramel Lloyd while acting as the heartbeat of a team with fresh faces.

“He waited his turn,” senior transfer Ashton Hardaway said.

With CBC’s offense looking disjointed through much of the first half, James turned aggressive. He drove to the basket on two consecutive possessions, drawing fouls on both plays, clapping in the face of an LV Orange player that had some words after the whistle. Sierra Canyon went on a run to bring the score within a point at halftime, then opened up a lead in the second half with James’ barrage of threes — all six coming in the final half.

In between James’ extended brilliance came a run of three straight three-pointers from Hardaway: a catch-and-shoot, a fast-break pullup, and a pump-fake, sidestep shot that prompted a timeout.

And to clarify — Hardaway is 6 feet 8. And he pushed the break and handled the ball from the post.

Hardaway, son of former NBA All-Star and current Memphis coach Penny Hardaway, came from Duncanville (Texas) in the offseason as a versatile wing with a sweet shooting stroke. The shot made itself clear, but Hardaway turned in a generally tremendous all-around performance, pouring in 21 points with punishing interior play while thriving defensively with five steals.

“If he has a bad matchup on the perimeter, then we can post him,” Chevalier said. “If he has a big, he can go outside. And if he’s making his shots, he’s very hard to guard.”

Noah Williams, a 6-foot-7 transfer from Sun Valley Village Christian, also impressed with nine points, including a pretty tipin. Sophomore Bryce Cofield chipped in with some tough finishes around the rim.

All pieces of a preseason puzzle Chevalier has time to sort out, particularly as junior Isaiah Elohim is slated to return in mid-November from a knee injury. But the veteran coach has the centerpiece in James. And if the sweet stroke continues it will only add fuel to red-hot discussions over the senior’s post-Sierra Canyon steps.

“Special, man,” Jenkins said.

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