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Sierra Canyon’s ‘Juju farewell tour’ faces toughest test Saturday



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Two months in the past, when her Chatsworth Sierra Canyon Excessive’s workplace was filled with containers of jerseys and a run at back-to-back state championships was hypothetical, Eleventh-year women’ basketball coach Alicia Komaki leaned in opposition to her desk and mused that — gasp — the Trailblazers would possibly really lose a couple of video games this season.

She knew going into the season that it will be the hardest schedule any of her groups had performed. And Sierra Canyon performed 13 straight video games to start out the season in opposition to out-of-state groups, three of which have been ranked in ESPN’s nationwide prime 25. They didn’t play a house sport till the top of December. Komaki half-joked she slept in her personal mattress solely thrice final month.

So she took it a step additional.

“I believe it’s the hardest schedule anyone’s ever put collectively,” Komaki mentioned.

There was a particular alternative this season, Komaki mentioned, to place collectively that schedule in nationwide anticipation of transcendent USC commit Juju Watkins’ senior season, which the coach has dubbed the “Juju farewell tour.”

By some means, the tour bus hasn’t hit a single pothole. The Trailblazers have gone 14-0 however will face their hardest check but Saturday, taking up a 16-1 La Jolla Nation Day workforce within the Chosen-1s Invitational at USC’s Galen Middle — Watkins’ stomping floor subsequent season.

Might Saturday carry that first loss Komaki anticipated?

“One-thousand p.c,” Komaki mentioned. “They’re one of many prime 5 groups within the nation. We’re not untouchable. And that’s form of the enjoyable a part of this yr is, we’re not simply doing this [schedule] understanding we’re mechanically getting wins in all places we go.”

The Sierra Canyon-La Jolla women sport is at 6:30 p.m., a part of a schedule of 4 video games within the LeBron James- and Nike-sponsored event. The Santa Ana Mater Dei women and boys play the Akron (Ohio) St. Vincent-St. Mary, women and boys at 3 and 4:30 p.m., respectively, whereas the Sierra Canyon boys tackle Marietta (Ga.) Wheeler at 8 p.m.

Saturday might carry among the finest video games in latest women’ basketball showdowns. The final three Nation Day-Sierra Canyon video games, courting to 2019-20, have been determined by a complete of 4 factors. This season options two of one of the best groups in every program’s historical past, cores intact and improved from the Trailblazers’ one-point win over the Torreys within the CIF Open Division state event final yr.

Again for Nation Day are 4 gamers averaging double figures: the athletic Taj Roberts, shooter and UC San Diego commit Sumayah Sugapong, artful guard and NIL star Jada Williams, and 6-foot-4 inside presence Breya Cunningham. Williams and Cunningham are each dedicated to Arizona, and share a particular level guard-big connection — La Jolla coach Terri Bamford referred to as Cunningham, who averages 19.4 factors and a pair of.8 blocks a sport, “among the finest put up gamers within the nation.”

As all the time, La Jolla’s protection should throw the kitchen sink at Watkins — nevertheless it’s not that straightforward. Final yr, Bamford mentioned, they tried to double workforce Watkins through the use of Cunningham to assist off Sierra Canyon senior ahead Crystal Wang. It didn’t work. Wang, a proficient scorer who simply led the Trailblazers with 21 factors in opposition to Studio Metropolis Harvard-Westlake on Tuesday, had “the sport of her life,” Bamford remembered.

Guard Izela Arenas, junior daughter of former NBA All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas, modifications gears and instructions on her drives to the rim like a Chevrolet from the “Quick & Livid” motion pictures. And Mackenly Randolph, junior daughter of former All-Star ahead Zach Randolph, has honed an inside-out sport and is relentless on the boards.

Plus, the Trailblazers have an intriguing piece to throw at Cunningham in freshman middle Emilia Krstevski, who held her personal in an early-season matchup in opposition to South Grand Prairie (Texas) and star junior middle Adhel Tac.

“Placing that form of expertise on show … folks can be enthusiastic about it,” Bamford mentioned. “It’s enjoyable basketball, it’s high-scoring basketball. I believe as position fashions for each excessive faculties, youthful gamers rising up proper now watching them play, [it] evokes younger children to be, ‘Hey, I wish to be like that.’”

Others to observe

— Mater Dei 6-foot guard Addison Deal, a summer season switch from Santa Monica Pacifica Christian, is without doubt one of the prime guards within the nation. She’s a triple-double risk flanked by senior guard and Concordia commit Hannah Vela and senior guard and Tennessee Chattanooga commit Caia Elisaldez on a deep 13-2 Monarch women’ workforce that’s only a tier beneath Sierra Canyon and Etiwanda within the Southern Part women’ basketball hierarchy.

—The Sierra Canyon boys aren’t the one workforce on the Chosen-1’s Invitational with royal bloodlines. The 13-2 Mater Dei boys embrace freshman Cole Leinart, son of USC Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart; freshman Malloy Smith, son of NBA champion Kenny Smith; and freshman Che Brogan, son of Mater Dei nice Tom Lewis. Brogan, particularly, is a 6-6 standout making a right away affect on a younger Monarchs workforce.

—USC hoops followers in attendance may have loads to get enthusiastic about. They’ll see future Trojans in Watkins and 2023 USC males’s commits Isaiah Collier and Arrinten Web page, proficient gamers for an 8-4 Wheeler workforce that’ll give the Trailblazer boys one in all their hardest opponents of the season.