The top high school basketball tournament in the country has confirmed it will have the nation’s top senior and sophomore players, 100 days before tipoff.
The 44th Annual Culligan City of Palms Classic unveiled its field of 16 teams, plus the Signature Series and Sunshine Series matchups at a news conference Wednesday at Shoeless Joe’s Sports Café in Fort Myers.
This year’s Classic, slated for Dec. 16-21, will be the first to be played at Suncoast Credit Union Arena, the new, 3,500-seat venue in the finishing stages of construction at Florida SouthWestern State College.
“We were a little bit apprehensive at first because of our days and conflicting with school,” said Donnie Wilkie, vice president of Classic Basketball, Inc., and the tournament director. With Christmas falling on a Sunday, the Classic needed to begin earlier than usual. “Not only have we put together a pretty representative field, but a fascinating one.”
Lehigh Senior and Mariner High will represent Lee County in the tournament, which began as a regional one in 1973 at Edison Community College but morphed, under the leadership of Classic Basketball president Bill Pollock and Wilkie, into a national-caliber event in the mid-1980s.
This marks the first time two Lee County teams have played in the tournament’s 16-team field since Dunbar and Fort Myers did in 2009.
“On the first night, we always make sure it’s about the local teams,” Wilkie said. “This year, we made an early decision to have two Lee County teams in the first year of the new arena. We are thinking about two local spots for next year, too.”
Mariner senior Dominique Carpenter, a 6-foot-1 point guard, and senior guards Brandon and Sean Kostyk attended the news conference. They said they were thrilled to be a part of the tournament.
“I just want to gain experience against good players,” Carpenter said. “The ultimate goal is to win the last game of the season.”
The Tritons have not been in the Classic since a five-year run in 1994-98, which included the tenure of Florida’s all-time leading scorer, Teddy Dupay.
“We’re excited,” said Mariner coach James Harris, whose team has compiled a 108-38 record over the last five seasons. “I definitely think we’re deserving of being in there.”
First-year Lehigh coach Greg Coleman has seen the Classic up close as a student and assistant coach at Bishop Verot but not as a head coach until this season.
“These guys get a chance to show what they have in front of all of these (college) coaches,” said Coleman, who brought with him junior Bershard Edwards and senior Jarvis Martin. “I’m excited for these guys to get to play in the new arena.”
Classic executive director John Naylor said moving the tournament from Bishop Verot, where it had been held for the previous 22 years, to the new arena, helped him expand the budget from about $225,000 last year to about $300,000 this year. Although facility expenses climbed from $12,000 to $20,000, advertising opportunities also grew. Instead of hanging advertising banners, as Classic organizers did at Bishop Verot, there will be 109 LED ribbons for display advertising at the new arena.
Edison had hosted the Classic for its first 11 years and then again in 1990 and 1993, so this marks a return to the tournament’s roots.
“I’m excited that Hugh Thimlar helped create this tournament,” FSW basketball coach Marty Richter said, referring to the founder of the Edison basketball program. Having the Classic at FSW will only help the exposure for the reborn program. “All of the coaches from across the state and across the country can come into this facility and see what we have to offer.”
This Classic has plenty to offer in terms of marquee players. DeAndre Ayton of Phoenix (Arizona) Hillcrest Prep headlines this year’s talent. The 7-foot-1 center announced earlier this week his college destination as the University of Arizona. He is considered the top senior player in the nation and will play in the Signature Series, a four-team bracket.
Wendell Carter (6-10 forward, Atlanta Pace Academy), Mohamed Bamba (6-11 forward, Westtown, Pennsylvania), Kevin Knox (6-8 forward, Tampa Catholic) and Collin Sexton (6-3 guard, Mableton, Georgia, Pebblebrook) are also considered top 10 players in the senior class.
R.J. Barrett, a 6-7 sophomore considered the best player in his class, will try to help Montverde Academy win its third Classic championship and its first since winning back-to-back titles in 2012-13.
Former Lehigh player Emmitt Williams, a top 25-ranked junior forward, is slated to appear in the Classic’s Signature Series with Bradenton IMG Academy.
Chino Hills (California), which won the Classic last year on its way to winning the national title, did not receive a return invitation after its top player, Lonzo Ball, moved on to college at UCLA. This marks the first time since 1990 that a California team hasn’t played in the 16-team tournament field.
Wilkie has loaded this year’s field with Florida and Georgia teams, with four teams from each state. He also noted the Classic has 10 of the top 25-rated seniors according to ESPN, four of the top 22 juniors and the top two sophomores.
“That might be the most we’ve ever had,” Wilkie said of top-ranked senior players.
“I’ve never had four teams from any one state other than Florida. This is an extraordinary year for teams in Georgia. We could have had six or seven teams from Georgia.”
The 16-team tournament field
Nashville (Tennessee) Brentwood Academy: 29-3 Div. II Class AA state champions
Jersey City (New Jersey) Hudson Catholic: 21-4 Non-Public A North quarterfinalist
Jonesboro (Georgia): 28-5 Class 4A state runner-up.
Huntsville (Alabama) Mae Jemison: 29-5 (as J.O. Johnson High) Class 5A state champions
Washington, D.C. Maret: 18-12 DCSAA quarterfinalist
Memphis (Tennessee) East: 32-2 Class 3A state champions
Montverde Academy: 26-2 Dick’s Nationals runner-up
Philadelphia Neumann-Goretti: 27-4 Class 3A state champions
Norcross (Georgia): 26-4 Class 6A Sweet 16
Atlanta Pace Academy: 20-10 Class AA state champions
Elizabeth (New Jersey) Patrick: 23-6 COP runner-up, Non-Public B South semifinalist
Mableton (Georgia) Pebblebrook: 23-10 Class 6A state runner-up
Weston Sagemont: 22-8 Class 3A-Region 3 semifinalist
San Antonio (Texas) St. Anthony: 32-6 TAPPS Class 5A state runner-up
Mariner:25-4 Class 5A-Region 3 runner-up
Lehigh: 19-8 Class 6A-Region 3 quarterfinalist
Signature Series Dec. 18-20 (separate bracket)
Phoenix (Arizona) Hillcrest Prep
Bradenton IMG Academy
Putnam (Connecticut) Science Academy
Sunshine Series (single games)
Dec. 16: East St. Louis (Illinois) (12-14) vs. Tampa Catholic (26-5)
Dec. 17: South Miami (22-9) vs. Winter Park (21-10)
Dec. 19: Miami Christian (20-5) vs. St. Petersburg High (25-7)
Dec. 21: Fort Lauderdale Dillard (28-5) vs. Sarasota Riverview (29-3)
The 44th Annual Culligan City of Palms Classic schedule
Friday, December 16 (5 games)
2:30 p.m. (Game 1): Washington Maret (D.C.) vs. Jersey City Hudson Catholic (N.J.)
4:15 p.m. (Game 2): Elizabeth Patrick School (N.J.) vs. Weston Sagemont (Fla.)
6:00 p.m. (Game 3-Sunshine Series): East St. Louis (Ill.) vs. Tampa Catholic (Fla.)
7:45 p.m. (Game 4): Cape Coral Mariner (Fla.) vs. San Antonio St. Anthony (Texas)
9:30 p.m. (Game 5): Lehigh Acres Lehigh (Fla.) vs. Jonesboro (Ga.)
Saturday, December 17 (6 games) NOTE: If Sagemont beats Patrick, Games 6 & 13 switch places
12:15 p.m. (Game 6): Consolation: Gm 1 loser (Maret-Hudson) vs. Gm 2 loser (Sagemont-Patrick)
2:00 p.m. (Game 7): Gm 4 winner (Mariner-St. Anthony) vs. Norcross (Ga.)
3:45 p.m. (Game 8-Sunshine Series): Winter Park (Fla.) vs. South Miami (Fla.)
5:30 p.m. (Game 9): Gm 5 winner (Lehigh-Jonesboro) vs. Huntsville Mae Jemison (Ala.)
7:15 p.m. (Game 10): Mableton Pebblebrook (Ga.) vs. Nashville Brentwood Academy (Tenn.)
9:00 p.m. (Game 11): Memphis East (Tenn.) vs. Atlanta Pace Academy (Ga.)
Sunday, December 18 (3 games)
2:00 p.m. (Game 12-Signature Series): Bradenton IMG Academy (Fla.) vs. Putnam Science (Conn.)
3:40 p.m. (Game 13): Quarterfinal: Gm 1 winner (Maret-Hudson) vs. Gm 2 winner (Patrick-Sagemont)
5:20 p.m. (Game 14-Signature Series): Westtown (Pa.) vs. Phoenix Hillcrest (Ariz.)
7:00 p.m.: Bahama Breeze 45-second Challenge … 7:20 p.m.: City of Palms THREE-POINT SHOOTOUT
8:10 p.m.: Edison National Bank SLAM DUNK CHAMPIONSHIP
Monday, December 19 (7 games)
11:00 a.m. (Game 15): Consolation: Gm 7 loser (St. Anthony-Mariner-Norcross) vs. Gm 11 loser (Pace-East)
12:40 p.m. (Game 16): Consolation: Gm 9 loser (Jonesboro-Lehigh-Jemison) vs. Gm 4 loser (Mariner-St. Anthony)
2:20 p.m. (Game 17): Consolation: Gm 5 loser (Lehigh-Jonesboro) vs. Gm 10 loser (Brentwood-Pebblebrook)
4:00 p.m. (Game 18-Sunshine Series): St. Petersburg High (Fla.) vs. Miami Christian (Fla.)
5:45 p.m. (Game 19): Quarterfinal: Gm 7 winner (Norcross-Mariner-St. Ant) vs. Philadelphia Neumann-Goretti (Pa.)
7:30 p.m. (Game 20): Quarterfinal: Montverde Academy (Fla.) vs. Gm 9 winner (Lehigh-Pace-Jemison)
9:15 p.m. (Game 21): Quarterfinal: Gm 11 winner (Jonesboro-East) vs. Gm 10 winner (Pebblebrook-Brentwood)
Tuesday, December 20 (8 games)
9:00 a.m. (Game 22): Consolation semifinal: Gm 6 winner vs. Gm 17 winner
10:40 a.m. (Game 23): Consolation semifinal: Gm 16 winner vs. Gm 15 winner
12:20 p.m. (Game 24): SIGNATURE SERIES THIRD-PLACE Gm 14 loser vs. Gm 12 loser
2:00 p.m. (Game 25): Fifth-place semifinal: Gm 19 loser vs. Gm 20 loser
3:45 p.m. (Game 26): Fifth-place semifinal: Gm 21 loser vs. Gm 13 loser
5:30 p.m. (Game 27): SIGNATURE SERIES FINAL Gm 12 winner vs. Gm 14 winner
7:15 p.m. (Game 28): Semifinal: Gm 20 winner vs. Gm 19 winner
9:00 p.m. (Game 29): Semifinal: Gm 21 winner vs. Gm 13 winner
Wednesday, December 21 (7 games)
10:20 a.m. (Game 30): Challenge-round game: 0-2 teams to be determined
12 noon (Game 31): Challenge-round game: 0-2 teams to be determined
1:40 p.m. (Game 32): Consolation championship: Gm 22 winner vs. Gm 23 winner
3:20 p.m. (Game 33): Fifth-place championship: Gm 25 winner vs. Gm 26 winner
5:00 p.m. (Game 34-Sunshine Series): Sarasota Riverview (Fla.) vs. Fort Lauderdale Dillard (Fla.)
6:45 p.m. (Game 35): THIRD-PLACE FINAL Gm 29 loser vs. Gm 28 loser
8:30 p.m. (Game 36): CITY OF PALMS CHAMPIONSHIP Gm 28 winner vs. Gm 29 winner
Note: Tournament director Donnie Wilkie provided mini-bios of each of the Classic teams. They are copied below: