CHATSWORTH, Calif. – Sierra Canyon, an uber-swanky private school, sits roughly 22 miles north of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but it might as well be clear across the country. It’s quiet and discrete, an ethereal wonderland in stark contrast to Tinseltown glam and glitz, presenting an ideal cover for the children of A-List celebs.
Kevin Hart, Anthony Anderson, Will Smith, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Kris Jenner, Jamie Foxx and Berry Gordy, among many other athletes and entertainers, enrolled their kids in the kindergarten-through-12th-grade school, yet this year it’s the Trailblazers’ basketball team producing the star power.
The roster reads like a page in the NBA record book. Scotty Pippen Jr., son of Hall of Famer Scottie Sr.; Duane Washington Jr., son of former NBA player Duane Sr. and nephew of 18-year retired L.A. Lakers star Derek Fisher; Kenyon Martin Jr., son of 15-year retired NBA veteran Kenyon Martin Sr.; and Terren Frank, son of former NBA player Tellis Frank, all transferred in this season to lace ‘em up for the Trailblazers.
In all, six players joined, including Cassius Stanley, a five-star junior guard ranked No. 11 overall in the ESPN 60 and the son of longtime NBA and NFL sports agent Jerome Stanley.
That gives new meaning to the cliché sports phrase championship pedigree, with 11 NBA titles between the group’s fathers and uncles, the most, by far, of any roster in the country.
“Eleven is a lot for one team,” said Terren Frank, a sophomore forward. “That’s a lot for two teams!”
Now the challenge for Sierra Canyon’s first-year coach Andre Chevalier is to mold the elite group into a championship team while balancing the rigors of an elite academic school.
“Clearly, they’re from families that have had great success in their pro careers,” Chevalier said. “We have the same culture of success. Here, our guys are pushed on the court, but they’re competing in the classroom too. That’s one of the things that was attractive to the guys and their parents.”
Especially Kenyon Sr., who famously yanked Kenyon Jr. out of Oaks Christian School (Westlake Village, Calif.) during his freshman year because he was falling short academically.
“That taught me a valuable lesson, that books come before everything,” said Kenyon Jr., a junior forward. “I appreciate a school like Sierra Canyon a lot more now. This school isn’t like any school I’ve ever been to.”
Sierra Canyon’s demographic breakdown alone makes that an understatement. More than half of the school’s population is African American, Indian American, Asian American, Hispanic, multiracial, Middle Eastern and international students, making Sierra Canyon one of the most diverse schools in the country.
Plus, what other school can say Stevie Wonder performed a three-hour benefit concert with Jamie Foxx and Howie Mandel serving as emcees under a tent for 500 people on the then-undeveloped land to raise money to start the school?
“It’s the best,” said Stanley, who also attended Sierra Canyon in elementary school. “I left in the seventh grade and came back because this was home.”
Sierra Canyon has become a national sports power almost overnight.
Since the high school opened in 2005, the Trailblazers have won nine state titles in five different sports, including a basketball title in 2015. Duke freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III led Sierra Canyon to a 27-3 record last season and would be a senior this year had he not headed to college a year early. Bagley III is projected as a top pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
“We want to be the Duke of high schools,” said head of school Jim Skrumbis. “The goal was to marry high-level academics and high-level athletics.”
Sierra Canyon’s veteran players are convinced the addition of the pros’ kids will make the hunt for hardware more attainable. William Washington, a senior guard, said playing with the sons of former pros makes the game “a lot easier.”
“They just see things that everyone else can’t see, whether it’s a pass or anticipating a play they just seem to know,” Washington said. “It’s definitely in the bloodlines.”
Stanley, who becomes eligible Jan. 2 under transfer relocation rules, said the team hasn’t experienced the infamous chemistry curve that most newly assembled teams struggle through. Sierra Canyon is 5-1 with a tournament championship.
“It’s like we’ve played together for years,” Stanley said. “I feel like the chemistry grows every practice, so that’s big. One of the best parts is having all of those former legends in the stands at games and practices.”
The former pros are low-key during games, all but Kenyon Martin Sr., who is almost as passionate as a basketball dad as he was as a player.
In the Trailblazers’ 80-78 overtime loss to No. 22 Shadow Mountain (Phoenix) at the American Family Insurance Spalding Hoophall West, the only former pro more animated than Kenyon Sr. was Shadow Mountain coach Mike Bibby, who played 14 years in the NBA.
“My dad gets going sometimes,” Kenyon Jr. said. “That’s just who he is. He wants us all to play at our best.”
There’s a contrast in styles during the inevitable postgame car ride game breakdown as well. Kenyon Jr. said his dad focuses on what he did well and sprinkles in the things that he could work on. Duane Washington Jr. said his dad and uncle give a consistent balance between the pros and cons, same with the Franks. Scotty Pippen Jr. said his dad “is my biggest critic.”
“To my dad, I never have a good game,” said Scotty Jr., a junior guard. “He nitpicks everything, but I know he’s just trying to motivate me. I listen because I know he knows a lot better than me.”
Safe bet for a man who can’t fit all his NBA title rings on one hand.
That’s why Chevalier welcomes the occasional chime-in from the former pros, although he’s quick to point out “they’ve been pretty hands-off.”
The understated Chevalier has 21 years of head coaching experience and a strong playing background in his own right. Chevalier graduated from Cal State Northridge in 1994 holding four records (scoring, steals, assists and free throws), and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame last year.
He’s also gained experience coaching the sons of legends, having coached two-time NBA champion Kenny Smith’s son K.J.
“They come to the practice and watch, but they haven’t said anything yet,” Chevalier said of the former pros. “Luckily, the four guys I’m dealing with are good people and they get that the high school game is a lot different from the NBA. It’s been great. They offer a perspective for the players that you can’t imagine.”
That’s been one of the most rewarding parts for Duane Washington Jr., a senior who transferred from Grand Rapids (Mich.) Christian to be close to Fisher before he heads to Ohio State next year. Merely listening to pointers after practices and games is elevating his game.
“These guys know everything that we want to know,” Washington said. “We’d be crazy not to soak up as much as possible. They bring a lot of attention at games, but we’re used to that.”
The star power won’t be a problem for the home crowd either.
Daniel Messinger, a senior forward, has attended Sierra Canyon since kindergarten, giving him a front-row seat for all the red-carpet clientele that have walked the halls.
A couple of former NBA legends with rings?
A mere Sierra Canyon Monday.
“When I found out Scottie Pippen was at practice, it’s like, ‘Oh cool,’” Messinger said. “And I’m a big fan. Anywhere else in the country that would shut the school down. Here, not so much. We can just focus on winning.”