When asked earlier this month if he thought this was the strongest field ever for the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions, Tournament Director Mark Fisher was non-committal.
“Out of respect to the older teams and players, I can’t really say that … but you can say that,” he told me, hoping to juice ticket sales a bit with an article.
I’ve been going through the numbers lately, and doing a lot of research of old tournaments, and I can definitively say this: I’m not sure.
Good lists for recruiting are a little hard to come by from the pre-Internet days, but this year definitely features a great roster of stars.
The field is hurt by the injuries to Plano (Tex.) Prestonwood five-star players Mickey Mitchell and Julius Randle, but still four of the top 17 seniors in the country will be playing at Missouri State University this week.
But even if second-rated Rivals.com recruit Randle does not travel to Springfield with his team, the biggest name at this year’s T of C might be on the bench.
Coach Kevin Boyle built St. Patrick of Elizabeth, N.J. into a national power. His program was so good, he won five Tournament of Champions titles and never even brought his team to Springfield.
(The T of C shares its name with the New Jersey postseason tournament between state champions of different classes. But they were good.)
In 2011, Boyle took his talents to Florida to try and turn Montverde into a national power. Now in season two, it’s safe to say it’s been a successful move.
Montverde is packed with talent and is the favorite to win this weekend. Boyle has Kasey Hill headed to Florida, Dakari Johnson to Kentucky, and Devin Williams to West Virginia. And that’s just the Eagles’ senior class.
The biggest question of the week is: Will anyone be able to hang with Montverde?
With victories, the Eagles will be playing in the last game of the night in each of the three days.
I’d say Little Rock (Ark.) Hall might have the best shot at knocking off Montverde, as the Eagles could have the dreaded first-game jitters on Thursday.
It’s been said by coaches and fans of the T of C over the years that teams are susceptible to an upset on night one, and that the play gets better as the tournament wears on.
That spells trouble for anyone who might have to play Montverde in the later rounds.
Two weeks ago, Montverde was on ESPN2 against nationally ranked Chicago Simeon. I watched the game and was thoroughly impressed.
Coach Boyle excels at player development, having sent Kyrie Irving, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Al Harrington and Samuel Dalembert to the NBA.
He doesn’t just get talented kids and roll out basketballs for practice either; these guys know how to play.
It will be a treat for local fans to watch them this week, and I expect the Eagles to win the title.
Let’s just hope the other teams are able to keep up.
Contact Matt Schoch at 417-836-1191 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MattSchochNL.