He’s had moments, but this month will bring best assessment of Bronny James
Noah Williams mimed the dunk a few days later, cycling an invisible ball between his legs, eyes still wide.
“He’s not from here,” the Chatsworth Sierra Canyon junior said of senior teammate Bronny James, shaking his head. “He’s something different.”
James had flipped a switch in the third quarter of a win over West Hills Chaminade on Jan. 6, capping a 12-point stretch in the span of three minutes with a roof-rocking tomahawk jam. So when he forced a fourth-quarter steal and visibly down-shifted into sport mode, a crowded Sierra Canyon gym held its breath.
A couple of steps inside the free-throw line, James elevated, brought the ball between his legs and slammed it. Belief suspended. His teammates spilled onto the court in jubilation, Williams clasping his hands over his mouth, coach Andre Chevalier gesturing frantically at a trainer to get back to the sideline like a parent scolding a child.
“Transcendent … there was a couple of minutes where there was everybody else on the court,” assistant coach Chris Howe said, “and there was Bronny James.”
It was a moment. James’ career at Sierra Canyon has been defined by them, by the viral moments that sew together a brilliant tapestry of his journey. Squint and fans will see what they’re looking for: a basketball prince and son of Lakers star LeBron James. The next, great prodigy.
“He is the heart of Sierra Canyon basketball,” Howe said at the school’s senior night Jan. 11.
Yet take a step back. Look closer. The tapestry is unfinished.
James averaged 20 points in a three-game stretch against Chaminade, Marietta (Ga.) Wheeler and L.A. Loyola, looking the part of an aggressive, go-to-scorer who could take over when needed.
He then scored four points against Encino Crespi, shooting two for seven from the field, and 13 in a Monday loss to Miami (Fla.) Columbus.
Pressure is mounting and bigger moments are on the horizon, and given the family’s efforts to shield their eldest son from speaking to the media, it’s anyone’s guess how James is handling it. The playoffs, and a stacked Southern Section, are looming for Sierra Canyon (17-4) in a matter of weeks.
According to a person with knowledge of the situation not authorized to speak publicly, James will make a decision on his college commitment after the season, and his top three schools are Ohio State — his father’s favorite — USC and Oregon. LeBron James, 38, recently doubled down on previous remarks that he wants to finish his NBA career playing with his son.
The path has been laid. Yet 3½ years into his high school career, it’s still unclear who exactly Bronny James is going to be.
Is he a big-time scorer, a leader-to-be with NBA-ready potential at the NCAA Division I level? Or is he a complementary role player, someone who occasionally busts out of the shadows with a highlight?
As much as this was billed as James’ season — now a four-year varsity player having played behind Amari Bailey, Brandon Boston Jr., KJ Martin, Zaire Williams and other Trailblazers stars — Sierra Canyon still has other standouts. Memphis commit Ashton Hardaway is emerging as a big-time shooter. Junior Isaiah Elohim can consistently score from the midrange. The entire rotation of a particularly deep Trailblazers team has college-level potential.
Since a return from a holiday tournament in Oregon, something has shifted in the young James. He’s more vocal, on the court and behind the scenes. He directs traffic. He controls tempo. Sierra Canyon feeds off his motor, Williams said, off James’ one-handed snatches of rebounds and decision-making in transition.
“Whenever we’re sped up or we don’t know anything, we kind of just look to [James] to figure it out,” said senior Jimmy Oladokun, who is a 6-foot-8 force inside.
That’s not a moment too soon for Sierra Canyon. Studio City Harvard-Westlake (20-1) looms Friday, Sherman Oaks Notre Dame (14-7) will challenge with a high-octane offense Jan. 27 at Pauley Pavilion, and the Southern Section Open Division playoffs next month will be a dogfight.
“He’s just starting to see who he is, and know what he is,” Chevalier said.
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