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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Sierra Canyon took the court 45 minutes before their game Saturday night in front of a crowd with hundreds of cell phones out, fans just trying to get a glimpse of the super team from California. Tickets for the Hoophall Classic sold out in early January and the small gym was packed to the rafters with over 3,000 fans despite the roads being covered with five inches of snow from earlier in the evening.
It was Sierra Canyon’s eighth road trip this season, as they’ve racked up more than 38,000 miles through the air. You read that correctly. A high school basketball team has traveled 38,000 miles in five months — and that’s only counting air travel.
Nestled in a small suburb north of Los Angeles, Sierra Canyon is a private school with a long list of NBA alumni and celebrities, including Kylie and Kendall Jenner, Sacramento Kings center Marvin Bagley III and children of NBA players Scottie Pippen and Kenyon Martin. Funding has never been an issue and the team has traveled domestically for plenty of games in the past.
This season, they’ve gone overseas. Junior center Harold Yu is from Hangzhou, China, and head coach Andre Chevalier wanted Yu to play in front of friends and family, while also giving the other players on the team the chance to experience a different culture and playing environment.
“What Harold goes through every day with different food, the language barrier and a different culture, I wanted his teammates to walk in his shoes to see what it’s like for him here in America,” Chevalier told Yahoo Sports.
What Chevalier didn’t anticipate when booking the overseas trip to China were the four transfer players he would add to his roster over the summer. LeBron James’ son Bronny James, Dwyane Wade’s son Zaire Wade and top-10 seniors B.J. Boston and Ziaire Williams all made the move to Chatsworth. Before the season even started, Sierra Canyon became the third most popular basketball team in Los Angeles behind the Lakers and the Clippers and the most hyped high school team in the nation, with ESPN announcing it would be airing 15 out of 28 games during the season.
“Scheduling became a little more tricky after all our transfers came in,” Chevalier said. “We were already committed to a few tournaments on the West Coast and I was going to honor that commitment no matter who we added to the team.”
There was a tournament in San Diego to start the season, as well as in Phoenix, Arizona and Las Vegas — all relatively easy trips for a team to make from Los Angeles. But then a game was scheduled against Marshall High School in Richmond, Virginia, for Dec. 21. The team took a redeye cross-country flight from Las Vegas to Richmond five days before Christmas.
“The travel affects us a little bit,” Ziaire Williams said. “Just being tall and having to sit in those seats on planes for a few hours is tough. But honestly, we’re all just enjoying it and it’s been a lot of fun to travel as a team.”
Williams is ranked as the No. 6 recruit in the nation and is one of five players on the team who is 6-foot-5 or taller. But Williams is flying in luxury compared to Sierra Canyon center Harold Yu, who is listed at 7-foot-3. “It’s a little bit harder for me to travel since my legs don’t really fit on the airplane seats,” Yu said with a laugh. “I try to ask for an exit row seat each flight and fortunately I’ve been put in the exit row every flight so far.”
Imagine Yu on a 16-hour flight to China during the preseason. “That flight was pretty bad. I’m not going to lie,” Yu added. The flight from Los Angeles to Shanghai was the longest flight anyone on the team has ever taken, and it made all the domestic flights a piece of cake during the season. “After that China trip, we were all fine on airplanes and no flight felt long anymore. Minneapolis? Cool. Columbus? Boston? No problem,” Boston said.
Sierra Canyon started the new year with a trip to Minneapolis and was in Springfield, Massachusetts, this past weekend for two games. The team took four road trips in December and will finish with a trip to New Jersey after league play in February.
The Trailblazers have logged more road miles than any Power Five Division I college team and have more frequent-flyer miles than Duke and Kentucky combined. Even compared to a team like Baylor, which took an international trip to Italy and had a game up in Anchorage, Sierra Canyon has logged more miles.
Every gym and arena the Trailblazers visit, the game sells out. Whether that’s 1,000 tickets for a home game or 17,000 tickets in Minneapolis, where the team played against Gonzaga commit Jalen Suggs and top junior Chet Holmgren. The first home game in Chatsworth sold out in 32 minutes and fans never know who they’ll see sitting in the stands. Rams running back Todd Gurley, rapper Trippie Red and fathers LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have all made appearances.
Most spectators buy a ticket to get a first look at Bronny James. With 4.1 million Instagram followers, the freshman is more popular on social media than NBA players Joel Embiid, Ja Morant and Draymond Green. James carries himself so well on the court and in games that it’s easy to see glimpses of his father’s freakish athleticism.
Even with the star power on the team, Sierra Canyon travels like any other high school team with a few exceptions. The whole team flies coach but they do travel with a couple security guards.
“There are definitely a few people at the airport and on the planes that try to get autographs and pictures, but we have our security guards with us to take care of things like that so it doesn’t get too out of hand,” Williams said.
In this age of social media where elite high school basketball players are internet celebrities, the security is a must. Companies like Ballislife, OVERTIME and Slam Online generate millions of streams making these players godlike to young basketball fans around the country.
Boston and Williams will most likely hear Adam Silver call their name in the 2021 NBA draft. Boston is a five-star shooting guard headed to Kentucky next year and Williams is still undecided, with Arizona, USC, North Carolina, Stanford and Oregon still in the mix. Sierra Canyon’s rigorous travel schedule benefits the two high-profile seniors the most.
“This season is for sure preparing me for college,” Boston said. “Just with managing our time and balancing schoolwork and being on the road, it’s a lot like the college season.”
But Chevalier didn’t plan the nine road games for just his two five-star seniors and the Division I players on his team.
“My goal for all my players is to prepare them for the next level. Whether that’s getting them used to being on the road half the season in college or the pros or just learning how to be good at time management and building good habits once they’re out of high school,” Chevalier told Yahoo Sports.
The Trailblazers gave basketball fans in the Northeast a show Saturday night. It was dunk after dunk, true to the team’s fast-paced transition offense and full-court trap defense. Boston finished with 17 points — including this dunk that brought the house down — while Williams added 14 points.
Sierra Canyon took a six-hour flight back to Los Angeles on Monday night and will prepare for a game against Winward High School on Thursday evening. The players will have a full day of class and practice on Tuesday while dealing with jet lag and the three-hour time difference.
It’s the new normal for Sierra Canyon. An international trip to start the season when every other high school team in the country is playing league fall ball. At least six road games across the country, drawing huge crowds, and sometimes selling more tickets than NBA games. “We’re going to continue to travel. This isn’t a one-year thing,” Chevalier said. “We want our players to get the best competition not just in California but across the country.”
And with Bronny James having three more years of high school basketball, any Sierra Canyon game, wherever it is across the globe, will be the hottest ticket in town.
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