After a one-year layoff due to the coronavirus, Culligan City of Palms Classic tournament director Donnie Wilkie wanted to bring a star-studded field to Suncoast Credit Union Arena come December.
Wilkie executed on that plan, and then some.
The field was announced Thursday afternoon, with IMG Academy, Montverde, Milton (Ga.), Oak Hill (Va.), and AZ Compass Prep (Ariz.) serving as the headliners.
All five of those teams played in the 2021 GEICO Nationals, which were also held at Suncoast Credit Union Arena earlier this year. AZ Compass Prep will be the lone team not in the main bracket, as the Dragons are slated to be in the four-team Signature Series bracket alongside Combine Academy (N.C.), Crestwood Prep (Ontario), and Victory Rock Prep out of Bradenton.
Between ESPN and Rivals rankings, the tournament will feature eight of the nation’s top 20 seniors and nine of the top 20 juniors, including Montverde’s Jalen Duren, the top recruit in the 2022 class, and Montverde’s Omaha Biliew, the No. 2 recruit in the 2023 class. Naasir Cunningham of Gill St. Bernard’s (N.J.) is ranked second in the sophomore class.
Duren, Biliew, and Montverde will enter the tournament as the favorite, having won in 2019 and bringing home the GEICO Nationals title just a few months ago. Duren is the No. 1 recruit in the 2022 class, and will be playing alongside nine others who are ranked in their respective classes, including senior Dariq Whitehead (No. 6, Rivals), senior Skyy Clark (No. 15, Rivals), and junior Kwame Evans (No. 15, Rivals).
Isidore Newman, the LHSAA Division III runner-up this past season, will be making the trek from New Orleans to Fort Myers. Arch Manning, who is the consensus No. 1 quarterback in the 2023 class and nephew of Eli and Peyton Manning, will be joining the Greenies. Manning is ranked No. 2 overall on ESPN and 247Sports
Manning completed 66.7% of his passes last season, throwing for 1,922 yards with 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He added 274 rushing yards and eight more touchdowns as Isidore Newman finished with a 9-1 record before falling to Lafayette Christian in the Division III semifinal, 21-7.
“It’ll be an attraction for sure,” Wilkie said. “It’s not something we set out to do, but I think it does show that athletes are athletes, and even in 2021, you can do more than one thing. Good for them that they’re at the level they’re at in football and still well-rounded enough to want to play basketball.
“These are probably the highest recruits we’ve ever had.”
Manning is not the only football standout. Lebbeus Overton, a defensive lineman at Milton, will be in attendance as well. Overton is the consensus No. 1 recruit in the 2023 class by both ESPN and 247Sports.
“He’s a double-double machine,” Milton coach Allen Whitehart said of Overton. “He’s a humble kid. To have the notoriety to be the No. 1 ranked player in the country, to come every day with a hard hat mentality. He’s a glue guy. He doesn’t demand the basketball.
“When you have a guy that’s selfless like that and lets the other kids to what they do, it helps you blend together as a working five.”
The Ascenders, who hail three counties north of Lee County, will return a core that includes Jarace Walker (No. 9, Rivals), Jaden Bradley (No. 14, ESPN), Eric Dailey Jr. (No. 23, Rivals), and Jett Howard (No. 40, Rivals). IMG came up short in both the GEICO Nationals and the 2019 City of Palms Classic to Kevin Boyle and the Eagles.
No team in Lee or Collier counties will be in the main field this season, except for SFCA, which made it to the Class 2A State Semifinal in Lakeland last season before falling to Impact Christian Academy. SFCA will play against Miami Columbus in the Hugh Thimlar Tribute Game.
“I’m excited,” SFCA coach Mike Bonilla said. “Jay (White) had a really good year last year. You can see from his work ethic and what he’s been doing this summer, he’s ready to play. He’s ready to lead our group again. Jay wouldn’t be who he is without the rest of the group. Sometimes that gets overseen, but we have a really good group this year.
“Jay is absolutely going to lead the group, but I’m excited to see what this whole group does this year.”
Toronto’s Crestwood Prep becomes the first international team to play in the City of Palms Classic since 2015, when Thon Maker and the Ontario Athlete Institute played in the Classic, which was the final year at Bishop Verot.
With travel restrictions hopefully gone between the United States and Canada by December, Wilkie is optimistic that Canada will be represented at the City of Palms Classic, given the changing international landscape of the NBA.
“I like playing ‘Oh, Canada’,” Wilkie said. “I don’t know why, but I was a kid watching hockey when I was younger. When the City of Palms got rolling in the mid to late 80’s, one of the first things I tried to do was get a team from Canada. They were from Kitchener, Ontario, called St. Jerome’s.
“It just adds to everything. First, I had a Canadian team. Then I had a team from Austria, Germany, Barking Abbey in East London. I want to have a team from Cuba or South America at some point, or maybe even Spain.”
City of Palms Classic looks ahead to 2018 with Oak Hill Academy making long-awaited return
Teams in the 48th Annual Culligan City of Palms Classic
- Ballard (Louisville, Ky.)
- Berkmar (Lilburn, Ga.)
- Buchtel (Akron, Ohio)
- Calvary Christian (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
- Charlotte (Punta Gorda, Fla.)
- Dr. Phillips (Orlando, Fla.)
- Gill St. Bernard’s (Gladstone, N.J.)
- Greensboro Day (Greensboro, N.C.)
- IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)
- Isidore Newman (New Orleans, La.)
- Milton (Alpharetta, Ga.)
- Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.)
- Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.)
- Orlando Christian Prep (Orlando, Fla.)
- St. John’s (Washington, D.C.)
- Whitney Young (Chicago, Ill.)
- AZ Compass Prep (Chandler, Ariz.)
- Combine Academy (Lincolnton, N.C.)
- Crestwood Prep (Toronto, Ont.)
- Victory Rock Prep (Bradenton, Fla.)
- Choctawhatchee (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.)
- Life Christian Academy (Kissimmee, Fla.)
- Norland (Miami, Fla.)
- Tampa Catholic (Tampa, Fla.)
Culligan City of Palms Classic Game-by-Game Schedule
All games at Suncoast Credit Union Arena, Summerlin Road & FSW Parkway, Fort Myers Home team (white uniforms) is team on left
Friday, Dec. 17 (five games)
2:15 p.m. (Game 1): Teams TBD
4:00 p.m. (Game 2): Teams TBD
5:45 p.m. (Game 3-Hugh Thimlar Tribute): SFCA vs. Columbus (Fla.)
7:45 p.m. (Game 4): Charlotte (Fla.) vs. Milton (Ga.)
9:30 p.m. (Game 5): Teams TBD
Saturday, Dec. 18 (seven games)
10:30 a.m. (Game 6): Consolation
12:10 p.m. (Game 7): Teams TBD
1:50 p.m. (Game 8-Sunshine Series): Tampa Catholic (Fla.) vs. Norland (Fla.)
3:30 p.m. (Game 9-Sunshine Series): Life Christian (Fla.) vs. Choctawhatchee (Fla.)
5:15 p.m. (Game 10): Bradenton IMG Academy (Fla.) vs. TBD
7:00 p.m. (Game 11): Montverde Academy (Fla.) vs. TBD
8:45 p.m. (Game 12): Mouth of Wilson Oak Hill Academy (Va.) vs. TBD
Sunday, Dec. 19 (four games)
12:00 p.m. (Game 13): Consolation: Game 12 loser vs. TBA
1:45 p.m. (Game 14-Signature Series): Victory Rock (Fla.) vs. AZ Compass Prep (Ariz.)
3:30 p.m. (Game 15-Signature Series): Combine Academy (N.C.) vs. Crestwood (Ont.)
5:15 p.m. (Game 16): Quarterfinal: Gm 12 winner vs. TBA
6:40 p.m.: Bahama Breeze 45-second Challenge
6:50 p.m.: Joe North Three-Point Shootout
7:30 p.m.: Edison National Bank Slam Dunk Championship
Monday, Dec. 20 (seven games)
10:30 a.m. (Game 17): Consolation
12:10 p.m. (Game 18): Consolation
1:50 p.m. (Game 19-Sunshine Series): Gm 10 loser vs. Gm 9 loser
3:30 p.m. (Game 20-Sunshine Series): Gm 9 winner vs. Gm 10 winner
5:15 p.m. (Game 21): Quarterfinal
7:00 p.m. (Game 22): Quarterfinal
8:45 p.m. (Game 23): Quarterfinal
Tuesday, Dec. 21 (eight games)
9:00 a.m. (Game 24): Consolation semifinal
10:40 a.m. (Game 25): Consolation semifinal
12:20 p.m. (Game 26-Signature Series Third-Place): Gm 14 loser vs. Gm 15 loser
2:00 p.m. (Game 27): Fifth-place semifinal
3:45 p.m. (Game 28): Fifth-place semifinal
5:30 p.m. (Game 29-Signature Series Championship): Gm 15 winner vs. Gm 14 winner
7:15 p.m. (Game 30): Semifinal
9:00 p.m. (Game 31): Semifinal
Wednesday, Dec. 22 (six games)
11:30 a.m. (Game 32): Challenge-round game: Teams TBD
1:15 p.m. (Game 33): Consolation championship: Gm 24 winner vs. Gm 25 winner
3:00 p.m. (Game 34): Fifth-Place Championship: Gm 27 winner vs. Gm 28 winner
4:45 p.m. (Game 35): Challenge-round game: Teams TBD
6:30 p.m. (Game 36): Third-Place Championship: Gm 30 loser vs. Gm 31 loser
8:15 p.m. (Game 37): City of Palms Championship: Gm 30 winner vs. Gm 31 winner
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