While it’s doubtful the No. 2-ranked high school basketball player in the country will suit up for this year’s Bass Pro Tournament of Champions, the nation’s second-best team will be there.
The Montverde (Fla.) Eagles are rated No. 2 by USA TODAY, and could improve with the addition of a new player for the Jan. 17-19 event at Missouri State University’s JQH Arena.
Rivals.com reported Thursday that 6-foot-8 Australian forward Ben Simmons is moving to Montverde. The expected 2015 graduate could be eligible next week. The five-star recruit would be added to the most talented team in the field, which stacks up well against just about any in the event’s 29-year history.
The deep field will help offset the potential loss of Plano (Texas) Prestonwood’s Julius Randle, the No. 2 player in the country, who suffered a broken foot in November and is expected to miss the T of C. Tournament Director Mark Fisher said Thursday, though, there is an outside chance Randle willl be able to play.
Fisher unveiled the bracket Thursday, and tournament officials discussed plans for CBS Sports Network to broadcast the semifinals and finals live for the first time.
“We’ve been a well-kept secret, but this will be a real opportunity for the players to be seen on the national scene,” Fisher said. “And we just want to get our message over across the country.”
The message once again is a chance for fans and viewers to see future college stars and NBA players. Fisher said 286 former T of C players have played Division I basketball, and 41 have played in the NBA.
Even without Simmons, Montverde has three players ranked in the top 15 in their Rivals class college prospect rankings, including No. 9 senior Kasey Hill, a Florida commit.
Fisher said Hill might be more exciting than John Wall, a 2009 T of C player with Raleigh (N.C.) Word of God, who now stars for the Washington Wizards.
Montverde could play in the final game each day of the tournament, after drawing the 9:30 p.m. slot for opening night. Montverde will play Little Rock (Ark.) Hall and Arkansas commit Bobby Portis in the first round.
Locally, coach John Schaefer’s Hillcrest Hornets will play Fairfax (Va.) Paul VI, which is ranked No. 17 nationally by USA TODAY. Meanwhile, coach Jay Osborne’s Nixa Eagles will play Mount Washington (Ky.) Bullitt East, led by Kentucky commit Derek Willis.
The Hornets (5-3) played in the T of C last year and in 2010. Schaefer noted his all of his regulars have T of C experience, and his team reached the state final in each of his T of C seasons.
“What I have noticed is the first day is a great day to knock somebody off,” Schaefer said. “Some of these guys have never played in a gym this big and not in front of that many people.”
Nixa (10-1) has several players back from the 2011 T of C, where it won a first-round game against La Verne (Calif.) Lutheran, which featured current Arizona regular Grant Jerrett.
Nixa was the Class 5 state runner-ups last year and has played top regional teams in recent years, including last month’s loss to Blue Valley Northwest, the top-ranked 6A team in Kansas.
“We’ll do what we have to do to get our kids ready to play,” Osborne said. “Our kids would like to play in (the T of C) every year, but we know that’s not possible. It’s good for our program.”
The opening game of the tournament features Randle’s Prestonwood team taking on Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco, which features highly touted brothers Isaac and Daniel Hamilton, younger brothers of Jordan Hamilton of the Denver Nuggets.
Tickets for the tournament are available at the JQH Arena Box Office. Reserved seats on the lower level are $36 for the weekend. Single-night reserved seats are $12 per night and available at the door.
General admission seats are available at the door and are $30 for the weekend, or $10 a day. Students are $21 for the event, or $7 a day. For more information, contact the box office at 836-7678 or 476-7849.