The last of the 2,000-plus fans had emptied the John J. Nevins Gymnasium at Bishop Verot High School in the latest minutes of Saturday night when City of Palms Classic basketball tournament director Donnie Wilkie reflected on the 2012 basketball tournament and turned his attention to 2013.
“Obviously, I would have preferred if everybody was healthy this year,” Wilkie said.
As if on cue, Plano (Texas) Prestonwood Christian coach Chris Mayberry entered the otherwise almost empty building.
“That would have been real nice,” said Mayberry, whose team won the 2012 Classic but went 0-3 this year with standout starters Julius Randle (broken foot) and Mickey Mitchell (torn knee ligament) sidelined.
Bishop Verot junior center Ricky Doyle and Joel Berry, the reigning Mr. Florida basketball from Lake Highland Prep, also could not play because of injuries.
Still, the tournament’s final game featured two nationally-ranked teams, with USA Today’s No. 2 Montverde Academy defeating No. 7 Highland (Utah) Lone Peak 66-45 for the championship.
“I’m trying to imagine what it would have been like had everyone been healthy,” Wilkie said. “Still, we had at least six teams that could have played with anybody we’ve ever had here.”
Now that the Classic has secured a five-year affiliation with Nike, the dynamics of future tournaments could generate even more talented teams.
The affiliation does not mean that teams without Nike shoe contracts won’t be in the Classic, either.
“The Nike connection is going to start to play a bigger role here,” Wilkie said. “We’re probably going to pick up a team or two just because of that relationship.”
Now already less than one year away, the 41st Annual State Farm City of Palms Classic will be played Dec. 18-23 at Bishop Verot.
Two teams formally have accepted invitations from Wilkie: Houston Yates and Nashville (Tenn.) Christ Presbyterian, the latter of which is coached by Drew Maddux.
Maddux played in the 1993 Classic for Nashville Good Pasture along with teammate Ron Mercer, a future Kentucky Wildcat and NBA player.
Yates gained national notoriety in January of 2010 when it defeated Lee High School 170-35 and won games during the 2009-10 season by margins of 135, 115, 99 (twice), 98, 90 and 88 points, as examined by a Rick Reilly column in ESPN The Magazine.
Wilkie said he also would like to have Chicago Whitney Young and Montverde Academy return, but otherwise he would like to comb the nation for talented but relatively unknown teams similar to Lone Peak and Omaha (Neb.) as he did for the 2012 tournament.
“I liked the gleam in the eyes of the kids from Nebraska and Utah,” Wilkie said. “In some ways, it looked like this tournament meant more to them. There was a lot of buildup back home. The fans in those two states and in those communities were excited.
“When in doubt, we’re going to try to get as much variety as we can.”
As the last of the Bishop Verot cleanup crew cleared the final discarded water bottles and popcorn cups from the gymnasium, Wilkie pulled out his phone and clicked on a photograph he took earlier this year. While road-tripping through Indiana, a state that never has had a Classic participant, Wilkie stopped at Milan High, the school that won the 1954 Indiana state title and inspired the Gene Hackman movie Hoosiers.
The Indiana state high school association forbids its teams to travel for faraway tournaments such as the Classic. Should that ever change, Wilkie told the Milan athletic director his program had an open invitation to the Classic, regardless of its talent level that season, whether it be in a Signature or Sunshine Series game or in the 16-team tournament field.
Wilkie would find a way to make room.
“You remember the word I use,” Wilkie said. “What do I always try to make the tournament be?”
The word: Interesting.