2015 City of Palms Classic featured epic talent: Tatum, Ball, Bamba, Knox, Barrett Reddish and more

Photo: Guillermo Hernandez Martinez, News-Leader

Knowing that Bishop Verot High would play host its last City of Palms Classic in 2015, vice president Donnie Wilkie wanted to make it the best going-away party ever.

A few years later, he can say that’s been achieved. The 2015 City of Palms is the best collection of talent the event ever has seen.

The tournament moved to Suncoast Credit Union Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWestern in 2016 after 22 years at Verot.

In fact, it may be a few years before other COPs approach that level. We’ll have to wait a few years to see how the 2018 class stacks up.

But 2015 had elite talent as well as depth. And like Microsoft stock put in a Christmas stocking, the 2015 assemblage of high school hoop stars is the gift that keeps on giving.

Already, nine players who competed at Bishop Verot three years ago have been NBA Draft picks.

The next-best years are eight first-rounders chosen in 2011 and 2009.

“And it’s not done yet,” Wilkie said. “There’s still RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish at Duke and (Onyeka) Okongwu from Chino Hills, who’s the top senior in California.

“So there’s a legitimate chance that year could produce a dozen or more first-round picks.”

The 2015 list includes the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lonzo Ball and Boston’s Jayson Tatum, the Nos. 2 and 3 picks in the 2017 NBA Draft and Mo Bamba (Orlando), the No. 6 pick in 2018. It also includes Kevin Knox (New York); Michael Porter, Jr. (Denver); Anfernee Simons (Portland), chosen in 2018; Bam Adebayo (Miami) and Tony Bradley (Lakers), 2017 first-round picks; and Milwaukee’s Thon Maker, the No. 10 pick in 2016.

“I said I wanted it to be a special year,” Wilkie said. “And it was.”

• 2011’s eight-member NBA first-round class includes the D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 pick to the Lakers in 2015; and Joel Embid, the No. 3 pick to Philadelphia in 2014. Emmanuel Mudiay (Denver); Stanley Johnson (Detroit) were first-round picks in 2015 while Julius Randle (Lakers) was taken in 2014; Nerlens Noel (New Orleans) and Shabazz Muhammad (Utah) went in 2013. In addition, Isaiah Austin was a ceremonial first-round pick. He was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects the heart.

• The 2009 field also saw eight players go in Round 1. That included Anthony Bennett and Tristan Thompson the No. 1 pick and No. 4 pick of Cleveland in 2013; and 2011; Cory Joseph to San Antonio in 2011; Austin Rivers to New Orleans and Fab Melo to Boston in 2012; Shane Larkin to Atlanta in 2013; and P.J. Hairston and Kyle Anderson to Miami in 2014.

“I see a lot of talent,” Jake Perper said as he looked at the list of first-rounders over the years.

For almost 20 years, Perper has seen the City of Palms, first as a fan, then as a reporter for The Naples’ Daily News, then as a contributor for Prep Hoops Florida. “Endless guys,” he said. “I’m stunned at what Donnie has been able to do.”

Bennett is one of six players who have competed in this event who later became the No. 1 pick overall pick in the NBA Draft. The others are DeAndre Ayton (2018), Ben Simmons (2016), Andrew Wiggins (2014), John Wall (2010) and Kwame Brown (2001).

“Simmons is the guy who stands out,” Perper said. “There’s certain guys you know who’ll make it and five minutes in, you knew Ben Simmons was a top-five pick.”

Who’s the best player who has played in The City of Palms Classic? Or should the question be, who played the best in this event?

For more on this story and the City of Palms Classic, visit our partners the Ft. Myers News-Press.

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