He made his own version. LeBron James’ high school classmates give Bruni thoughts

LeBron James congratulates his son, Broni, after Sierra Canyon’s win over James’ alma mater St. Vincent St. Mary on December 4, 2021, at Staples Center. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The legend got his start in the Ohio State youth leagues at the local park, the first iteration of the St. Vincent St. Mary State’s “Fab Five” tournament is taking shape in the Akron chill.

Willie McGee remembered that there was a 6-year-old on his team and LeBron James’ team. The child just played in a blast. Didn’t score all year. “Mascot,” McGee called him.

But in one of the last games of the season, young James led the quarterback. The ball rolled across the court, with one destination in mind. And the kid picked it up, threw it with all his might, and scored his first bucket.

“It was like ‘man’,” said McGee, “only LeBron can do that.” “

Just lebron. This passage, and the ability to levitate those around him, was his greatest strength since he was young. McGee will tell you. So will Drew Joyce III, Romeo Travis or Brandon Weems, the kids who went from playing on youth courts to winning three state championships at St. Vincent-St. Marie.

“They tried to recreate it with different players at different times,” said Travis, now an assistant coach at SVSM. “But there can’t be another LeBron James.”

Travis continued, “Except, he made his own version.”

Fair or not, that question has followed Bronie James since he enrolled as a freshman at Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, already one of the most star-studded high school basketball programs in the country. Since then, the world got a glimpse of his talent with a 15-point effort that year to beat James’ alma mater St. Vincent St. Marie in Columbus, Ohio.

Who will be the next James?

Sierra Canyon Bruny James (0) leads St. Vincent vs. St.  Mary Drian Lewis

Leading Sierra Canyon Bruny James vs. St. Vincent St. Mary Darian Lewis on December 14, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio. (Jay La Brett/The Associated Press)

On Saturday, he returned to Columbus for a game against SVSM as a senior prospect. And 20 years after playing their final season, these Fighting Irish greats will have a chance to see Bronney in the same position they knew his father was in—the nation’s most famous high school basketball player selling out a gym in Ohio.

said Weems, assistant general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

McGee said LeBron James and the SVSM teams in the early 2000s kept in touch, having conversations about paternity. Specifically, letting their children choose what they want to be in life. Allow them to be their own men.

But by nature and talent, Bruni’s path veered close to James of the same age.

“It’s great [Bronny’s] I’ve been able to experience some of the things that I’ve been able to experience,” James told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. “But at the end of the day, he’s creating his own path and creating his own legacy.”

And for the men who have known the path of LeBron James better than anyone else, and who have seen his legacy grow since those early days in Akron, both statements are true. Because former teammates of LeBron James see unique differences in similarities.

One child combines dominant size and athleticism with a natural sense of play. One kid combines a heavy shot and tackle with the natural feel of the game.

Those St Vincent St. Marie’s teams jumped off the bus, confidence exploded from their Adidas jerseys, Travis said, because they knew they had the best player on earth every time. They had the trump card. ace. The 6-foot-7, 225-pound steamroller has timeless sportiness and a professional vision.

LeBron James of St. Vincent St.  Mary in Akron, Ohio, plays in the basketball tournament.

LeBron James St. Vincent St. led. Marie to three state titles. (John Heller / Associated Press)

“It’s like taking a test when you know you’ve got all the answers,” Travis said.

LeBron James has been dominant in the transition. Defensive Playmaker. Passage superior and terminator. Perhaps his only weakness as a preparatory prospect? Shot selection, according to Travis.

“He felt he had to prove he could shoot the jump,” Travis said. “So sometimes he would bail out the defense with hard jumpers, just to say he could shoot.”

James’ former team mates said that Bruni is without a doubt the best shooter at this point.

At 6-3, Bronny doesn’t quite have his dad’s size. His rebounding is amazing, his hanging time is noteworthy, but not as intimidating as James. But he shares a lot of his father’s IQ, Weems said.

“He’s seeing things that other players might not, and that’s a gift LeBron has been given,” Weems said.

LeBron James was the undisputed highest rated prospect in the country. Bronny wasn’t at that level, even though he was ranked sixth in ESPN’s 2023 California rankings. But he’s talented enough, Weems feels, to play in the NBA — whether it’s a freshman year of college hoops or several seasons.

“He will continue to grow and become more athletic,” said Weems, who is now in his seventh year with the Cavaliers. “So I think other front offices feel the same way.”

Basketball, for those St. Vincent-St. McGee said Mary’s bands were entertaining. But it was also a meal ticket. They had a collective goal of attending college, free education, and helping their families. And at the center of it was LeBron James, always looking out for everyone else.

“He understood, even at a young age, that he had some God-given talents and some talents,” said Joyce III. “And in large part, a lot of it was to change the outcome of his surroundings. To make life easier for his mother and his family.”

But the few times LeBron James struggled, it went pretty much unnoticed. When St Vincent St. Travis remembers that Mary lost in the state championship game his senior year to Roger Beacon High, and it wasn’t widely treated as the end of the world.

“I would say there is more pressure on Bruni than there was on LeBron,” Travis said. “Just because you are on social media — how public your failures will be.”

Bronny now has 6.8 million followers on Instagram, more than Jeff Bezos and Tiger Woods. Every dim light brings a shriek of comments. Each highlight too.

“I couldn’t fathom what it meant to be the brother, and son, of all-time greats,” said Drew Joyce II, who coached LeBron James at St. Vincent St. Mary is still there. “He tries to follow in his footsteps and has to deal with all the comparisons, the talking.”

James’ former teammates said the possibilities for Bruni are endless. But as of now, he has opted for basketball. Entering a more offensive role his senior year, he led the Trail Blazers to a 7-1 record this season entering Saturday.

“This may be a temporary thing,” McGee said. That may not be all… I think he’ll be a DI athlete, he’ll play professionally, but is that what he wants to do? Is this what he wants to do forever? “

You don’t get that far, McGee said, you can achieve that high status in high school hoops, though — no matter what your last name is — if you don’t like the game. And Bruni, while quiet on the ground, plays with unbridled joy: trebled, roaring dunks.

LeBron James watches his son, Sierra Canyon guard Bronnie James, play against his alma mater, St. Vincent-St.  Marie

LeBron James watches his son, Sierra Canyon guard Bronnie James, play against his alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Marie, on December 4, 2021, at Staples Center. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

ESPN reports that Bruni wears the number 0 in honor of his favorite player, Russell Westbrook, during the broadcast of Monday’s game against Christ the King. Not his father #6 or #23.

“He wants to create his own lane – I think he’s done a great job with that,” Travis said of Brunney. “…most people either love him or hate him. And I’m just thankful that he was able to take on all that negativity and become his own man.”

McGee said there will never be another LeBron James. No other kid could ever pull that off in a youth league game. Never another child can repeat his story.

“But [Bronny]McGee said, “He could be the best person he could be.”

Times staff writer Dan Woike contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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