L.A., here's your chance to watch some high school players who could be destined for NBA stardom

Not since LeBron James came to town as a high school senior and sold out Pauley Pavilion on Jan. 4, 2003, has there been as much excitement for high school basketball in Los Angeles as the lure of Friday night’s Southern Section Open Division semifinals...

L.A., here's your chance to watch some high school players who could be destined for NBA stardom

Not since LeBron James came to town as a high school senior and sold out Pauley Pavilion on Jan. 4, 2003, has there been as much excitement for high school basketball in Los Angeles as the lure of Friday night’s Southern Section Open Division semifinals at USC’s Galen Center.

The matchups feature four teams ranked among the best in the nation: Torrance Bishop Montgomery (25-2) vs. Chatsworth Sierra Canyon (27-1) at 7 p.m., followed by Santa Ana Mater Dei (30-1) vs. Chino Hills (29-1) at 8:30 p.m.

More than 100 courtside seats that cost $40 each were sold out in less than five minutes when they went on sale last week. The Southern Section put aside 14 courtside seats for VIPs. They’re also gone, so it’s time to call in all favors to secure a Jack Nicholson seat. If all goes well, many of Galen Center’s 10,258 seats should be filled.

People in L.A. love to watch future NBA stars. The Southern Section, sensing a need to find a large venue, made a financial commitment two weeks ago to secure Galen Center even though there was no guarantee the four favorites would make it.

Now that they have advanced, fans will be grateful to see a rare semifinal doubleheader featuring quality basketball, great entertainment and players so appealing you’ll probably see them on SportsCenter the same night. They’ll also be streamed live on FoxSportsGo.com.

The big draw is Chino Hills. Go on YouTube and you’ll find videos with thousands of views featuring sophomore LaMelo Ball, who scored 92 points in a game earlier this month. There are also the dunks of Eli Scott and Onyeka Okongwu, and brother LiAngelo Ball isn’t too bad (he has a 72-point performance this season). They’ve been called the most entertaining high school basketball team in America.

Mater Dei’s Gary McKnight is the winningest coach in California history and has never lost three consecutive games to the same team. But Chino Hills could pull it off. The Huskies inflicted the worst defeat ever on a McKnight-coached team last season, 102-54. Mater Dei also lost to Chino Hills, 84-73, on Dec. 20 in Las Vegas.

The Monarchs added 7-foot-1 Bol Bol last month, the son of former NBA center Manute Bol. His size should make it a little more difficult for Scott and Okongwu to get their usual barrage of offensive rebound baskets.

Sierra Canyon is the top seed and deservedly so, because 6-foot-11 junior Marvin Bagley III is a future NBA lottery pick. If NBA scouts could watch high school players, they’d run out of media credentials at Sierra Canyon games. Add 6-foot-7, UCLA-bound Cody Riley, Arizona State-bound point guard Remy Martin and San Diego State-bound guard Adam Seiko and you begin to understand the challenge facing opponents.

Then there’s Bishop Montgomery, the under-the-radar team with five returning starters, led by Oregon State-bound Ethan Thompson and heavily recruited junior guard David Singleton. The Knights lost to Sierra Canyon, 78-69, in last year’s semifinals. They want revenge.

These matchups are so enticing for fans that it brings back memories when a teenage LeBron James came to town.

Dinos Trigonis put together the package that brought St. Vincent-St. Mary of Akron, Ohio, to Pauley Pavilion to play Mater Dei on ESPN2. James was set to become the NBA’s No. 1 draft pick. More than 100 media credentials were issued. James’ team won, 64-58.

“What you had was a much more national phenomenon,” Trigonis said. “The NBA needed rejuvenation and a new contract. You had ESPN wanting to promote a new face.”

Everyone wanted tickets. Trigonis remembers driving James and his teammates in a van when he received a phone call from a public relations person seeking tickets for her client.

“LeBron is sitting shotgun next to me,” Trigonis said. “The PR person wanted tickets for some rapper named 50 Cent. I don’t know who he is. LeBron says, ‘Wait. I love that guy. Give him tickets.’ I told the lady, ‘Madam, he’s got two tickets at will call.’”

Curtis James Jackson III, otherwise known as 50 Cent, has done pretty well for himself too. If he’s in town and wants to see more good high school basketball, he might want to check out the games at the Galen Center.

 

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: latsondheimer

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