They come from places like Australia, Hungary, India and Japan.
And in its first game in the City of Palms Classic, they shot 68 percent in the first half and seemed to score on either dunks or 3-pointers.
This IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) boys’ basketball team, ranked No. 2 in the Super 25, truly is all-world.
The Ascenders have ascended to being among the top teams in the country. Because they don’t have a state tournament to play in, the City of Palms Classic is one of the biggest events the team will play.
“You try and take each one as being equally important,” said IMG coach Sean McAloon. “That’s nothing against the City of Palms. We know there are some really good players and teams here. But in high school, anybody can be anybody any single night. These are 14-to-18-year-old kids. So we know it’s important but it’s not even the new year.”
McAloon, 42, is starting his second season as coach at IMG. He came from St. John’s in Washington, D.C., and said he hadn’t been looking for a job when approached.
He said IMG’s commitment to being the best is what brought him to Florida.
This 500-acre facility began as the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in 1978. Sports and entertainment company IMG purchased the academy in 1987. IMG acquired the youth division of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in 1993 and added programs for soccer and baseball in 1994. Basketball came in 2000 and football in 2010 as well as lacrosse. Track and field and cross country came in 2013.
Over the past few years, football, as well as basketball, have become powers. Just three players return from a year ago. Senior Armando Bacot, a 6-foot-10 forward bound for North Carolina, transferred in because he wants to win a national prep title.
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No matter who the player is or where the player is from, they get the same message.
“If you’re coming here to score 30, you’re coming to the wrong place,” McAloon said.
There are other messages.
Players will study. After their quarterfinal win over Gray Collegiate, they celebrated a win over South Carolina’s best team by getting something to eat, driving back to Bradenton and studying for exams.
The other is getting along. McAloon tries to bond players by taking trips to the beach or having dinner at his house.
“Even if we don’t like each other we have to learn to like each other,” Bacot said.
That’s because the team is on the road two-thirds of the time. This is the fourth weekend in a row IMG has been away from Bradenton, with trips to Dallas, Washington, D.C., and South Carolina previously.
In 2019, the Ascenders will travel to Tampa; Dayton, Ohio; Springfield, Mass.; and Chattanooga, Tenn.
“It’s a great step,” said Australian Josh Green, one of the three returnees with Noah Farrakhan and Tibor Palinkas of Hungary. Green is committed to Arizona. “I think this puts up one step ahead of most guys going to college next year. We play with different players and go to different parts of the country. It’s a good experience.”
Because of this travel schedule, athletic trainer Tyler Held and nutritionist Emily Pace work closely with players on what they eat and what they do after games.
“If there’s a local 7-Eleven, they find it and put ice in the tub,” McAloon said. “In an hour, 15 minutes, everyone gets in. They abide by it, which is the best thing. They’re mature enough to do the things they need to do to play the next day.”
That’s because IMG players are smart enough to realize if they’re tired, there are guys on the bench who can capably fill in. The Ascender’s sixth-leading scorer, Mikeal Brown-Jones, will go to Penn State.
“We practice hard all the time,” Bacot said. “Going up against Jeremiah (Robinson-Earl, Villanova) and Brandon (Huntley) every day, we compete. Our bench players are usually better than the people we’re playing against.”
That makes IMG hard to beat.