It was expected that coach Kevin Boyle would relocate to Montverde Academy, situated near Orlando, Fla., and quickly turn the Eagles into a national powerhouse.
But maybe not this quickly.
With a good week, including a championship this weekend at the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions, Montverde could become the undisputed best high school team in the land just midway through Boyle’s second season.
The Eagles (18-0), already ranked No. 1 by ESPN, have a chance for three quality victories Thursday through Saturday in Springfield before flying to Springfield, Mass., to play Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep on Monday in the Spaulding Hoophall Classic on ESPNU.
Findlay Prep is No. 1 in the USA TODAY Super 25 national rankings. Montverde is ranked No. 2 in the same poll.
It’s a rigorous stretch of travel for a team with a goal to become the top program in the land. But senior Kasey Hill, one of the rare Eagles already there when Boyle arrived after leaving his self-made national power in New Jersey, said the best is yet to come for Montverde.
“I definitely think we’re playing really good, but I think we could play at a higher level,” said Hill, who decided on New Year’s Eve of 2011 that he would stay in state with the Florida Gators. “Our offense comes to us, but we can play better defense.”
Hill is the No. 9-ranked player in the nation, according to Rivals.com, but the 6-foot-1 guard is just another blue-chipper on a roster full of them.
Boyle built St. Patrick of Elizabeth, N.J., into a perennial national contender and prospect factory, producing NBA alums such as Kyrie Irving, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Samuel Dalembert and Al Harrington.
Boyle said he always had interest in playing in the Tournament of Champions, but New Jersey state high school rules did not allow teams to play three games in three days.
Boyle has heard from longtime coaching friends Gary DeCesare, formerly of St. Raymond’s (N.Y.), and former Christ the King (N.Y.) coach Bob Oliva — their teams have played here — about the hospitality and enthusiasm of local fans for the T of C.
“We’ve heard what a great, great tournament it is, with the fans, the excitement, the competition,” Boyle said this week. “In this case, it’s something that we would look to try to be in (down the road) if they want us back. It’s something we would look at revisiting.”
That would be good news for local fans who appreciate great high school basketball talent. This year’s Eagles also feature Dakari Johnson, who came to Florida with Boyle and committed to Kentucky during a live broadcast on ESPN2 earlier this month. The 6-foot-10 center is rated as the No. 13 senior prospect in the country.
Senior Devin Williams is rated No. 91 in the senior class and is headed to West Virginia. Three top 150 players are in Montverde’s junior class, headlined by No. 10 D’Angelo Russell, who lists Missouri among his college considerations.
Likely on the way is Ben Simmons, an Australian who might be the nation’s best prospect in the sophomore class. He will not play this weekend because of Florida transfer eligibility rules.
The depth and unselfishness of his program is key to play in difficult stretches such as this week, Boyle said. The Eagles open with Arkansas signee Bobby Portis and Little Rock (Ark.) Hall in the 9:30 p.m. nightcap Thursday at JQH Arena.
T of C tournament director Mark Fisher has seen Montverde play and likens Hill to another famous tournament alum in John Wall, now an NBA star with the Washington Wizards.
“I really don’t like being compared to the other NBA players because it’s so hard,” Hill said this week. “They’re in the NBA for a reason. I have so much more to learn and so much to play for.
“It’s hard to compare a high school kid to the NBA. But they see things and they’ve been around basketball for a long time, too; it’s not just stuff that they’re making up.”
Bass Pro Tournament of Champions
* When: Thursday through Saturday
* Where: JQH Arena, Missouri State University
* TV: CBS Sports Network will carry the semifinals and finals live
* Tickets: Reserved seats on the lower level are $36 for the weekend. Single-night reserved seats are $12. General-admission seats are $30 for the weekend, $10 a day. Students are $21 for the event, or $7 a day. Call 836-7678 or 476-7849.