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Fattal: Notre Dame, Sierra Canyon proves best high school basketball resides in San Fernando Valley

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LOS ANGELES — The game was being pumped for months as a must-attend event. Each week, the number of tickets sold was increasing by thousands.

3,000 … 4,000 …

Sierra Canyon and Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks set to face off in a Mission League boys basketball showdown riddled with high-level college talent for all of Los Angeles to enjoy at historic Pauley Pavilion in Westwood.

5,000 … 6,000 …

Then earlier this week, Bronny James was selected to the McDonald’s All-American Game, which added an extra layer of luster to the much-anticipated matchup. The son of an already-NBA legend with a headlining name had garnered enough attention for the game to be broadcast over ESPN’s airwaves, too.

He didn’t play.

The Daily News reported James would miss his fourth straight game five hours before tip off for rest, a cautionary approach to the senior’s swollen knee. There was concern that ticket holders weren’t going to show if James wasn’t going to play.

It didn’t matter.

Despite notice of the country’s most polarizing high school basketball player not playing, the love for San Fernando Valley hoops, and what’s argued as the best league in the country, was on display in Notre Dame’s 66-62 Mission League win over Sierra Canyon in front of 7,846 fans.

  • Mercy Miller of Notre Dame is guarded by Dylan Metoyer...

    Mercy Miller of Notre Dame is guarded by Dylan Metoyer of Sierra Canyon in a Mission League boys basketball game at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Mercy Miller of Notre Dame is guarded by Dylan Metoyer...

    Mercy Miller of Notre Dame is guarded by Dylan Metoyer of Sierra Canyon in a Mission League boys basketball game at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Mercy Miller of Notre Dame looks for help against Sierra...

    Mercy Miller of Notre Dame looks for help against Sierra Canyon in a Mission League boys basketball game at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Dusty Stromer of Notre Dame controls the ball against Sierra...

    Dusty Stromer of Notre Dame controls the ball against Sierra Canyon at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion January 27, 2023.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Dusty Stromer of Notre Dame is all smiles as they...

    Dusty Stromer of Notre Dame is all smiles as they defeat Sierra Canyon at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion January 27, 2023.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Notre Dame’s Angelino Mark drives to the hoop against Sierra...

    Notre Dame’s Angelino Mark drives to the hoop against Sierra Canyon in a Mission League boys basketball game at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Mercy Miller of Notre Dame against Sierra Canyon in a...

    Mercy Miller of Notre Dame against Sierra Canyon in a Mission League boys basketball game at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Notre Dame’s Dante Ogbu defends Ashton Hardaway of Sierra Canyon...

    Notre Dame’s Dante Ogbu defends Ashton Hardaway of Sierra Canyon in a Mission League boys basketball game at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Caleb Foster of Notre Dame celebrates as they defeat Sierra...

    Caleb Foster of Notre Dame celebrates as they defeat Sierra Canyon at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion January 27, 2023.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Sierra Canyon’s Bronny James sits out as they take on...

    Sierra Canyon’s Bronny James sits out as they take on Notre Dame in a Mission League boys basketball game at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Notre Dame’s Angelino Mark drives to the hoop against Sierra...

    Notre Dame’s Angelino Mark drives to the hoop against Sierra Canyon in a Mission League boys basketball game at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Notre Dame’s Dante Ogbu puts up a shot against Sierra...

    Notre Dame’s Dante Ogbu puts up a shot against Sierra Canyon in a Mission League boys basketball game at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Mercy Miller of Notre Dame against Sierra Canyon in a...

    Mercy Miller of Notre Dame against Sierra Canyon in a Mission League boys basketball game at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Dusty Stromer of Notre Dame as they face Sierra Canyon...

    Dusty Stromer of Notre Dame as they face Sierra Canyon at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Mercy Miller of Notre Dame against Sierra Canyon in a...

    Mercy Miller of Notre Dame against Sierra Canyon in a Mission League boys basketball game at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Caleb Foster of Notre Dame against Sierra Canyon in a...

    Caleb Foster of Notre Dame against Sierra Canyon in a Mission League boys basketball game at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Caleb Foster of Notre Dame celebrates as they defeat Sierra...

    Caleb Foster of Notre Dame celebrates as they defeat Sierra Canyon at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion January 27, 2023.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

“I wasn’t expecting this tonight. It’s great,” Sierra Canyon head of school Jim Skrumbis said. “This is great for valley basketball.”

All that talent was on display, and there are still two teams better than Sierra Canyon and Notre Dame back in the Valley: Daily News No. 1 Harvard-Westlake (23-1) and No. 2 West Ranch (23-1). The Daily News area, which produced three CIF Southern Section Open Division teams last season, could put four teams into the Open this postseason, has the best high school boys basketball in the state.

Let’s not forget, the country’s No. 1 girls basketball team and player reside in the Valley, too. Sierra Canyon and Juju Watkins. The game and the turnout to Friday night proved that.

Notre Dame’s Dusty Stromer was raining in 3s. Teammate Caleb Foster was slashing to the rim. Sierra Canyon’s Isaiah Elohim was going coast-to-coast for baskets with the backdrop of oohs and aahs from the crowd.

And to top it all off, the game had a Hollywood ending. Notre Dame freshman Zach White hit a pull-up jump shot to balloon the Knights’ two-point lead to four with seven seconds left, which ultimately won the game.

ONIONS! Freshman Zach White hits a HUGE shot to put Notre Dame up 66-62 on Sierra Canyon with seven seconds left. pic.twitter.com/tC7IrMVnqX

— Tarek Fattal (@Tarek_Fattal) January 28, 2023

“It felt like a once in a lifetime moment,” said White, the son of former Crespi football star Russell White.

“My dad just told me to embrace the moment,” White said his father told him before Friday night’s game.

Stromer, a senior captain, was beaming with pride during the post-game press conference.

“I’m super proud of him,” Stromer said of White. “A freshman closing out a big game like that at UCLA. Doesn’t get much better.”

Stromer finished with a game-high 22 points on 8-of-9 shooting with six 3s and added nine rebounds.

“He works so hard,” Notre Dame coach Matt Sargeant said of Stromer. “He’d been going through a shooting slump and I think we saw the law of averages pan out tonight. He was outstanding.”

Dusty Stromer 3ball. GOOD. pic.twitter.com/vGZ7TR7EYh

— Tarek Fattal (@Tarek_Fattal) January 28, 2023

Dante Ogbu added 16 points, Mercy Miller had 13 points and Caleb Foster tallied 11 points, seven assists and seven rebounds for Notre Dame (18-8, 6-1 Mission). Sierra Canyon (19-6, 5-2) was led by Noah Williams’ 16 points. Seniors Dylan Metoyer and Jimmy Oladokun each had 10 points. Ashton Hardaway finished with eight points on 3 of 17 shooting.

Notre Dame’s win secures its second-place position in the Mission League and automatically advances the Knights to the semifinal of the league’s end-of-year tournament. Harvard-Westlake, which finished the league campaign 7-0, is the No. 1 seed.

The semifinals are schedule for Wednesday at the top-seed’s home site. The final is scheduled for next Friday night at Alemany High.

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