Even for a program as successful and prestigious as the Long Island Lutheran boys basketball team, there are certain environments and certain opponents on a schedule that produce more of a rush.
There were a few of those moments already this season for the Crusaders — flying to Hawaii for the 'Iolani Classic in December, traveling to Florida late last month to play in the Montverde Invitational, hosted by the top-ranked team in the country by MaxPreps and ESPN. LuHi lost to Montverde in the final.
But still, there was one school that jumped out above the rest — California's Sierra Canyon and the sons of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Long Island Lutheran plays Sierra Canyon, ranked in the Top 20 nationally by MaxPreps and ESPN, at 9 p.m. Saturday. The game will be the final of a nine-game slate for the Metro Classic at RWJBarnabas Health Arena in Toms River, New Jersey, and streamed online by ESPN via ESPN3.
LeBron James’ son, Bronny, is arguably the most popular prep star in the country already, despite only being a freshman. He has 4.4 million followers on Instagram, despite only having made 19 posts, and is considered one of the top prospects in his class.
“Sierra Canyon, that’s a really big deal,” said Lutheran forward Zed Key, who is committed to Ohio State. “They’ve had about eight games televised and just to be playing against LeBron James' and Dwyane Wade’s sons, that will be really fun, too.”
Long Island Lutheran (18-3), also ranked in the Top 20 nationally by MaxPreps and ESPN, is no stranger to a schedule filled with quality opponents in some of the best basketball atmospheres in the country. But even coach John Buck admits this game against Bronny James and Zaire Wade has a different aura.
“It seems to be,” Buck said. “It’s amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever received this amount of interest from other people about a game. People I haven’t spoken to in maybe 15 years reaching out to see about tickets for the game.”
The matchup has even brought international interest, as Lutheran guard Andre Curbelo, who is from Puerto Rico, said he will have family at the game as well.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” said Illinois-commit Curbelo, Newsday’s Player of the Year last year. “It’s definitely a game that me, my teammates and coaching staff is looking forward to because it’s a great school. They have a great program, great players, big names. We have a great opportunity to let people know that we are right there with the top teams.”
Buck said he’s been able to watch some of Sierra Canyon’s games because of how often they are on television. The combination of James' and Wade’s sons have made Sierra Canyon arguably the most recognizable team in high school basketball, which means an abundance of film on them in comparison with other programs.
“It’s amazing the fanfare that surrounds their team and I think people are interested in the game because they know we are also a high-level program,” Buck said. “Right now both teams are ranked Top 25 nationally in both MaxPreps and ESPN, so hopefully it’s a Top 25 matchup that’s worthy of all the excitement around it. But yeah, our kids definitely circled that one as a really big game that they are looking forward to.”
Still, Lutheran's players are trying not to get caught up in the surnames on the other team. They know they have the talent on their side to compete and win as well.
“We also have big names on our team,” Curbelo said. “So it’s definitely going to be a great game to watch. And as a player, it’s going to be a great game to play in.”
And a chance for the Lutheran players to show off their skill set.
“Certainly a lot of people are going to be asking about it and talking about it, so they know eyes will be on them for the game,” Buck said. “As much as there is going on around them, we just want to keep them calm, focused and understand at the end of the day, same court, same basketball, got to stop the other team from putting it in the rim and you have to try to do it on your end.”
“You just have to go out there and give it your all,” Key said. “Play your best game and show them what you can do. This is an opportunity, not to get nervous or intimidated, but it’s another basketball game.”
Day 1: Friday, Feb. 7
St. Thomas More vs. ISchool of Lewisville, 4 p.m.
Sierra Canyon vs. Blair Academy (Girls), 5:30 p.m.
The Patrick School vs. Huntington Prep, 7 p.m.
Sierra Canyon vs. Gill St. Bernard's, 8:30 p.m.
Day 2: Saturday, Feb. 8
Lewisville vs. First Love Christian, 9 a.m.
The Phelps School vs. St. Thomas More, 10:30 a.m.
Elizabeth vs. Marist, noon
Rumson-Fair Haven vs. St. Thomas Aquinas, 1:30 p.m.
Sierra Canyon vs. Rutgers Prep (Girls), 3 p.m.
Rutgers Prep vs. Huntington Prep, 4:30 p.m.
Camden vs. Gill St. Bernard's 6 p.m.
The Patrick School vs. Wildwood Catholic, 7:30 p.m.
Sierra Canyon vs. Long Island Lutheran, 9 p.m.