A month and a half into the season, coach Andre Chevalier’s sixth Sierra Canyon High boys’ basketball team is still searching for its identity, stretches of dominant defensive play merged with maddening mistakes and losses to top competition.
“Ultimately, you want to know how you’re going to be defined,” Chevalier said Dec. 22.
That’s made more difficult by the usual slew of Trailblazers preseason transfers, with five new faces on the roster. And they’ve received a sixth with the arrival of AJ Swinton, a talented prospect from Oak Hill Academy who will join Sierra Canyon midseason.
Swinton, a 6-foot-5, 180-pound forward who can fire from deep and play both inside and outside, is ranked 28th in Virginia among small forwards in the class of 2024. According to Steve Burnett, Sierra Canyon’s director of student advancement, Swinton’s family first showed interest in transferring about a month ago. The move is currently pending CIF Southern Section approval.
It’s yet another add to a Sierra Canyon boys’ hoops program that’s come to be known by a revolving door of talent as much as its success. When asked whether he felt the transfer culture at the school creates an unfair competitive advantage, Sierra Canyon head of school Jim Skrumbis pointed to USC football becoming an “overnight sensation” after a slew of transfers came in under new head coach Lincoln Riley.
“I worry at times that our success and our fame and our chemistry, our culture, is a double-edged sword,” Skrumbis said. “Because it attracts great families who want what we offer, but it makes us an institution where people can take potshots. And these are the people who don’t make decisions about trying to help a good kid.”
According to publicly available data from the Southern Section website, Sierra Canyon has brought in more transfers in the 2022-23 school year — across all sports — than Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, Harvard-Westlake, Crespi, St. Francis, Bishop Alemany, Chaminade and L.A. Loyola, all of whom are in the Mission League with the Trailblazers. That number, at 28 transfers, is still fewer than Corona Centennial’s 34 and Mater Dei’s 52, two other athletic powerhouses in the Southland.
“We’ve got to say no about 95% of the time,” Skrumbis said of transfers. “But if things line up, we say yes.”
Three of Sierra Canyon’s five starters — Isaiah Elohim, Ashton Hardaway and Jimmy Oladokun — are transfers. So are four more members of the rotation in Osiris Nalls Jr., Bryce Cofield, Majok Chuol and Noah Williams.
“I feel like it’s tough at first,” four-year senior point guard Dylan Metoyer said at Sierra Canyon’s media day of playing alongside new faces every year, “but once we get closer with them, have that bond, I feel like we’re all brothers.”
Swinton will bring more scoring depth to a Sierra Canyon team that’s struggled at times to find an offensive rhythm against high-quality programs. They’ve crafted a strong, swarming defense that pressures the ball, holding opponents under 70 points in every game this season, but the total package has amounted to perhaps the weakest start to a season in Chevalier’s tenure as head coach.
The Trailblazers are 13-3, but have just two wins over teams with nationally ranked resumes — New York Christ the King and Las Vegas Bishop Gorman.
Sierra Canyon is coming off a third-place finish at the Les Schwab Invitational in Portland, Ore., this past week, beating Portland powerhouses Jesuit and Central Catholic before falling to eventual tournament winner West Linn, another Oregon power.