| Special to The News-Press
Watch: Montverde cruises to City of Palms Classic final
Montverde Academy knocked off McEachern 99-48 on Saturday.
Adam Regan, [email protected]
ESPN and its programming partners are doing what Santa Claus couldn’t this season – deliver national-caliber high school basketball to Southwest Florida.
There’s only one tiny “COVID catch.”
No tickets will be sold to the general public.
The GEICO Nationals, launched in 2009 to help determine boys’ and girls’ mythical national champions, has relocated from New York City to Fort Myers and will be played March 31 to April 3 at Florida SouthWestern’s Suncoast Credit Union Arena, it was announced Friday afternoon.
A 10-team boys’ field and four-team girls’ bracket will be unveiled some time during the next week. Expect defending national champion Montverde Academy (20-1) – a four-time Culligan City of Palms Classic champion and four-time GEICO winner, as well – to be joined by other well-known powerhouses like IMG and Oak Hill academies in the single-elimination tournament, which is televised in its entirety on ESPN’s various platforms.
“It’s tremendous to have GEICO Nationals back in 2021,” said Rashid Ghazi, the executive director of the tournament, “and to host it in Florida, where the (Florida High School Athletic Association) has always been a big supporter of the event.”
“It was a natural fit for us,” said FSW Athletic Director George Sanders. “It’s an opportunity to put people back in the building, a product that we would want in the building and good national exposure for the college.”
The girls’ field is expected to include Orlando Lake Highland Prep (19-0), the Class 4A state champion and MaxPreps’ No. 1-ranked team nationally.
Montverde (20-1), currently ranked No. 1 by both MaxPreps and BallisLife, was USA Today’s “Team of the Decade” for the 2010s, winning three straight GEICO titles from 2013-15 and a fourth in 2018. The Eagles’ Kevin Boyle has coached in 17 of the 28 City of Palms Classics played since 1992, including 10 while at St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.).
“We’ve been to the Fort Myers area so many times, and it’s just more convenient,” Boyle said. “You have your own school vehicle, your own vehicles. We’re going to be comfortable there. We love the area and we’ve had a lot of success, so we’re happy it’s there.
“Our returning kids have some good memories (in Fort Myers).”
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Ghazi said that only players’ parents, staff and limited media will be allowed to attend, for the same reason the 2020 City of Palms was canceled.
“We want to maximize player safety during the tournament. and felt the best way to do that was to limit the number of people in the gym,” he said.
The Fort Myers Tip-Off was held as scheduled last Nov. 26-27 at FSW, with organizers scrambling but ultimately assembling a stellar field: No. 1-ranked Gonzaga, No. 13 Kansas, Auburn and Saint Joseph’s. FSW allows up to 50 percent capacity (about 1,500), but that tournament admitted only 400 fans per session.
For Sanders, this was a no-brainer.
“The opportunity to have that field in our building is very important for players who might not qualify (academically),” he said. “For them to see it and know the options that are available at this level, that’s huge for us.”
IMG Academy (boys) and New Hope Academy (Md.) won the 2019 GEICO Nationals, played at Christ The King High School in Queens, N.Y. The 2020 event was canceled shortly after the start of the pandemic.
The event previously made stops in North Bethesda. Md. (2009-13), when it was called the “National High School Invitational,” and Madison Square Garden (for the finals in 2014-16), with Dick’s Sporting Goods as a title sponsor.
VIDEO: IMG Academy National vs. Riverview High
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Dennis Maffezzoli, Sarasota Herald-Tribune