CALABASAS, CALIF. — On Tuesday, Bronny James’ high school career came to an end as Sierra Canyon fell to a loaded Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) team in the Southern California Division-I Regional Final.

Sierra Canyon came up one win shy of a trip to the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento for the Division-I state championship — the same city where Bronny’s father, LeBron James, began his NBA career back in 2003.

Notre Dame was a familiar foe for Sierra Canyon. They say it’s tough to beat a team three times in one season but Notre Dame was going for its fourth win over Sierra Canyon this year. And this time, James was competing to keep his high school career alive.

California state tournament games are usually played at the higher seed’s home gym, which would have rewarded Notre Dame with a true home game. Instead, in anticipation of a massive crowd looking to get their eyes on the all-time great’s son in his biggest game to date, the California Interscholastic Federation moved the Regional Final to Calabasas High School.

When I arrived over an hour and a half early for a 7 p.m. tip-off, the line to get in the gym already ran through the Calabasas High School courtyard. There was a buzz in the air to see James go head-to-head against Notre Dame’s three-headed monster of high-major recruits: Caleb Foster (2023, Duke commit), Dusty Stromer (2023, Gonzaga commit) and Mercy Miller (2024, Houston commit).

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The crowd featured a few stars, as Sierra Canyon games usually do. Master P — who is the father of Notre Dame’s Mercy Miller — was joined by Grammy-nominated rapper French Montana. Los Angeles radio legend Big Boy was also in the building.

Notably absent from the crowd was LeBron, who was expected to be in attendance after being excused from the Lakers’ home game for medical reasons. Just one night after he tweeted that his son was “definitely better than some of these cats I’ve been watching on league pass today,” it would have been interesting to hear his thoughts after the way things unfolded on Tuesday.

Bronny James, Sierra Canyon no match for star-studded Notre Dame

Right away, you could tell it was going to be an uphill battle for James and Sierra Canyon. Even with Isaiah Elohim — a five-star recruit and the No. 13 ranked player in 2024 — making a surprise return to the floor from an ankle injury, Sierra Canyon was outmatched by Notre Dame.

At times, it felt like Sierra Canyon was playing a man down. Notre Dame led wire-to-wire, throwing a haymaker to counter any inspired run by Sierra Canyon.

The truth is, on this particular night, James was the fourth-best player on the floor when Sierra Canyon needed him to be the best.

Evaluating Bronny James’ performance

James still made his typical impact as a playmaker, defender and rebounder. He attacked the glass with an attitude and rebounds extremely well for a 6-3 guard. He got his hands in passing lanes for deflections and steals. His acceleration is smooth like a Tesla when he pushes the pace in transition. He always made the extra pass in the halfcourt, giving up good shots to get a better shot.

But he only finished with 10 points in a game his team was blown out, 80-61. James knocked down a pair of 3s but his jumper was never dialed. His first few misses weren’t pretty and it seemed to throw him off of his rhythm for the rest of the game, reducing his aggression offensively.

Notre Dame’s defense — and Foster and Miller, in particular — did a fantastic job of keeping James out of the paint, forcing him to try and score from the perimeter on a night that his usually reliable jumper wasn’t there. Without an official box score, my guess would be he had fewer than 10 field goal attempts. It’s not the nature of his game to force shots but in his biggest matchup of the year, it would have been nice to see James tap into an alpha dog mentality.

The loss brings an end to James’ intently followed high school career. Next, the 18-year-old faces his highly anticipated college decision, where he is said to have three top schools: USC, Ohio State and Oregon, according to the LA Times’ Luca Evans.

Duke recruit Caleb Foster gets the best of Bronny James

It would be an understatement to say that Foster came with that alpha dog mentality James was missing. The future Duke Blue Devil, who was notably snubbed from the McDonald’s All-American West roster, was playing with a chip on his shoulder against the player he likely felt took his spot.

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Foster was the best player on the floor the entire night and it wasn’t close. The 6-5, 190-pound guard was physical when attacking, using his shifty handle to get into the paint and impressive body control for acrobatic finishes around the rim.

His jumper was falling from the perimeter, creating his own shot off the bounce with ease. He buried a deep stepback 3 early in the fourth quarter that felt like he was twisting the dagger into Sierra Canyon’s heart.

Foster finished with a dominant 28 points, sending a clear message that he should be joining his elite high school classmates at the McDonald’s All-American Game in Houston next month. He’ll be an NBA prospect to watch at Duke next season.

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