One of the most memorable nights in Southern California high school basketball history took place at USC’s Galen Center on Feb. 24, 2017, before a sold-out crowd of 10,258. It was a doubleheader in the Southern Section Open Division playoffs that would feature nearly two dozen future college players and five future NBA players among the four teams participating.
“It was one of the greatest nights in Southern California basketball history considering the quality of the teams and the environment,” Torrance Bishop Montgomery coach Doug Mitchell said.
The games matched No. 1-seeded Chatsworth Sierra Canyon against No. 4 Bishop Montgomery and No. 2 Chino Hills against No. 3 Santa Ana Mater Dei. On Craigslist, two courtside seats that were priced at $40 were offered for $500 each. The future NBA players involved were LaMelo Ball and Onyeka Okongwu of Chino Hills, Bol Bol of Mater Dei, Marvin Bagley III of Sierra Canyon and Jordan Schakel of Bishop Montgomery.
Five years later, everyone claims to have been at Galen Center. The games were that good. The players participating were that outstanding. The drama was that unforgettable.
“It was probably in my 25 years the highlight for a single event,” said Southern Section spokesman Thom Simmons, who moved the semifinals to Galen Center because of fan interest. “It was crazy. It was electric and sold out within five minutes of tickets going on sale. “
Sierra Canyon coach Andre Chevalier, who was an assistant for the Trailblazers, remembers the bus pulling up at Galen Center and being stunned by what he was seeing. “I remember turning the corner coming from the freeway and seeing the line stretched around Galen Center,” he said. “It was the best high school basketball event I’ve been to in Los Angeles.”
The first game saw Bishop Montgomery upset Sierra Canyon 70-63. The Trailblazers were ranked No. 1 in the nation at one point that season. Their players included future college standouts Remy Martin and Cody Riley. Bagley was unstoppable, scoring 28 points. Bishop Montgomery featured Ethan Thompson, David Singleton, Gianni Hunt and Fletcher Tynen, all of whom would played in college. Schakel, who’d star at San Diego State, delivered consecutive threes in the fourth quarter that produced so much noise from the crowd that to this day, his coach can still hear his team’s fans.
“The noise was so loud,” Mitchell said.
Singleton and Riley had played together since they were 11, then went to different high schools before reuniting at UCLA.
Singleton’s mother, Natalie, tells the story of how the two were at the scorer’s table at the same time and Riley asked, “Do you really think you have a chance to win?”
“Yep,” David told him.
“I think David and Cody discuss that game all the time. They have not forgotten that game,” Natalie said.
As if the first game was not memorable enough, the second game produced even more drama. Mater Dei had lost to Chino Hills by 48 points the previous year, the worst defeat in the history of the state’s winningest coach, Gary McKnight. Chino Hills had brothers LaMelo and LiAngelo Ball, plus Okongwu and Eli Scott. The game went to overtime and Mater Dei won 83-80.
Mater Dei had Bol Bol, Spencer Freedman, Justice Sueing, Miles Brookins, Michael Wang and Harrison Butler, all of whom would be heard from in the college ranks. LaMelo Ball had a chance to win the game for Chino Hills at the end of regulation but the shot missed. He scored 28 points while LiAngelo Ball had 26 points. Bol Bol had 14 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots while Scott had 21 rebounds and Sueing scored 25 points.
When fans left the arena, there was a buzz and a feeling that what they had just watched and experienced would be tough to duplicate. The excitement was genuine. The entertainment was unmatched. The story lines were so much fun to follow.
Bishop Montgomery would go on to win the section and state championships.
Chevalier would take over as head coach at Sierra Canyon the next season and win state titles in 2018 and 2019.
Chino Hills would score 130 points against City Section champion Lake Balboa Birmingham in the state playoffs.
LaMelo Ball would leave high school basketball for pro basketball in Lithuania and was just named to the NBA All-Star team at age 20, the youngest player since LeBron James.
Knights defeat Sierra Canyon