Since its inception in 2013, the CIF Open Division has widely been considered the most competitive playoff division for boys basketball in California.
For years, the elusive Open Division title had eluded the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers. However, that all changed this past season with the hiring of new head coach Andre Chevalier and a complete roster overhaul comprised of six transfer students.
Sierra Canyon raced through the Open Division capped off by a decisive 75-62 victory over Sheldon High (Sacramento) in the championship game.
Now, with the summer season coming to a close and the school year rapidly approaching, the team’s goal to repeat as state champions is coming into focus. Gone is starting point guard Duane Washington Jr., who will take his talents to Ohio State. Incoming is a variety of new faces that will hope to aid Sierra Canyon in its quest for a repeat title.
In the frontcourt, the Trailblazers will add a pair of 7-footers. Junior Christian Koloko transferred from nearby Birmingham High (Los Angeles) and sophomore Yi Jia-Hao (Harold) arrived from China. Andrew Austin, a 6-foot-6 senior who transferred from West Ranch High in Valencia, will also add depth to the Sierra Canyon roster.
The newcomers have already gained some valuable experience with their new teammates in several summer games, and their impact is being felt. Senior guard Cassius Stanley has been particularly impressed with the added dimension of having two 7-footers on the roster.
“I see so much potential. Our two bigs are just scratching the surface, they don’t even know what they can do,” Stanley said. “Our big man Harold, he’s got so many different moves that no one sees. I see little glimpses of it in practice. Christian Koloko, he’s a rim protector, he can do everything. His length throws everybody off. He’s getting from half-court to the opposite corner and blocking shots. He’s athletic, it works perfectly. They’re both just great in their own way.”
Both players figure to get regular minutes in the rotation, and in Koloko’s case, there’s a good chance that he’ll be playing in the starting line-up at center. He’s a quick and athletic big man who can wreak havoc in the paint and step outside to score from the perimeter as well.
This is just Koloko’s second season of high school basketball, having played at Birmingham last season after coming over to the United States from Cameroon. Despite that, he’s already picked up Division 1 offers from Arizona, Cal, Creighton, Harvard, Long Beach State, Northwestern, Princeton, Santa Clara, UC Davis, and Vanderbilt.
“They’re really good,” Koloko said about his new teammates. “Cassius, K.J, Scotty, they’re all good players. We have a really good coach, it’s a good team and I’m very excited about it… I’m going to bring my size. I can rebound, I can block shots, and run the floor– even though I’m 7-feet… I can shoot too… I think I can help this team get another title this year.”
While the Trailblazers are certainly welcoming of new weapons, they’ll also look to internal development as they prepare for the 2018-19 season.
One player, in particular, who’s developed nicely since his arrival at Sierra Canyon last year from Harvard-Westlake, is junior Terren Frank.
Frank has expanded his offensive repertoire and developed into more of a point-forward. He’s playing more aggressively by initiating fast breaks where he’s able to find open teammates or finish the break himself. He’s also taking defenders off the dribble and knocking down pull-up jumpers with more consistency.
“I’m working on my all-around game,” Frank said about his development. “Dribbling and shooting, being able to score at every level from the post and outside, that’s what I’ve been working on. I’m playing defense, scoring when they need me to score, finding the open man, just being able to do everything.”
As his game has evolved, Frank has also picked up Division 1 offers from Arizona State, USC and Western Kentucky. He played the center position at times last season, but with the new arrivals, he’ll likely see the majority of his minutes at forward.
And obviously, one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle will be the continued development of seniors Cassius Stanley, KJ Martin, Scotty Pippen Jr. and L Simpson.
Stanley knows, as well as anybody, that it’s time for him to step-up and be a leader on this year’s team.
“It’s just basically keeping everybody together,” Stanley said. “It’s like a coach on the court, just talking all the time and just keeping everything together really.”
Stanley had a busy summer playing with Team WhyNot on the Nike EYBL circuit. He also trimmed his recruiting list to six schools with Arizona, Kansas, Oregon, Texas, UCLA and USC all making the cut.
Stanley also has been working hard on his game. The highlight reels of his dunks are numerous, but that’s far from all he can do. He attacks the rim relentlessly, finishing plays or getting to the free-throw line. He’s also excellent at finding teammates in transition or pulling-up with ease to knockdown the open jumper.
Stanley spent much of his summer improving by competing against college and professional players.
“This summer I’ve been playing in the Drew League and playing at UCLA with pros and college guys,” Stanley said. “I’m just trying to bring maturity to the court and just pick up some of the things that the veterans teach me on the weekends when I’m at UCLA or the Drew League and just implement it out here.”
An even more confident and mature Cassius Stanley is bad news for his competition this upcoming season.
There’s still some time before the start of the season, but as of now, Sierra Canyon is certainly feeling good about its repeat title hopes.