The DICK’S Sporting Goods High School Nationals hasn’t been kind to newbies.
With the exception of the first year in 2009, (the event was known as the National High School Invitational from 2009 to 2013), the boys tournament winner has always been a return invitee. Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) and Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) have dominated, winning three titles apiece. The only other school to win the event was Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.) in 2011.
This season, the three new teams hoping to buck that trend are No. 13 Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.), No. 14 Providence Day (Charlotte) and No. 15 Wasatch Academy (Mount Pleasant, Utah). Whoever wins the DICK’S Nationals will have to beat three Super 25-ranked teams in as many days.
The event, which begins with the boys quarterfinals on ESPNU Thursday at Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.), concludes with boys and girls championships on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“I know it’s the biggest stage in high school basketball right now,” said Miller Grove coach Sharman White, whose team plays No. 6-ranked Findlay Prep in a quarterfinal Thursday. “The main thing is our guys want to compete. A lot of people might question why we’re there. We feel like having played a national schedule every year prepares us for an event like this, just as it prepared us for the state playoffs.”
Miller Grove (30-2) is accustomed to success, having won seven state titles in the past eight years, but if it were to win the DICK’S, it would be the first public school to win the event.
“We have some depth, but we might not have the size of some of these teams,” White said. “But with the depth thing, if you’re fortunate enough to play in this thing, it’s mind over matter.”
One factor in the Wolverines’ favor is they have two solid guards in Alterique Gilbert (who was named second-team American Family Insurance ALL-USA on Tuesday) and Aaron Augustin.
“Good guard play means everything,” White said. “Not just on this level, but the college level as well, when you talk about being able to work with a shot clock. Having those two gives us the ability to establish the tempo and at the other end, guard the position.”
Wasatch Academy has one edge coming in for a new team. The Tigers are as familiar with the competition as anyone in the event, going 1-2 against teams in this year’s field, losing 79-51 on the road to Findlay Prep, winning 80-71 at No. 11 La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) and losing 83-62 at No. 2 Montverde Academy. Wasatch plays No. 3 Oak Hill in a quarterfinal Thursday.
“We’re fortunate enough to play a national schedule and hopefully, we’ll be able to compete,” said Wasatch coach Curtis Condie. “Against Findlay, we were up by three at halftime and then didn’t have enough in the tank and then at Montverde, we were playing in our fourth time zone in three weeks.”
Wasatch’s journey to the DICK’S Nationals is unusual. Though the boarding school was founded in 1875, its national basketball tradition is only two years old. After it won its second consecutive 2A state title in 2014, the school applied to the Utah High School Activities Association to be able to play an independent schedule. The team went 18-9 last season but was dealt a loss when then-head coach Geno Morgan, only 49, died last summer. Condie, a veteran coach who had stints as the head coach at Central Wyoming and Texas A&M International, was hired to take over what Morgan started.
“It’s been very delicate,” Condie said. “We had six returners and four kids coming in that we had to mesh. … We’re the Wichita State in this thing. We have to come in with that mentality and handle their pressure and their size and handle the ball.”
Led by Toronto natives Koby McEwen and Jackson Rowe, Wasatch (29-3) has seven Canadians, one player from Turkey, one from Serbia and a player from El Paso, Texas, but no in-state players. The players excel academically and six basketball players were on the school’s state championship chess team.
“With homework and basketball, they don’t have time for much else,” Condie said. “We have some talented players who are mentally tough.”
Like Wasatch, Providence Day has had plenty of tests against Super 25 competition.
The Chargers (30-3) opened the season with a loss to No. 2 Oak Hill (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), but defeated several teams that spent time in the Super 25: Wesleyan Christian (High Point, N.C.); High Point Christian (High Point, N.C.); and Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.). Sophomore guard Trey Wertz leads a balanced scoring attack with five starters averaging double figures.
Providence Day plays No. 2 Montverde in a quarterfinal Thursday on ESPNU. The Chargers will have to overcome recent Dick’s tradition, as Greensboro Day, another North Carolina independent champion, lost 50-34 to Montverde in a quarterfinal in last in last year’s event.