A Historic Hilltopper Matchup


Edit done by Logan Lawrence. Photos credit to Joe Robbins/Getty Images and Piton Media.

Everything you need to know about the matchup between West and Sierra Canyon

The next few weeks of Glenbard West basketball are going to be historic. In what many are calling the biggest event in school history, on February 5th at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago the Hilltoppers are set to take on the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers of California. They are one of the top ranked high school basketball teams in the country, according to ESPN – but, so is Glenbard West. 

The Toppers have been dominating all season, beating everyone that has come their way and racking up an impressive 22-0 record. Even so, some basketball fans still doubt the team, thinking that they were no match for an inner city powerhouse like the preseason #2 Whitney Young. That doubt likely served as motivation for GBW, who dominated Whitney by 15 points at the Bennett “When Sides Collide” shootout last weekend, proving the doubters wrong.  

According to a report from Chicago Sun Times reporter Michael O’Brien, Paragon Marketing Group was negotiating with several teams to put on their “Chipotle Clash of Champions” event in Chicago. He reported that Hilltoppers were originally expecting to take on Kenwood Academy of Chicago, and Sierra Canyon was planning to play Simeon, another Chicago powerhouse. However, after Simeon lost to Glenbrook South the landscape changed and a new lineup of games was quickly agreed to and announced: GBW vs. Sierra Canyon and Glenbrook South vs. Curie.

Now, all eyes are on these intriguing February 5th matchups. The first and likely last game this season that the Toppers will go into as “underdogs” will be played at Chicago’s Wintrust Arena, home of the DePaul Blue Demons and WNBA Chicago Sky. Sierra Canyon is one of the most famous and flashy high school basketball teams in the nation. The team is loaded with star power, including the 2023 guard Bronny James Jr, oldest son of NBA superstar LeBron James.

Although Bronny is the team’s biggest name, he isn’t their biggest star. The team is led by the 5-star recruit and Chicago native Amari Bailey. Amari, a senior, is ranked as the #1 guard in the country and will be playing for UCLA next fall, and has proven himself to be an elite scorer on all 3 levels. Bailey just recently earned a spot as a starter on the McDonald’s All American Team (an event held annually that showcases the best high school basketball players in the nation). Earning that starting spot puts his name on a list that includes basketball legends such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal. By his side is the 4-star junior Bronny James, currently ranked as the 34th best player in the class of 2023,  who has already racked up college interest from several of the top programs in the nation. 

Another big name on the Sierra roster is senior Kijani Wright, a 4-star forward committed to USC. Kijani is ranked as the 6th best player in California, and the 4th best power forward in the nation. Ramel Lloyd Jr. is also on the team – a 3-star forward committed to Nebraska. Lloyd Jr is ranked as the 15th best player in California, and 86th nationally. Shy Odom, a 3-star senior with multiple big time Division 1 offers recently committed to an HBCU, Howard university. They also have Isaiah Elohim, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, who already has offers from Kansas, UCLA, Oregon, and other elite programs. Sierra’s program has been extremely successful in prior years so this year is no exception. Currently ranked #8 in the country, Sierra is 21- 2 on the season with its losses coming to other nationally ranked teams (#16 St. Paul, and #2 Duncanville).     

Here it is in a simplified outline of Sierra Canyon:

Amari Bailey, 5-star Combo Guard, 2022

6’5, 190lbs

National ranking (2022) – 2nd

California ranking (2022) – 1st

Position ranking (2022) – 1st

Future college team – UCLA

Bronny James Jr, 4/5-star Combo Guard, 2023

6’3, 130lbs 

National ranking (2023) – 34th

California ranking (2023) – 4th

Position ranking (2023) – 6th 

Future college team – Uncommitted 

Kijani Wright, 4/5-star Power Forward, 2022

6’9, 235lbs

National ranking (2022) – 34th

California ranking (2022) – 6th

Position ranking (2022) – 4th

Future college team – USC

Ramel Lloyd Jr, 4/5-star Small Forward, 2022

6’6, 190lbs

National ranking (2022) – 86th

California ranking (2022) – 11th

Position ranking (2022) – 22nd

Future college team – Nebraska 

Shy Odom, 3/5-star Power Forward, 2022

6’6, 220lbs

National ranking (2022) – 244th

California ranking (2022) – 27th

Position ranking (2022) – 51st

Future college team – Howard

Isaiah Elohim, Shooting Guard, 2024

6’5, 190lbs

National ranking (2024) – 2nd

California ranking (2024) – 1st

Position ranking (2024) – 2nd

Future college team – N/A


The Hilltopper team is led by the 6-11 versatile center, Braden Huff. Huff collected offers from many powerhouse schools over his 4 years, but made the decision that he will be playing under coach Mark Few for the #1 preseason team, the Gonzaga Bulldogs. “I was excited immediately because I knew their track record and history with bigs like me even before they started recruiting me,” Huff said. “I kind of understood how they developed those guys. I think having that understanding prior to them reaching out, along with them coming off the kind of season they had, led to a lot of excitement for me.” Huff stated. “I really enjoyed watching them go live and go at it,” Huff Braden stated. “Watching guys like Drew Timme and Chet [Holmgren], and seeing them do the things they did with the ball, that’s what I have to offer with my game. They give the players the freedom to do that and that really caught my eye.” Huff draws similarities to some of the Gonzaga big men that Mark Few has developed into NBA or future NBA stars. Huff is a Swiss Army knife on the court being able to dominate in the paint, shoot lights out from beyond the arc, be a playmaker, and dominate on the defensive end. Braden has exceeded expectations this year, generating national press for the team. Braden and his teammates Caden Pierce and Bobby Durkin lead the Illinois Wolves AAU team to a UAA national championship. 

Pierce is a 6’5 combo guard with an elite touch from range. Caden’s success on and off court earned him 4 offers from division 1 programs, choosing to play for the Princeton basketball program next Fall. “Once I got on campus at Princeton, I fell in love with it,” Pierce stated. “I spent a lot of time with the guys on the team and felt like I fit in really well with them. I watched them practice a little bit and felt like my game would fit well in that system. They are a talented, skilled group.” Princeton last went to the NCAA tournament in 2017 and they always seem to be fighting to punch their ticket at the top of the Ivy League. Along with playing basketball, Pierce  is also a 2 time all-conference golfer. 

Bobby Durkin, the 6 ‘5 transfer is a new face on the Hilltoppers roster. Durkin and family recently moved from Hinsdale. Durkin played his first 3 high school years for the Hinsdale South Hornets, but joined the already stacked Topper squad for his final year in high school to complete the super team. Durkin was regarded as one of the best young talents in Illinois while at Hinsdale South putting up amazing numbers as an underclassman. He hasn’t let anyone down at Glenbard west, shooting lights out from 3, earning him the spot to be one of the primary scorers on our team. Durkin was committed to Army West Point to play basketball but just recently decommitted and plans on playing basketball somewhere else next fall. 

Alongside that trio is the 6’8 athletic forward Ryan Renfro. Renfro is an extremely athletic forward that can fly around the court and be dominant on both ends. Renfro can play both the 4 or the 5, depending on where they place Huff. Ryan will be attending Army West Point next season to play basketball. Renfro, Durkin, and Huff are the best front court in the state. 

The starting point guard is the 6’4 sharpshooter Paxton Warden. Warden has been the primary scoring guard on the team and has developed as a playmaker. Warden brings a spark on defense and is a very high energy player. Paxton recently committed to play basketball at University Of Illinois as a preferred walk on. Andrew Dauksas and Jack Cardwell are both defensive minded guards that bring a spark off of the bench, both of them can also knock down shots from deep.

The Chipotle Clash Of Champions event will include 2 exciting matchups. The first game features a meeting between #2 in Illinois, Glenbrook South vs #5 Curie. Following that will be the main event, GBW vs. Sierra Canyon. If you want proof that this is the biggest event in school history, think about this: All 10,387 tickets for the event sold out in less than 8 minutes! The Glenbard West basketball game sold out a professional basketball arena in 8 minutes. Soak that in. Tickets are now listed on resale sites for upwards of $2,000. That is absolutely unheard of for a highschool basketball game. The Chipotle Clash Of Champions will be streamed live on ESPN+ and WCIU TV (Also known as The U), so even if you weren’t one of the few lucky fans that snagged tickets before they sold out, you can still watch this historic matchup. The broadcast will start prior to the first game and continue throughout the night. Events like this have been held in Chicago before, but have never drawn hype like this.


How Glenbard West Could Win

Glenbard West is extremely deep on offense with 5 players that can drop 20+ points on any given night. The Hilltoppers are also a top tier defensive team, running a 1-3-1 zone defense which opposing teams don’t run into often. This defensive scheme specializes in stopping the dribble drive and iso-styled offenses. So far this season, no one has managed to be efficient from midrange or in the paint against this formidable GBW defense. Sierra is known to give the ball to 5 star Amari Bailey and let him beat defenders alone. Bailey may have a harder time than usual doing that against the 1-3-1. Unless Bailey is shooting lights out, he could struggle to get buckets from inside the 3 point line. Powering this 1-3-1 is the impressive size and length of GBW’s starters, from tallest, 6’11 Braden Huff, to the “shortest,”  6 ‘3 Paxton Warden. GBW also knows how to shoot and move the ball efficiently. If Sierra comes out in a zone defense GBW is elite from beyond the arc and could shoot them out of it. If they come out in a man-to-man defense, GBW’s elite post-game could dominate in the paint. GBW’s 3 level scoring could overwhelm Sierra’s defense, leading to a GBW win.


How Sierra Canyon Could Win

Sierra is one of the most explosive teams in the nation. This season they have racked up wins against several nationally ranked teams. Their roster is full of emerging super-stars headed to big time programs. Another advantage for Sierra is their experience playing in high profile games. They have played many televised games in large arenas and shouldn’t be intimidated by the crowd at Wintrust. Glenbard West on the other hand, is going from playing in Biester Gym to playing in the 10,000+ seat Wintrust, which may be nerve wracking. Amari Bailey and the whole Sierra team can get hot from 3 point range, just like GBW. But if GBW lets that happen to them, it could be a problem. If Sierra gets hot from range, it may force the Hilltoppers into a man to man defense which would open up dribble drive opportunities for Amari. Trying to stop Amari from scoring in iso situations would prove difficult. If Sierra does get hot from 3, that could be a domino effect ultimately leading to a Sierra Canyon victory. 


My prediction

I think with an absolutely electric crowd in West’s favor; with some lights out shooting and their stifling 1-3-1 defense, the Hilltoppers will win in a close matchup over Sierra Canyon. Sierra’s inexperience against a 1-3-1 zone will give GBW the edge. I think that Sierra is going to try and rely on Amari Bailey to generate all of their scoring – and it won’t work out. Bailey will most likely still drop 20 – perhaps even 30+ points, but I don’t think it will be enough to put them over the edge. Even though I think GBW will win, Sierra will keep it very close and have GBW fans on the edge of their seats the whole night, making for an electric environment. The arena will be filled to the brim with the Hilltoppers fans, and other Illinois basketball fans that want to see Glenbard win and that “home court” advantage should be an advantage for the Toppers. Our Hilltopper student section has been getting  praise from basketball reporters around the state for having unmatched energy. Chicago Sun Times reporter Michael O’Brian tweeted recently that the Castle Crazies were the “loudest student section in the state.” Considering the nationwide hype this matchup is getting, we can assure you this game will be no different. 


Score prediction: 76 – 73 Hilltoppers win