MIAMI – After the Montverde Academy’s boys’ basketball team storms through town, the opposing coach’s natural instinct is to call roll and assess the damage, searching amongst the rubble for bruised bodies and ruptured egos.
That was the case Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena after the Eagles routed Fort Lauderdale Dillard 67-36 in a mismatch between Florida schools at the Hoophall Miami Invitational. The score was 61-26 after three quarters, and officials used a running clock for the fourth.
“OK, now you’ve seen the best,” Dillard coach Darryl Burrows told his team afterward. “I don’t see any blood.”
It’s telling that was seen as some sort of victory. But Burrows is right about Montverde being the best – the Eagles have finished as the No. 1 team in the USA TODAY Sports’ Super 25 rankings the last three years.
A good portion of that success can be attributed to the play of 6-10 do-everything forward Ben Simmons, who led Montverde to a 62-1 record in his nearly three years at the school.
Simmons, now a national player of the year candidate as a freshman at LSU, was the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Player of the Year and the Gatorade National Player of the Year last season at Montverde. Several websites list him as the No. 1 prospect for the 2016 NBA Draft.
Coach Kevin Boyle said the 62 wins that Simmons was a part of at Montverde came against “probably 35 ranked teams” and added that Simmons’ ability as an unselfish team player helped feed the program’s success.
“People can see in Ben that he is almost like a Magic Johnson, not caring about scoring – almost too much,” Boyle said. “He’s shown what an incredible player and passer he is.”
But, as good as Simmons was at Montverde, that’s not to say the Eagles (3-0) will fold without him. Montverde was ranked No. 2 in the Super 25 preseason rankings behind Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.). The first Super 25 of the regular season comes out next week.
The Eagles have survived without past stars such as Joel Embiid and D’Angelo Russell, and they are expected to prosper without Simmons against another difficult schedule. Montverde already avenged its only loss of last season, beating Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) 76-70. Among the early season tests is a nationally televised game Dec. 7 at Huntington (WVa.) Prep and a return to the City of Palms in late December.
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Montverde’s Howard Washington, a 6-2 senior guard who has signed with Butler, said he welcomes critics who doubt the Eagles’ ability to thrive in the Post-Simmons Era.
“That’s just fueling our tank, gassing us up,” Washington said. “That’s what we (thrive) on – people who don’t think we can do as well.
“We might have a better team or we might not, but that’s fueling our tank to succeed and be better than last year.”
Washington and 6-2 junior guard Marcus Carr are the team’s top guards, and both are top-150 players in their respective classes.
The Eagles also have 6-9, 205-pound E.J. Montgomery, who is the No. 5 sophomore in the nation; 6-7, 205-pound Simisola Shittu, who is the No. 8 sophomore; 6-9, 225-pound senior Bruno Fernando, who has scholarship offers from Alabama and Tennessee; and 6-10, 220-pound senior Micah Potter, an Ohio State recruit.
Fernando, who was discovered by scouts while playing for Angola’s youth national team, said he “didn’t think twice” about coming to Montverde.
Learning the language, however, was a different story.
“When I came here, I didn’t know English,” he said. “I was asking myself, ‘What are they talking about?’ But I just kept doing my schoolwork, learning the language, and it’s been great.”
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Washington, who is from Buffalo, N.Y., said Boyle is a big reason why he packed his bags for Florida.
Before coming to Montverde, Boyle coached for 23 years at St. Patrick in Elizabeth, N.J., winning more than 400 games and claiming eight state championships and four Tournament of Champions titles.
But by moving 1,000 miles south to the Orlando area, Boyle, 52, has quickly built Montverde into a national force.
“It’s a great program,” Washington said when asked why he enrolled at Montverde. “Coach Boyle having great guards coming through, I figured I could be one of the next guards.”
The Montverde facilities – $6.5 million was spent on a new gym and athletic complex – are first rate.
Boyle, a former insurance salesman, reportedly draws an annual salary of more than $130,000, not including a car and a four-bedroom house paid for by the school.
Life is good at Montverde, so forgive Boyle or his players for not fretting over the loss of Simmons to the next level.
“We probably have the deepest team we’ve ever had,” Boyle said of his current club. “We have at least 10 guys who can argue they should start.
“But we don’t have that star player. Howard Washington has been stepping up, playing really consistent. We have to stop turning the ball over so much, but I think we are in the conversation – we can play with anyone in the country.”
Washington said Simmons had a positive effect on him, and that has made him a better player this season.
“It was like playing with a pro,” Washington said. “He helped make your numbers better. He made you look good. He’s obviously doing well at LSU.”
Even without Simmons, though, you get the sense that the intense Boyle won’t let this team slip. He rarely takes a seat – even during the many blowouts his team dishes out – coaching his team hard on every possession.
There’s no question Boyle has swagger, and he’s not shy when it comes to listing his accomplishments.
Indeed, counting his days at St. Patrick and Montverde, Boyle – assuming Simmons lives up to his current billing – will have coached a top-two NBA draft pick in five of the past six years.
That impressive list includes Kyrie Irving (No. 1 in 2011), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (No. 2 in 2012), Embiid (No. 1 in 2014), Russell (No. 2 in 2015) and Simmons in 2016.
“We’ve had more kids picked in the top two in the past five years than Kentucky (two) or Kansas (one),” Boyle said. “Plus we have Ben, who will be in that position next year.
“I’ve been fortunate to have great players – we just go on to the next year. We expect to be good. We expect to win. We expect that if three starters are sick tomorrow, we’re still going to win.”