Few would have been surprised in the preseason that Sierra Canyon would wind up playing for a boys basketball state championship on Friday.
The Trailblazers were nationally ranked for most of the year. They have one of the most talented rosters in the state and played one of the toughest schedules in the country.
For the Trailblazers, however, it makes no difference because they take pride in being one of the last six Southern California teams remaining and playing at Haas Pavilion at UC Berkeley this weekend.
“This is what we worked for the whole season. All the hard work in the offseason, all the behind-the-scenes stuff people don’t know about,” sophomore guard Remy Martin said. “It’s all paid off, so we just have to go take care of business.”
A win would give the program its first boys basketball title. For a collective group that has played together for years, that is the goal.
“If you told me before the season that we would lose Ira (Lee), face the second-toughest schedule in the country according to MaxPreps and still play for a state title, I’d take this in a heartbeat,” head coach Ty Nichols said.
Lee, the team’s other 6-foot-8 sophomore besides Wooden Award winner Cody Riley, has missed the entire season with a shoulder injury. It was the first sign of adversity that the Trailblazers faced in a season filled with hype.
After being defeated by Etiwanda in the Southern Section Open Division quarterfinals, it was another wake-up call that snapped them into a dominant run through the Division V Southern California regional tournament.
All of those hurdles might make facing University seem like a picnic in the Bay Area, but Nichols said his team is not overlooking the Red Devils. University guards Brandon Lew and Mattie Mrlik lead a quick-scoring attack that relies on shooting 3-pointers and getting out in transition. What they lack in size, they make up for in being able to space the floor and get shots.
“We just have to play fluid and free like we have all year,” Nichols said, “At this point, we just have to stay with what we do.”
The game could very well be a preview of what to expect next season, when the Trailblazers will deal with similar expectations. Right now, though, the focus is on finishing the final goal of this season.
“We’re fighters and we’re brothers, so to get to this goal, we just have to win now,” junior guard Devearl Ramsey said.