WATCH: Montverde takes down IMG Academy for City of Palms Classic
The Eagles came back against IMG en route to a 63-55 victory. Scottie Barnes was named the MVP of the tournament, his second in three years.
Alex Martin, Naples Daily News
High school basketball national champions will be crowned in Fort Myers this week. Well, sort of.
After a year-long layoff, the long-awaited GEICO Nationals are back. Launched in 2009 to help determine boys’ and girls’ mythical national champions, the single-elimination tournament was relocated from New York City to Fort Myers this season due to the coronavirus pandemic protocols in the northeast.
Play tips off today and runs through Saturday at Suncoast Credit Union Arena on Florida SouthWestern’s campus, but no fans will be allowed.
This year’s boys’ tournament features the likes of Montverde, IMG, Sunrise Christian, AZ Compass Prep, Wasatch Academy, Milton, Prolific Prep, PACE Academy, Oak Hill Academy, and La Lumiere.
The girls’ tournament is comprised of four teams: Westlake, Lake Highland Prep, Paul VI, and Fremont. The combined records of the four teams is 72-4.
The IMG Ascenders captured the 2019 crown, defeating La Lumiere (Ind.) 66-55 in the championship game. IMG head coach Sean McAloon believes his team is prepared to defend its title.
“I feel that we are in as good a position we can be,” McAloon said. “With the FHSAA guidelines, we can’t play past Feb. 13, unlike every other team in the tournament. So we are at somewhat of a disadvantage in terms of competing. But we’ve prepared it like a bowl game in gradually ramping up towards peaking come April 1st. You never really know, but my staff has done a heck of a job in preparation, and I’m at peace with the effort we’ve put in mentally and physically.
“GEICO is the best of the best. All the fields are talented, and this one is no different. Anyone can be beaten on any night, basketball always proves that if you look ahead or behind. So for us, we just focus on what we can control which is our preparation for Milton. Past that means nothing at this point.”
IMG has a loaded group, led by Michigan signee Moussa Diabate, senior Tamar Bates, and a quartet of juniors in Jarace Walker, Jaden Bradley, Jett Howard, and Eric Dailey.
Sunrise Christian and Luke Barnwell, one of the rising stars in the coaching ranks, have Tennessee signee Kennedy Chandler and Baylor signee Kendall Brown. The Buffaloes’ three losses this season are to Montverde and AZ Compass Prep.
Montverde coach Kevin Boyle lauded the field and has high expectations for his group in Fort Myers.
“You look at the matchups and there’s a lot of quality teams,” Boyle said. “We’ve set the bar real high. For us, if we don’t win the tournament, it isn’t a great achievement if we get to the final and lose. It’s a lot of pressure like Gonzaga and Baylor (in the NCAA Tournament) right now. Both are in that same boat. They can’t come in second and be satisfied because so much has been put into it.
“Usually, that first week in February is when our season is over,” Boyle added. “Then we have six, seven, eight weeks before GEICO. Not quite two months, but it’s a long period of time between not playing a game or having practices. I usually give them the better of a week off, and then get back to it. It is a long grind for kids to go that long after you got into playing games, then stopping, then restarting again.”
The Eagles boast a ton of talent, headlined by junior center Jalen Duren, Michigan signee Caleb Houstan, Baylor signee Langston Love, and junior shooting guard Dariq Whitehead. Montverde also has Dayton signee DaRon Holmes and Creighton signee Ryan Nembhard.
“We’ve had the fortune of winning five of the last eight high school national championships,” Boyle said. “Obviously, we were undefeated last year and a lot of people thought we were the best high school team ever with probably have four guys drafted in the first round from last year’s team, and three in the lottery. With Moses Moody, Scottie Barnes, Cade Cunningham, and Dayron Sharpe.”
2021 GEICO Nationals Schedule
Boys: No. 10 La Lumiere (Ind.) vs. No. 7 Prolific Prep (Calif.), 6 p.m., ESPN3
Boys: No. 9 Oak Hill Academy (Va.) vs. No. 8 PACE Academy (Ga.), 8 p.m., ESPN3
Boys: No. 6 Milton (Ga.) vs. No. 3 IMG Academy (Fla.), 12 p.m., ESPNU
Boys: La Lumiere/Prolific Prep winner vs. No. 2 Sunrise Christian (Kan.), 2 p.m., ESPNU
Boys: Oak Hill Academy/PACE Academy winner vs. No. 1 Montverde Academy (Fla.), 4 p.m., ESPNU
Boys: No. 5 Wasatch Academy (Utah) vs. No. 4 AZ Compass Prep (Ariz.), 6 p.m., ESPNU
Girls: No. 3 Paul VI (Va.) vs. No. 2 Lake Highland Prep (Fla.), 10:30 a.m., ESPNU
Girls: No. 4 Fremont (Utah) vs. No. 1 Westlake (Ga.), 12:30 p.m., ESPNU
Boys: Quarterfinal winners, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2
Boys: Quarterfinal winners, 4:30 p.m., ESPN2
Girls: Paul VI/Lake Highland Prep winner vs. Fremont/Westlake winner, 10 a.m., ESPN2
Boys: Semifinal winners, 12 p.m., ESPN
Follow The News-Press and Naples Daily News Sports Writer Alex Martin on Twitter: @NP_AlexMartin. For the best sports coverage in Southwest Florida, follow @newspresssports and @ndnprepzone on Instagram.