On the surface, Amari Bailey is all Los Angeles.
The No. 2-ranked player in the Class of 2022 plays at Sierra Canyon with LeBron James’ son Bronny. The team is one of the biggest sports attractions in California. Drake regularly comes to games and even dated Bailey’s mother, Johanna Leia.
But Chicago still is “home” to Bailey. He was born here and was a junior high star at Skinner West before moving to California.
Things are going well out West. Bailey signed with UCLA in November, so he isn’t leaving California anytime soon. He even bought his mom a Porsche for Christmas.
Bailey’s last regular-season high school game is back home in Chicago on Saturday. Sierra Canyon will play undefeated Glenbard West at Wintrust Arena. That isn’t by accident.
“I expressed interest [to Sierra Canyon] in wanting to come back home because I haven’t been back in so long,” Bailey said. “It’s really sweet that it will be my last game.”
Bailey and his mom were fixtures at high-profile Chicago high school basketball events when he was in eighth grade. Every high school in the city wanted him. Bailey committed to DePaul when he was 13. That didn’t stick. He said he probably would have gone to Morgan Park if he had stayed.
“It was a huge loss to Chicago when he left,” said Kenwood coach Mike Irvin, who coached Bailey during the club season. “He’s a great player that can do it all. We don’t technically have a local McDonald’s All-American, but we still consider Amari a hometown kid.”
Bailey was the Los Angeles Times Player of the Year last season and helped lead the U.S. to a gold medal in the 2019 FIBA U-16 world championships in Brazil.
His game has a smooth athleticism. He plays with grace and power. It’s easy to see his NBA potential when he effortlessly glides to the basket over high school players.
“He can play the one through four,” Irvin said. “He has the toughness to guard a four. He thrives off of defense and is kind of a throwback that way.”
Aaron Bailey, Amari’s dad, is from Ann Arbor and was an NFL wide receiver for six seasons. Bailey learned basketball at Foster Park and Robert Taylor Park, two spots he said he’d like to show his Sierra Canyon teammates this week.
“That’s where basketball started for me,” Bailey said. “And, of course, I have to go back to Harold’s, Lou Malnati’s and Jerk Villa. All the regular spots.”
Bailey doesn’t know much about Glenbard West other than the fact that the Hilltoppers “have a Gonzaga recruit.” Sierra Canyon plays in college arenas and on ESPN regularly. So it’s just another game for Bailey, other than it being in Chicago.
Sierra Canyon originally was scheduled to play Simeon. That game fell apart, and undefeated Glenbard West, which has become a local sensation, stepped in.
“It definitely would have been good to play against Simeon since I grew up playing with or against almost everyone on that team and how historic Simeon is,” Bailey said. “That would have given a crazy vibe for the city.”
Bailey and Sierra Canyon might not be prepared for the scene that awaits them at Wintrust Arena. Glenbard West fans sold out the event in fewer than 10 minutes. The game might be taking place in Chicago, but it will feel like Glen Ellyn East.
The Hilltoppers are unbeaten but haven’t traveled the country playing high-level teams. They haven’t even played a game on a college court. But some of the national rankings now have Glenbard West slightly ahead of Sierra Canyon.
Both teams played Young this season. Sierra Canyon beat the Dolphins 81-47; Glenbard West beat them 74-59.
The Hilltoppers have overwhelmed local teams with their size. Braden Huff, the Gonzaga recruit, is 6-10. Princeton recruit Cade Pierce is 6-4. Seniors Bobby Durkin (6-7), Paxton Warden (6-4) and Ryan Renfro (6-8) round out the starting lineup.
Sierra Canyon probably won’t have an issue with Glenbard West’s length. Bailey is 6-5, and James, a rapidly improving junior, is 6-3. Nebraska recruit Ramel Lloyd Jr. is 6-6. That’s just the backcourt. Senior forward Jeremiah Nyarko is 6-8, and USC recruit Kijani Wright is 6-9.
Sophomore guard Isaiah Elohim is another standout for the Trailblazers, who are essentially an all-star team of players who transferred to Sierra Canyon from around the Los Angeles area.
Bailey might be hoping for a warm welcome or at least a nice round of applause when he’s introduced. There’s a reason he came home for his last high school game.
“I want to let the city know I’m still from here and these are my roots,” Bailey said. “It doesn’t matter where I go.”
That sentiment goes a long way with Chicago fans. A Public League-heavy crowd likely would have embraced Bailey.
But Glenbard West fans don’t care which Harold’s Chicken location Bailey used to frequent. They want to continue their undefeated dream season and prove themselves on a national stage. The game will air live on ESPN+.
“He’s coming home to play in front of a bunch of fans that didn’t follow him in grammar school or back in AAU,” Irvin said. “This is a different crowd that is coming.”
Expect a madhouse at Wintrust. It’s the biggest high school basketball game in the area in several years: the Los Angeles All-Stars vs. a few kids from Glen Ellyn.