An inside look at LeBron James’ high school legacy and Bronny’s journey in his father’s footsteps

It was the summer of 2000 and LeBron James had just finished his senior year at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio. He was emerging as a player to watch and keep an eye on in the Midwest, but it would be a year before the high school and grassroots world really knew who he was, and two more years before him the whole world would know as “The Chosen One” to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated and have his high school games aired on national television.

In late July, 15-year-old James was in Northern California playing with the Oakland Soldiers in the Elite Eight tournament. The opposing team, Belmont Shore, hails from Southern California and was coached by Dinos Trigonis. Trigonis began coaching in 1993 and knew all of the aspiring Californian prospects.

Belmont Shore held a comfortable 15-point lead at halftime. It wasn’t until the second half that the Soldiers began to play a kid Trigonis had never seen before. The game completely changed when this young player went wide, made shots, drove the lane, then dived into people and hit deep 3-pointers.

“I was kind of surprised when I thought, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’ ” Trigonis told Yahoo Sports. “He probably had more than 20 points and they smoked us in the second half and in the end they won the game. It was only after that that I first heard the name LeBron James.”

That same summer, Eric Bossi, the national basketball recruiting director for 247 Sports, began his career as a basketball recruiting analyst and was browsing and researching the Ohio State High School Tournament and came across James.

“I was like, ‘Okay, this guy is going to be pretty big,'” Bossi told Yahoo Sports. “Obviously not to the extent that he was a household name yet, but he was on my radar and I had to find a way to see this boy play at some point.”

Both Trigonis and Bossi recall James and Lenny Cooke competing at Adidas ABCD Camp the following summer 2001 and say things started to change for James. Cooke was the headliner, averaging 25 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and two blocks per game during his junior year at Northern Valley High School in New Jersey. In the high school rankings, he was ahead of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. In the closing seconds of the game, Cooke’s team was 1 point ahead and had the ball. Instead of fouling, James Cooke stole the ball, scoring a quick break and winning the game, leaving camp with MVP honors.

“This game made him known to everyone,” said Bossi. “That moment made him an instant superstar.”

LeBron James during a St. Vincent-St.  Mary High School basketball game in the early 2000s.  (AP photo, file)

LeBron James during a St. Vincent-St. Mary High School basketball game in the early 2000s. (AP photo, file)

During his junior season at St. Vincent-St. Mary, James averaged 29.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists and gained worldwide attention as the next, next Michael Jordan.

“At this age, LeBron is better than anyone I’ve seen in this business in 37 years, including Kevin [Garnett] and kobe [Bryant]’ Sonny Vaccaro told Sports Illustrated at the time. Vaccaro famously signed Jordan for his first shoe deal with Nike and founded the ABCD camp.

The summer before his senior season, James broke his left wrist, disqualifying him from all major AAU showcases, camps and tournaments. Bossi was sitting with a number of college coaches at Nike camp watching some of the top high school candidates when someone walked in wearing a retro jersey, beautiful jewelry and sunglasses. It was James. By this point, every top collegiate coach knew that James would be going straight to the NBA in less than a year.

“He just looked like a star and only watched games,” Bossi said.

That night, after camp was over and everyone cleared out, James was alone on the pitch shooting 3’s with a cast on his non-shooting hand. He let off shot after shot, only a few people stayed behind and watched.

“Me and Roy Williams would sit and watch him for 15 or 20 minutes with no one else in the gym,” Bossi added. “I looked over and said to Williams, ‘What are you still doing here, Coach?’ and he just turned to me and he said ‘this is the only way you can see him play live’ even though he knew he wasn’t going to play in college.You have a legendary coach like Roy Williams and he knew full well what came before him and just wanted to hang out and watch LeBron shoot jump shots with cast because he was such an amazing talent.”

During his final year before the 2003 NBA Draft, James and his teammates were featured in several games on national television. One of the events was Pango’s Dream Classic by Trigonis at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion in early January. The event was sold out with over 13,000 visitors. Nike CEO Phil Knight, Denzel Washington and Dustin Hoffman were just a few of the stars who sat courtside alongside several NBA executives. A special VIP got a last minute ticket thanks to James.

“It was a few days before the event and my phone just exploded with ticket requests,” Trigonis recalled.

He drove James and his teammates to lunch and James sat next to him in the front seat. Trigonis was on the phone and someone was trying to get tickets for their client, an aspiring rapper. The VIP list was jam-packed and Trigonis saw no way to make room for this unknown music artist.

“As I speak, LeBron nudges me with his left elbow and goes, ‘Who is that? Who wants to come to the game?’ And I asked for clarification and I told him, ’50 Cent,’ and his face lit up and he said, ‘I love 50, that’s my type!’ And I immediately said on the phone, “You’ll have two tickets for him at the door. See you there.” ”

St. Vincent-St. Mary defeated Mater Dei (Santa Ana, California) 64-58 with James getting his teammates going after battling off the field. James finished the game with seven assists, some of which were of the spectacular variety, and had 21 points at the highest level. Just five months later, James would be the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft.

How LeBron James was discovered as a high school student from 2003 to 2023 is very different from his son Bronny's experience.  (Graphic by Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)

How LeBron James was discovered as a high school student from 2003 to 2023 is very different from his son Bronny’s experience. (Graphic by Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)

It’s now 20 years later and Bossi and Trigonis are two of just a handful of people who saw and watched James as a high school pretender and are now watching his son Bronny navigate high school and the grassroots realm while his father cheering him on sidelines. One of the most popular high school basketball players in the country, Bronny has 6.9 million followers on Instagram and has already signed a lucrative footwear deal with Nike. A few weeks ago, Bronny was named a McDonald’s All-American, following in his father’s footsteps. James was more than a proud dad, posting on social media following the announcement: “Ayyyyyyyeeeeee Bronny!!!!!! Happy birthday my son! So damn proud of you! !!!”

Bronny isn’t nearly as talented and hopeful as James was when he was in high school, but he’s put up with it all, despite all the criticism and immense pressure that comes with being LeBron’s son on the basketball court.

“I think Bronny’s IQ is way better and higher than people think,” Trigonis said. “He can play.”

“He plays a team-oriented game, defends at a high level and has a solid knight,” added Bossi. “Both LeBron and Bronny are powerful, have strong physiques, and are great athletes. Obviously Bronny is significantly shorter than Papa but their mannerisms are the same in how they stand and walk and some of the moves Bronny has shown on the court are clearly Papa’s.”

Bronny’s recruitment has been kept under wraps throughout his high school career, but Ohio State, USC, Oregon and the G League Ignite are programs believed to be in the mix.

James has made it very clear that he plans to play at the NBA level with his son. At 38, he could advance to 40 if Bronny makes it to the NBA, but age doesn’t seem to be an issue for James. Even after he passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s goal-scoring record Tuesday night, TNT’s James Shaquille O’Neal said he knows he has a few years left in the league.

“I know I can play a few more years” said James. “The way my body is responding to me throughout the season I know I have a few more years to play. It’s all about my sanity, and if my sanity is still in it and I’m still motivated to go out and fight for championships because I feel like I still do that for every group of guys or franchise can. That’s my mindset, and if my mind is sharp and I feel motivated to go out and prepare each day, I can keep playing this game.

James made history by breaking a scoring record no one thought would be broken and continues to defy all the expectations placed on him since his high school days. In two short years, James could break another record, this time alongside his son as the first father-son duo to share an NBA court.


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