Chosen-1's Invitational: What to expect at boys' and girls' basketball event

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CHATSWORTH, CA - OCTOBER 27, 2021: Juju Watkins, foreground, left and Mac Randolph, right, members of the Sierra Canyon girls basketball team, share a light moment together during media day inside the school's gymnasium. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Juju Watkins, left, and MacKenly Randolph share a light moment during Sierra Canyon's media day. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

It will be a chance for high school players to step onto the same court where LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook run the floor. Where Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker led the Sparks to a championship. Where Kobe Bryant perfected the mid-range turnaround.

Excitement is brewing for the Chosen-1’s Invitational on Saturday, where four Nike Elite schools and two local programs — Sierra Canyon and Fairfax — will trot out their girls’ and boys’ basketball teams for a showcase event at Staples Center.

All eyes will be on a 7 p.m. boys' basketball game between St. Vincent-St. Mary of Akron, Ohio and Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, a showdown between LeBron James’ alma mater and son Bronny’s current stomping grounds. The invitational was created by James in partnership with Nike and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Yet the girls of Sierra Canyon and Fairfax are excited to have their day in the sun, too.

“It’s a very small showcase, and they easily could’ve made it just three boys’ games or four boys’ games,” said Alicia Komaki, the Sierra Canyon girls’ head coach. “The fact they have female representation is really cool.”

For Fairfax (2-2), it’s a “beautiful opportunity,” coach Charles Harrell said, to bring awareness to a rebuilding city program. For Sierra Canyon, it’s a chance to prove themselves among the top teams in the country.

Harrell is excited for a few of his players, who’ve persevered through three straight losing seasons to try to turn the Fairfax program around, to get a feel for what it’s like to play at a higher level. Chief among them is senior Asiah Harris, who Harrell said has been leading the charge in drills and pumping the team up in anticipation.

“This opportunity is nice because then it gives other young ladies and other parents an understanding that … ‘Hey, you can get that [national] stage right here in a city school,’” Harrell said. “You can get that stage right here, in your own neighborhood.’”

Fairfax heads into Saturday as underdogs in their game against St. Vincent-St. Mary. Harrell said his team has upped its intensity and they could surprise some in attendance.

“We might actually open an eye or two,” Harrell said. “I know the oddsmakers — 13 to one, or 20 to one, or whatever. But I would hold up, because we might surprise.”

Komaki, meanwhile, is similarly happy at the opportunity but sour on the circumstances for the Trailblazers.

Sierra Canyon (2-0) heads to a tournament on Thursday and Friday in Texas — where they’ll play a total of four games — only to turn around, hop on a plane and play at Staples Center the next day.

“No high school team is prepared for that kind of schedule,” Komaki said.

So despite her team steamrolling through the first couple of games of the season, the coach isn’t confident the Trailblazers will bring their best effort Saturday against Christ the King.

It would be a massive boost if star transfer Juju Watkins — the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2023 — could join Sierra Canyon on Saturday. Watkins is still being cleared by the Southern Section after transferring from Los Angeles Windward before the season, although Komaki said the team is hoping she’ll make her season debut in Texas.

As Watkins grew up in Watts, Komaki said she’d be disappointed if the hometown kid wasn’t at least cleared by Saturday to play at Staples Center. If she isn’t, the Trailblazers will look for big production from sophomores MacKenly Randolph and Izela Arenas. The two, daughters of former NBA stars Zach Randolph and Gilbert Arenas, will have the chance to shine on the same court where their fathers once went toe-to-toe against Bryant.

The Sierra Canyon boys, meanwhile, will have five-star senior and UCLA commit Amari Bailey back in the lineup against St. Vincent-St. Mary. He played his first game this season on Wednesday night after recovering from a foot injury. He had 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists during a 100-72 home victory over Santa Clarita West Ranch. Senior Kijani Wright, who has committed to USC, will look to continue a stretch of strong play.

The first game, between the Fairfax and St. Vincent-St. Mary girls’ teams, starts at 2 p.m. The other games are Sierra Canyon vs. Christ the King in a 3:30 p.m. girls' game and Fairfax vs. Chris the King in a 5 p.m. boys' game. Ticket prices range from $20 to $37.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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