Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
In the ever-changing landscape of high school basketball, there is always a wave that is recognized year in and year out. At the present moment in time, there is one name, one team, one group that is very synonymous with the high school scene.
Many can’t talk about high school basketball without talking about Sierra Canyon. The famed basketball squad has been on the rise the last few years and has established themselves as the premier high school team in the state of California and a top-10 perennial powerhouse in the country.
They’re so popular that they’ve even been mentioned on a song by rapper Drake called, “Papi’s Home,” off of his recently-released album, “Certified Lover Boy,” when he stated, “I’m standing at the top, that’s how I know you never seen the top/Sierra Canyon parking lot lookin’ like the Magic City parking lot.”
But to really understand the program and where it comes from, you must break down all the angles around the program to truly understand it.
To call Sierra Canyon a school doesn’t do it justice. It’s an oasis located in Chatsworth, California, outside of the big city lights of Los Angeles. It’s a prestigious institution where the wealthy send their children to get a top-notch education.
The institution serves two types of schools, such as the Lower School (preschool through eighth grade) and the Upper School (high school). Because this is a private school, emphasis on private, everything costs. For pre-k students, an education is at $16,000. For students in kindergarten through sixth grade, tuition is at $30,655. For seventh and eighth-graders, the price is $36,450 and for the high schoolers, it’s at $39,200.
The prices that are charged for this institution are merely on the same level as college tuition. But there is financial aid for students from disadvantaged households. However, the students and families get a bang for their buck, as the students get a great educational experience.
In 1978, the school began with 150 students as the Sierra Canyon Elementary School. In 2001, the enrollment of the school had grown to at least 700 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. The Upper School opened in 2006 and three years later, the school had its first high school graduation.
During the spring, the school has a film festival, which gives young filmmakers a chance to show off their wO is not just a school, but also a haven for kids to accomplish things and exercise their talents while receiving a great education.
You can’t start talking about the program without speaking of its leader. The leader of the Trailblazers is Andre Chevalier, a man with a poker face and a serious attitude when on the court, but off the court is a father-figure, uncle and advocate for his players.
Originally from Landover, Maryland, he moved to North Hollywood, California at the age of 12 with his mother and has been a California resident ever since. In high school, he was an All-City standout at Cleveland High School in Reseda, California, where he graduated in 1990. As a senior, he led the Cavaliers to 22 wins and a league championship.
He would then go on to play collegiate basketball at Cal State University-Northridge from 1990-94, where he was a 1,000-point scorer (1,311 points) and had over 400 assists throughout their four years, before graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Pan-African Studies. In 2016, he was inducted into the CSUN Athletics Hall of Fame.
After college, he would go on to be an assistant at CSUN and then in the 2000’s, he would be a head coach at Cleveland, where he would go on to coach former NBA star Nick Young, and was also in the 2007 documentary, “Second Chance Season,” which was featured on ESPN. In the film, Chevalier advocated for Young to obtain a fifth year of eligibility, due to safety issues.
In the end, Young would be awarded that extra year of eligibility and would go on to average 27.2 points and 10.6 rebounds as a senior in 2003-04 and would go on to earn first-team honors for the CIF L.A. City Section, L.A. Times All-City and San Fernando Valley.
Chevalier would then go on to coach at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, California, which he led to the CIF state championship in 2011. But then, in 2017, he would go on to his current role at Sierra Canyon, a position he holds to the present day.
Since his time at Sierra Canyon, he has helped produce plenty of talented players such as Duane Washington, Jr. (Fort Wayne Mad Ants), Cassius Stanley (Motor City Cruise), Scotty Pippen, Jr. (Vanderbilt University), Kenyon Martin, Jr. (Houston Rockets), Ziaire Williams (Memphis Grizzlies) and Brandon Boston, Jr. (Los Angeles Clippers).
Under Chevalier’s watch, the Trailblazers have grown from an upstart program to one that has national prominence. But in the 2019-20 season, the program stepped it up a notch with their travel schedule as they went to places such as China, Dallas, Texas, Columbus, Ohio, Richmond, Virginia, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Springfield, Massachusetts, and Toms River, New Jersey.
On that 2019-20 team, three players are now playing professional basketball in the NBA or in the NBA G-League. But that team was stacked with players such as Williams, Boston, Zaire Wade (Salt Lake City Stars) and current players such as seniors Shyheim Odom and Amari Bailey and juniors LeBron “Bronny” James, Jr. and Dylan Metoyer. That team went 30-4 during that season until the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the rest of the season.
But even with that assortment of talent, Chevalier kept them level headed, as was shown on Season 1 of the show, “Top Class: The Life & Times of the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers.” In one episode of the show, Chevalier let them know that if they came to play for the glitz and glamor or the notoriety, then that wasn’t the school for them. As much he loves his players, he tries to push his players to be the best that they can. Even now, he’s still pushing them to be successful.
Two years ago, the Trailblazers made a name for themselves as the poster child of a high school basketball program that is dominant and star-studded. This year, it’s more of the same, as they still have James, Bailey, Metoyer and Odom.
The 6-foot-4 Bailey is a player originally from Chicago that has been with the Trailblazers since his freshman season, and has been one of the best guards in the nation since his younger years. Rated as the No. 4 recruit in the Class of 2022 by ESPN, the senior guard is a great playmaker and has great athletic ability. Next season, he will be making noise at UCLA out in the Westwood section of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, he has been sidelined due to injury and has only played in two games this season. Once he’s fully healthy, he will definitely be a player to watch.
The 6-foot-3 James, the eldest son of NBA superstar and Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, has been excelling offensively, and has improved immensely on his overall game since recovering from a meniscus injury during last year’s shortened season. With him, the best is yet to come.
Odom, a 6-foot-5 forward originally from Boston, has been a force since he transferred in as a sophomore. He is a player that is very strong and can hold his own in the post area. His dunks are thunderous and his rebounding is phenomenal.
Metoyer, a 5-foot-9 guard, is a player that can bring the ball up and also set up his teammates for passes that lead to baskets.
Other players worth mentioning on the roster are Kijani Wright, a 6-foot-8 senior forward who is rated as the No. 37 player in the Class of 2022 by ESPN and is committed to USC. Then there’s 6-foot-5 senior forward, Ramel Lloyd, Jr., who is committed to Nebraska. There is also 6-foot-7 junior forward Tim Rudovskiy, 6-foot-3 junior guard Mike Price, 6-foot-8 senior forward Jeremiah Nyarko, 6-foot-6 senior forward Alpha Chibambe and also 6-foot-5 sophomore shooting guard Isaiah Elohim.
Currently, with that assortment of players, the Trailblazers are rated at No. 8 in the ESPN national rankings. A lot of the players, such as Nyarko, Chibambe and Elohim, are all out due to CIF transfer rules. But once they’re eligible, it’s going to be a sight to see.
This season, the Trailblazers have once again stacked the schedule with high-level games. Currently, they have a 9-1 record and have dominated in a majority of their games in the state of California.
The only loss that the team has suffered was at the hands of Duncanville, on Nov. 27th, at the Thanksgiving Hoopfest at the Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, in front of a crowd of about 7,000 spectators. During the game, the Trailblazers struggled against the Panthers pressure defense and would be down by a large deficit at halftime. However, they would come back strong in the third and fourth quarter, only to be done in by some questionable calls and time running out, as the current No. 1 team in the nation, knocked off Sierra Canyon, 80-73.
On Dec. 4th, the Trailblazers played at the Crypto.com Arena in downtown Los Angeles, where they knocked off the St. Vincent-St. Mary (Ohio) squad, 71-53, in the Chosen 1’s Invitational. This past Saturday, they went to the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona, the home of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, and beat the Perry High School team, 65-52.
This past week, they played in the Iolani Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii and steamrolled through the competition, in which they knocked off two of Hawaii’s best in Punahou and the host school, Iolani and also beat and Florida’s Pembroke Pines before advancing to the championship game against Paul VI, a team they lost to a year and a half ago at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts. This time around, the Trailblazers avenged their defeat to the Panthers, 52-49, in the championship game to take home the trophy.
Their first major matchup of the New Year will take place on January 7th as they will be playing Isidore Newman School in the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. During MLK Weekend in mid-January, they will be competing in the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Springfield, Missouri, where the field includes Paul VI, Chicago’s Whitney Young, Milton (Alpharetta, Georgia) and Seattle’s Rainier Beach.
And then the last big game of the season for the Trailblazers will be on Jan. 29th, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where they will play against the legendary Camden High School program out of Camden, New Jersey, who is rated as the No. 6 team in the nation by ESPN and features the No. 1 player in the Class of 2023, D.J. Wagner.
The matchup, which was originally supposed to be at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, was moved to Allentown, because of New York City’s COVID restrictions. The PPL Center, which seats around 8,000 spectators will be expecting a sell-out crowd, and plus, the game will be on ESPNU. But most importantly, the game will be about the sons of two former NBA teammates in James and Wagner, the son of former high school basketball legend and NBA player, Dajuan Wagner, meeting up.
After that, the Trailblazers will be hooping in the CIF State playoffs, where their mission will be to win the state championship.
Earlier this year, on Feb. 26th, the program was immortalized on the show, “Top Class: The Life & Times of the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers,” which was directed by the brand Uninterrupted, and then shown by IMDB.Tv and Amazon Prime, as we saw the triumphs and the struggles of the Trailblazers as they showed a journey of what a big-time high school basketball program looks like.
Last Friday, on Dec. 17th, all six episodes of Season 2 aired and showed the shortened 2021 season, in which the Trailblazers played a minimal amount of games in the spring up to their loss in the California Open Division Tournament. As of now, the third season of the show is currently in production.
This season will be a big test for the Trailblazers, as one question looms. After two years of not playing in a state championship, with their large crew of talent, will they win it all. Time will tell. All we know is that there may never be another program out here like Sierra Canyon.