Brandon Boston Is Ready for the Spotlight

He wasn't the most celebrated player on a high school roster that boasted LeBron's and D-Wade's kids, but the soon-to-be Kentucky freshman might be the one we're all talking about years from now.
photo of Deyscha SmithDeyscha SmithContributor IMay 19, 2020

Brandon Boston feels like the plot of his life could make for a good movie one day.

The 6'7" forward wants to be a filmmaker one day, and he often thinks about ideas for movies and television shows, which he writes down or types up. And there may not be a better place for him to start than his own story: A promising, hard-working player moves with his family from his childhood home in Georgia to Los Angeles, where he emerges from a star-studded roster of celebrity teammates to become a top-10 national prospect only to see his crowning moment—a journey to the California state championshiptaken from him by forces beyond his control.

In this case, a global pandemic.

Casting his part wouldn't be hard. He'd tap his little cousin for the role. But he would have to find others to play his teammates at Sierra Canyon.

"They would have to be bulky," he says about who would play teammate Shy Odom. "Shy is a big dude. Bronny, they'd have to be funny, have a lot of energy and always want to play."

It's April, and Boston has been sheltering in place at his house in Los Angeles for the past two months after his senior season ended abruptly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a Zoom virtual meeting, he swivels back and forth in an office chair, wearing a bright blue Kentucky long-sleeve shirt, the kind he might be wearing when he arrives on campus at some point this fall. He's talking about how much he looks up to LeBron James, Bronny's dad, and about the experience of playing last season on a team with a who's who of NBA progeny, from Bronny James to Zaire Wade, top-five-ranked Stanford commit Ziaire Williams and Amari Bailey, who's ranked eighth in the class of 2022.

Sierra Canyon's games were televised on ESPN, and he and his teammates traveled the country (and the world) to play in front of packed arenas. Cameras followed them everywhere.  

Brandon Boston had helped lead Sierra Canyon to a 30-4 record and a spot in the California state championship before the coronavirus pandemic ended the season after a stunning win in the regional final.
Brandon Boston had helped lead Sierra Canyon to a 30-4 record and a spot in the California state championship before the coronavirus pandemic ended the season after a stunning win in the regional final.Bri Lewerke for B/R

His mind circles back to the movie of his life and how his last game against Etiwanda High School had felt like a heroic climax. The crowd, the energy, stepped up when the game was on the line.

Down 13 points in the final three minutes, Sierra Canyon clawed its way back any way it could. Bronny was diving on the floor. Odom was snagging rebounds and taking elbows to the face. Bailey was running through the lane and straight to the basket like a freight train.

And then Brandon had his moment.

With 1:29 left, he unleashed a crossover move with a hesitation jab step to get his defender off-balance. Then he pulled up from the three-point line for a game-tying jumper to bring the score to 61-61.

A mid-range jumper from Williams a little more than a minute later secured the comeback victory, along with a place in Brandon's memory. In the locker room afterward, he watched his teammates celebrate and cry tears of relief and joy. It's a moment he wishes he could relive. 

"We practiced all year for a game like that, and to come out with wins like that, I was speechless," he said. "I couldn't believe that happened.

"I play to win, play to put on a show," he said later. "I want fans to know that I was the best player when they leave the building."

In big-time moments, Boston says something comes over him, a feeling.

Every hooper has his or her own antics, whether it's Steph Curry's three-finger gesture when he nails a three or Lance Stephenson's dance moves.

Boston has his, too.

And after falling to the ground following his game-tying three versus Etiwanda, Boston stayed on the floor and celebrated by extending his right arm out while keeping his left elbow bent inward. Placing his fingers on imaginary strings, he began strumming his own electric guitar.

With the game on the line, Boston looked like a rock star in the making.


It was Brandon Sr. who put the ball in his son's hands when BJ, as most know him, was only three years old. Some days, early in the morning, he'd take his young son to their local YMCA, or outside to go shoot around in their front driveway. He would have him run through dribbling drills in the basement, where Brandon Sr. would make BJ wear anti-grip gloves to control the ball. He'd show him figure eights, looping the ball around and through each of his small legs.

BJ grew up in Atlanta, specifically the north side (or Nawf, for those familiar with Migos lexicon), in an upwardly mobile neighborhood. Brandon Sr., who is originally from Pittsburgh, came from a tough upbringing and wanted more for his son. When he noticed BJ's attraction to basketball, he dedicated himself to helping his son develop his game. Midway through BJ's freshman year at Norcross High School in Georgia, he took BJ to his first workout with Chuck and Michael Pack, twin brothers who run Double Trouble Training and have been working with BJ for the past four years.

It was on a Saturday at a local Lifetime Fitness gym in Atlanta. Chuck remembers meeting Brandon Sr. and liking his vibe right away, how he radiated energy. Meanwhile, BJ, who was an unranked prospect his freshman year, was on the shy side and a little quiet at first. Chuck had heard his name around the ATL, but he wasn't a top-notch player yet.

"I knew who he was a little bit; he definitely wasn't a high-profile player by any means at the time," Chuck said in a phone interview.

To get a feel for him and see where he was at athletically, Chuck tested his strengths and weaknesses during the workout. They ran through ball-handling drills, wearing the same grip gloves Brandon Sr. made BJ wear as a kid, as well as full-court transition layups and shooting. Chuck saw a lanky kid, still growing into his size. He couldn't even dunk at the time.

But what stood out to Chuck was how BJ came to their next workouts having retained what he was learning. He paid attention, focused on the feedback and applied it quickly. By their fifth workout, Chuck wanted to see what kind of player BJ wanted to be.

"Yo, what's your goals or whatever?" Chuck asked him during warm-ups. What he heard back was that BJ wanted to be more, a lot more.

"He said he wanted to be McDonald's All-American," Chuck recalled. "He had three years left at Norcross, so he wanted to win three state championships, and to definitely be the NBA's top player. ... He told me by 25-26, he should be the best player in the world."

So they all pushed him, both his father and his trainers. Sometimes to the point where he'd cry, or refuse to work out at all. It wasn't a sign of defeat, but a frustration with the process, with understanding that potential takes time to develop. But the workouts began to pay off, and by his sophomore year, ESPN ranked him No. 15 overall and the No. 6 shooting guard in the country.

As the attention grew, his trainers felt that humbling him was just as important within his training.

"He got so much praise from everyone else, so my brother and I, we never told him 'good job,'" Chuck admitted. "If he had 35 points or something, we would say, 'Bro, you had two turnovers, you missed this rebound, you missed this from the passing lane.' He understood it came from a good spot."

Brandon Sr. kept him just as accountable, not allowing his son to go to work out if his room wasn't clean or his homework wasn't done. Brandon Sr. declined to be interviewed for this story because he wanted his son to speak for himself.

"His dad came from a more tough area," Chuck said. "I think through that, his dad just tried to put BJ in the best situation to learn and have a good life. I think he set him on the right track and just pushed him.

"Some people are like, 'Let me talk to B,' but BJ always says, 'Go talk to my dad. My dad will handle it.' His dad oversees everything, makes sure no one is out to hurt him or do anything bad. ... I hope one day when I have a son, I'm something like that." 

His mother, Alissa, also played a big role in BJ's development. She greeted him with breakfast and a smile when he'd return home from a workout at 7 a.m. BJ grew to appreciate her energy, how she supported him when he was unranked and felt like everyone was doubting him. When he was 16, he convinced a local tattoo artist to give him his first ink. BJ chose his mom's favorite bible scripture, Jeremiah 29:11.

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

In time, Chuck started to see a turning point in BJ's maturity and how he conducted himself around other people. He was always laughing and joking around, and as he became more notable, he didn't shy away from the attention.

During one of their workouts, a group of people playing on the other end of the court noticed him. Rather than ignore them or brush them off, BJ stopped the workout to talk to them.

"They all just came over, 'Oh my God, that's BJ!'" Chuck said. "He could have been, like, 'No, I'm not taking a picture,' but he just stopped and talked to them. That probably made their day. BJ is really people-oriented. People love being around him."


It was BJ's energy that caught the eye of Kentucky head coach John Calipari.

"When I'm watching young people play, I'm watching how they impact the game in a positive way, their body language, their spirit about them on the court," Calipari said in a phone interview. "How they dominate the game before three or four minutes of a game, I'm watching. I want to know if they can dominate well. BJ, he ends up being able to dominate both defensively, blocking shots, making plays, and then he can dominate the game offensively, too."

Boston's maturity, along with his floor-stretching range, earned him an offer from Kentucky's John Calipari before he began classes at Sierra Canyon for his senior year.
Boston's maturity, along with his floor-stretching range, earned him an offer from Kentucky's John Calipari before he began classes at Sierra Canyon for his senior year.Gregory Payan/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

By his junior year at Norcross, BJ had established himself as a top-10 prospect with offers from almost every premier program in the country, including Duke, Kansas and Ohio State. But BJ wanted a program that would keep it real with him and his family. That's what he got from the Kentucky coaching staff when he visited in July.

"They told me ... what I was going to expect when I come to the campus," BJ said. "Just come in, be prepared for Coach Cal to be yelling and for me every day in practice, be prepared to work hard."

Calipari was intrigued with how BJ carried himself during his visit, a maturity that he felt was a reflection of his upbringing. He laughed with Brandon Sr. about their Pittsburgh connection, how the city has a certain way about it, the "ins and downtowns and the crick." 

"I think [BJ] wanted what we're about," Calipari said. "He didn't need anything handed to him. He didn't need to be promised, to say, 'You're going to take this many shots, and here's everything we're going to do.' ... I don't think he wanted that. I think that's [why], at the end of the day, everybody wanted him."

BJ committed to Kentucky on the spot.

"I want him to teach me how to be a pro," he said. "What things I need to do and what I need to get there."


BJ soon decided his first steps couldn't wait for Lexington. For his senior season, he hatched a plan to leave Norcross and head to McEachern High School, a public school about 35 miles west in Powder Springs, Georgia, to team up with Auburn commit Sharife Cooper.

"Sharife, that's my brother," Boston said. "It would have been crazy."

The two had joined forces on the AAU circuit the prior summer, playing on the AOT Running Rebels. Together, they were an eyebrow-raising offensive threat, dishing lobs and no-look passes to each other so in sync, it was as though they were always on the same wavelength. Boston saw them selling out gyms at every game.

"I was gonna go there at first, honestly. But I don't think that would have benefited my whole family."

During a visit to Los Angeles with his father, BJ checked out Sierra Canyon, a private school in the nearby suburb of Chatsworth. He immediately liked the outdoorsy vibe of the campus, but he also felt the school would benefit his sister, Brandi.

He knew she looked up to him and that a private school like Sierra Canyon could have her around successful people who knew not only what they wanted to do, but how to get there. Visions of past alumni were hard to ignore, names like Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Willow Smith, Ireland Baldwin—all celebrities with brands, platforms and their own businesses.

"I really came for my family," he said. "Growing up with the kids that go to Sierra Canyon, it's just a different environment and better schooling. I think it was good for them to come out here." 

BJ also would get the benefit of added exposure while growing accustomed to the larger arenas he will experience at the next level and playing alongside other stars.

The next year, he and his entire family moved with him to Los Angeles, a change that the family appears to have embraced. His sister, as BJ hoped, has made new friends and adopted new hobbies, like volleyball and dance. And BJ has gotten used to the West Coast vibe.

"It reminds me of High School Musical," he said about the school. "It's just like a movie 'cause it's different than where I came from."

Before the season started, BJ found himself on a 23-hour flight to China with his newest teammates. They went to five different cities, tried new types of cuisine and visited outdoor hot tubs and huge malls. BJ didn't speak Mandarin, so at times, it felt like all he had were his new teammates to talk to.

BJ and his sister, Brandi, from early in his high school career at Norcross.
BJ and his sister, Brandi, from early in his high school career at Norcross.Photo courtesy of Brandon Boston Sr.

They brought that connection to the court. BJ found himself becoming a vocal leader and holding his younger teammates accountable. They came to take practice as though it was a game.

"We're all competitive," Boston said. "We all want to win, we all talk trash and we're all pretty good. ... Playing with those good guys, I feel like competing every day in practice made me a better player, made me want to work hard and play with other good players.

While Boston admits he misses home at times—his friends, the food, the NAWFside vibeshe also recognized that Sierra Canyon was putting him in a position to deal with a new circumstance and make the best of it.

"Coming in here, I really got my mental health strong," Boston said. "[That's] a big part on the court. You gotta, like, stay in control and keep your emotions controlled. ... I think I handled it really well. I'm used to cameras being in your face. But here, they came all at once. Everybody was at every game, every game was sold out. It was crazy."

That mindset will help him deal with the incoming attentionand doubtsthat are set to come his way at Kentucky. The Wildcats' entire starting five declared for the 2020 NBA draft, leaving Kentucky's incoming recruiting class with a sizable vacuum to fill.

"That class is a really strong class," Calipari said of a group that also includes top-60 prospects Terrence Clarke, Devin Askew, Isaiah Jackson and Cam'Ron Fletcher, who together comprise what is considered the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, per 247Sports. "We may not be the best team early, but if these kids come together, we have the talent, the length and the experience in some of the older kids [that] by the end of the year, this will be one of those teams."

Boston is confident his class can handle the quick transition.

"I feel like we're gonna shock a whole lot of people," Boston said. "A lot of people don't think we can do it, but I think we're going to shock a lot of people by winning games. I feel like the talent--our talent--is unmatched. And we all get along well, so I think we're going to jell ... when we get out there."

He can see himself bonding with his incoming teammates, just like he did at Sierra Canyon.

"I really think it's going to be like how this year was, times five," he said about the bonds he hopes to form with his new teammates at UK. "We're going to have a lot of fun."

Though Boston had gained plenty of attention when he played in Georgia, the crowds his Sierra Canyon team regularly drew offered him a preview of what his games might look like when he plays at Kentucky.
Though Boston had gained plenty of attention when he played in Georgia, the crowds his Sierra Canyon team regularly drew offered him a preview of what his games might look like when he plays at Kentucky.Johnnie Izquierdo for B/R

While other top recruits such as Jalen Green and Isaiah Todd have opted to skip out on college and join the G League, Boston is committed to his decision, one he feels is another step in his journey toward what he hopes lies ahead.

"When you talk over a five-year period, he's going to be one of those kids that we talk about," Calipari said.

While Boston thinks that conversation will center around his similarity to New Orleans forward Brandon Ingram ("just because we look alike"), he adds, "I gained a lot from Kevin Durant's game, too, [as well as] Jamal Crawford. I can really handle the ball."

Don't be mistaken: BJ has his own vibe. He's the type to hand himself the auxiliary cord to play music, still rocks skinny jeans and doesn't just think he could beat Durant; he knows he can.

"I could learn some things," he said about the chance to compete against Durant. "But I think I could take him."

That doesn't mean he wants to be the next KD, though.

"[I want] to be the next Brandon Boston, that's all I can ask for," he adds. "A player that's going to get after it, a player that is versatile, can do anything a coach asks me. Becoming the best player on the court."

To get there will be no small feat. He will have to roll with whatever punches the COVID-19 pandemic brings, will have to get to know yet another new team and have to fit into Kentucky's system. But he hasn't shown any sides of faltering or stumbling yet.

This is how a rock star makes it from one curtain call to the next show—from the stage at Sierra Canyon to Rupp Arena at Kentucky.

   

Deyscha Smith is a sportswriter based in Boston who writes for Boston.com and the Boston Globe. She can be reached via Twitter, @deyschasmith.


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