Bronny James stays close to home with USC commitment
One of the strangest, most-followed, yet secretive high school basketball recruiting journeys in recent memory is over. Bronny James is staying home.
After months of speculation, James announced Saturday on Instagram that he is committing to USC, just a few miles down the 110 Freeway from father LeBron James’ stomping grounds at Crypto.com Arena with the Lakers. It’s the next step toward the elder James’ expressed hope of playing in the NBA with his son.
"[His] decision came down, how SC staff build (sic) a relationship with him," Sierra Canyon assistant Ed Estevan wrote in a text. "How the program can help him on and off the court. Staying close to home, is icing on the cake."
As many expected, the announcement was a surprise. No major outlets broke the news prior to James’ announcement: a photo of himself standing in the USC locker room alongside Sierra Canyon teammates — likely from their game against Wheeler (Ga.) at the Galen Center on Jan. 7 — with the caption “Fight On #committed” and a “Fight On” emoji.
“So damn proud of you kid! I have no words besides I LOVE YOU @bronny!!! LET'S GO!!!!!!!!” father LeBron James posted on Instagram later Saturday afternoon.
After USC football’s rise to national power under coach Lincoln Riley and quarterback Caleb Williams, the young James’ arrival will considerably increase the buzz around a USC basketball program that has long been an afterthought in its own backyard. His commitment completes a gem of a recruiting class for coach Andy Enfield that includes No. 1-ranked point guard Isaiah Collier and power forward Arrinten Page from Wheeler.
James, ranked the 33rd-best player in his class by 247Sports, was named a McDonald’s All-American after averaging 14.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.7 steals last season.
James’ top three schools were USC, Ohio State and Oregon. Each made sense for a different reason — USC was close to home, Ohio State was close to his birthplace and Oregon was close to Nike’s headquarters, which signed James to a name, image and likeness deal.
At the time, however, his recruitment was kept under wraps — even to interested programs. James' only official visit was to Ohio State, and it was unclear if he’d received an offer from Oregon.
Despite James’ talent and his father’s expressed plan for an NBA path, the attention around his name had likely depressed his recruitment, according to West Coast recruiting expert Dinos Trigonis.
“When you’re a college coach, you’ll say, ‘Hey, this guy’s a good player’ … could be a good player [by] end of the first year,” Trigonis said. “But when you see all the other things that program would have to put up with, you make the decision, is it worth dealing with all the other stuff that goes on?”
Sierra Canyon head coach Andre Chevalier declined to comment when asked about his knowledge of James’ decision-making. For years James and his family haven't revealed much when discussing his journey, not speaking to media throughout his senior year of high school and a representative shutting down a question about James’ pending commitment when he spoke at the Nike Hoop Summit in April.
The choice of USC over Oregon or Ohio State offers a lens into James’ mentality as a player and person. As a Trojan, he’ll have to compete with Collier and a large group of guards and wings vying for minutes on an NCAA tournament contender. The path to playing time would’ve been easier at Ohio State and Oregon.
But James earned minutes playing alongside future pros and Division I recruits at Sierra Canyon from his freshman season, and as LeBron James told the media in February, “all he cares about is winning and playing with great basketball players.”
“Stepping into a group of great players and competing, having opportunity and being a part of a program that can do something special, has always been what Bronny’s been about,” Chevalier said.
Last season, USC often moved toward smaller lineups under Enfield, playing a collection of perimeter players around center Josh Morgan. James is 6 feet 3, but often leverages his strength and athleticism on the defensive end, traits that will fit in well, assuming the Trojans run a similar system in his freshman year.
“The fact that he chose USC, I think, speaks to the fact that he’s looked at [Enfield], looked at how he plays,” Chevalier said.
Overall, James is widely expected by high school coaches to make an immediate impact at the college level.
“Eventually, when you get to the next level, most of the kids have been 1,500-point scorers … it boils down to making winning plays,” Temecula Rancho Christian High coach Ray Barefield said.
James will join fellow Sierra Canyon star Juju Watkins, the top recruit in girls’ basketball, at USC to further a pipeline from “SC to SC,” as Chevalier put it.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.