Everybody loves Bronny James.
At least that’s how it felt during the final day of the 2023 Spalding Hoophall Classic at Springfield College.
In front of a sold out, overflowing crowd, the minute that James and Sierra Canyon School (CA) made their way on the floor of Blake Arena for warmups, he had stolen the attention of everyone. Fans were quick to whip out their phones, and followed his every move.
When James’ name was announced during the player introductions, cheers from fans echoed throughout the arena. It was clear that he had gotten the warmest welcome to Springfield, Mass., of anyone this weekend.
Later in the game’s opening quarter, Bronny nearly took the roof off the building as the second of two deep three pointers found the bottom of the net. The electric energy from the stands made it feel as though the game was taking place in Los Angeles, the home of the Trailblazers.
Two days prior, on a star-studded slate of Saturday games, San Ysidro High School (CA) guard Mikey Williams had a similar treatment to that of James, having all eyes on him during the course of his game.
Coincidentally, James and Williams played the same opponent – Christopher Columbus High School (FL). But the similarities don’t end there.
In both games, Christopher Columbus’ tough, relentless defense was able to contain the superstars. Although Williams finished his game with an impressive statline of 24 points, four rebounds, six assists and two steals, CCHS forced Williams into hard shots, and he finished the game shooting 7-22 from the floor.
James finished the Sierra Canyon game with 13 points, eight rebounds and three assists, and the Explorers held him from ever finding a rhythm as well. James shot 4-17 from the field.
This is exactly what Christopher Columbus was looking to do.
“In the first game, we wanted to take away Mikey and JJ,” Andrew Moran, Christopher Columbus head coach said. “They take the majority of the shots, and they will, and did, make tough shots. And then, in the [Sierra Canyon] game, they do their good job during a team effort… So we wanted to be ready to really improve ourselves. I felt like we got better today.”
Those perfected game plans were able to secure two hard fought victories for the Explorers, taking down San Ysidro 74-67 on Saturday in a game that they never trailed. During an exciting battle against Sierra Canyon, a buzzer-beating game winning layup by Malik Abdullahi propelled Christopher Columbus to a 47-46 victory on Monday.
Moran was very proud of how his team carried himself, and executed the way he wanted them to, even during high pressure situations in the Sierra Canyon game.
“We had our moments where we didn’t [play well], and we had to switch it up,” Moran said. “We switched plans to switch up on the shooters, including (Ashton) Hardaway, because they hit a couple three’s early in the first half. My only gripe would be that we didn’t win the rebounds. I want to win the rebound [battle]. Other than that, again, we made our mistakes for sure. But we kept fighting, of course, and we finished strong.”
A big factor to the Explorers’ success down the stretch can be attributed to 6-foot-9 forward Cameron Boozer, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2025, according to ESPN. When his team needed him most, Boozer stepped up and made the plays necessary to come away with a win.
Usually a low post player, Boozer took it upon himself to bring the ball up the court toward crunch time, trying to run the offense through himself. The fearlessness that he has in big moments excites Moran.
“They don’t get rattled,” he said, in reference to Cameron, and twin brother, Cayden. “I don’t know if you watch him (Cameron), but he continues to bring our guys together throughout the game, and he continues to talk. I mean, he’s 15 years old, and for them to continue to bring the team together is great. That’s what we want to see.”
Boozer was a star in both of his games, winning Most Valuable Player in each with great performances. He went off for 33 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals against San Ysidro on Saturday.
Christopher Columbus left its trip to the birthplace two wins richer.
“It’s great,” Moran said. “I mean, this is our first time here. We had a good time. What a great environment we got. We enjoyed it, and we wanted to come here and get better and prepare ourselves for the playoffs.”
Although the crowd in Blake Arena may not have been as focused on CCHS as they were its opponents, the Explorers walked in and handled their business – while shutting down the fan favorites in the process.
Photo: Jamarius Russell/The Springfield Student