A dash of Hollywood and a slice of the NBA will descend upon Golden 1 Center this weekend.
The final days of a high school basketball season that started in November barrels to the finish line with Saturday's capper featuring the homegrown Sheldon Huskies against the CalHi Sports state No. 1-ranked Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth at 8 p.m. in the CIF Open Division finals.
And the difference between these programs perfectly describes the staggering contrast between the SoCal vibe and the easy flow of NorCal. Sheldon has student-athletes who grew up in the neighborhood, or at least within the boundaries of the Elk Grove Unified School District. None are Division I commits, though there are a lot of D-I effort guys. None have famous fathers who earned paychecks running in the NBA. This is as public school as it gets.
Sierra Canyon? Different animal.
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This is a private K-12 school in a swank part of Los Angeles County, located some 25 north of Hollywood. It is where entertainers such as Sean "Diddy" Combs, Kevin Hart, Kris Jenner, Jamie Foxx and Will Smith have sent their children.
It is also where the basketball games are such a huge draw that fans had to squeeze in even earlier this postseason to keep up with the Kardashians. Kim and Kourtney attended a game and reveled in a dunk fest. Tuition for high schoolers runs a tidy $36,250 annually.
The Trailblazers (26-4) welcomed six transfers this season to run the break with Cassius Stanley, a five-star recruit deemed one of the best junior guards in the country. He is the son of longtime sports agent Jerome Stanley. Sierra Canyon trots out a lineup of guys with remarkable athletic genes in the sons of retired NBA players: Scottie Pippen Jr., Duane Washington Jr. (and nephew of one-time Lakers guard Derek Fisher), Kenyon Martin Jr. and Terren Frank, son of Tellis.
Kenyon Martin the elder was a bruising NBA sort, and he pulled his son out of Oaks Christian High of Westlake Village during his freshman season to wake him up academically.
So how is Sheldon supposed to keep up with this group? Simple.
The retired NBA guys aren't eligible any more. Sheldon has knocked off teams dotted with college recruits throughout these playoffs with the timeless formula of moving the ball, attacking the lane and rim, shooting off screens and defending with fierce determination.
Dale Currie doesn't back down from anyone, certainly not the array of stars at Bishop O'Dowd of Oakland in last Saturday's NorCal finals victory in Santa Clara. The same can be said of fellow guards Xavion and Xavier Brown, Dom Johnson and Justin Nguyen and forwards/bigs Ronald Agebsar and Chris Wriedt.
"We just go out and do our thing," Currie said, which translates to this: Compete.
Said Wriedt after beating O'Dowd, "What this says is we can compete with anybody and win—public schools, private schools, Bay Area schools, Fresno schools."
Do we hear schools of the rich and famous?
The only other area team in the finals is a familiar one. West Campus of the Sacramento Unified School District won CIF State girls D-IV honors a year ago, returned the bulk of the roster under coach John Langston, and will play 2 p.m. Friday against Sunny Hills of Fullerton for D-III honors. West Campus is easy to root for. These girls can aptly be scholars and ballers, their academic prowess matched by their basketball skills and efforts.
There will even be a Shaq sighting on Friday during that contest as Shaquille O'Neal expects to squeeze himself into the Golden 1 seats. He might not even need a ticket as he is a minority owner of the Kings, and the father of Shareef O'Neal, one of the country's most tantalizing talents. The young one is a 6-10 dunking and defensive marvel for Crossroads High of Santa Monica, which plays for the Division II title 4 p.m. Friday against Alameda, following West Campus.
Said young O'Neal about having older O'Neal sitting courtside during Saturday's 54-50 win over Birmingham of Lake Balboa in the SoCal Regional finals?
"It's a regular game, nothing different," the kid said. Shareef said he gained his people skills—jovial—from his famous father. Shaq poked his head into his son's locker room amid a team celebration and yelped, "Oh yes!"
We might offer Shaq's emphatic declaration as to whether or not the CIF action is worth a peek this weekend.