Here’s a look at some of the final takeaways from the 2018 GEICO Nationals.
1. Montverde Academy completed an all-time great season
At the conclusion of last season, there existed some debate over which high school team was truly the best in the nation.
La Lumiere School (La Porte, Ind.) finished the year with a championship at the 2017 DICK’s Nationals (now the GEICO Nationals) and earned the top spot in the final USA Today Super 25 rankings.
However, many believed that unbeaten Nathan Hale (Seattle), headlined by Michael Porter Jr. and coached by Brandon Roy, still possessed a compelling case to be called national champions.
As the 2017-18 season comes to a close, there exists no debate, Montverde Academy will always be remembered as the undisputed national champions.
From start to finish, there was no team more dominant than Montverde Academy. The Eagles finished the regular season with a perfect record, and that’s exactly how they finished it at the 2018 GEICO Nationals. Montverde won seven games against opponents ranked in the Super 25 and gained 35 victories by an average of 31.6 points per game this season.
Head coach Kevin Boyle has been a part of some of the greatest high school teams ever, which makes the following statement even more impressive– the 2017-18 Montverde Eagles might be his most talented team yet.
Senior forward R.J. Barrett took the nation by storm in 2018. Barrett racked up the awards by winning the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Player of the Year, Naismith Player of the Year, Gatorade Player of the Year and the Morgan Wootten Player of the Year.
At the GEICO Nationals, Barrett continued his dominance by showcasing his tremendous skill with three masterful performances en route to a fourth national title for Montverde.
The 6-foot-6 Duke signee also surpassed former Montverde standout Ben Simmons as the all-time leading scorer at the GEICO Nationals with 177 career points.
Barrett was joined this season by the talented backcourt duo of Michael Devoe (Georgia Tech signee) and Andrew Nembhard (Florida signee). Devoe finished with 21 points in the championship game against University School and Nembhard dished out 13 assists to help the Eagles to victory.
Senior center Filip Petrusev (Gonzaga signee) was the steadying force for the Eagles in Saturday’s title game. The 6-foot-11 center added 15 points while displaying an ability to score inside and outside.
And finally, there was Balsa Koprivica. The 7-foot-1 Serbian center was a defensive force against University School. Junior center Vernon Carey Jr., the second-ranked prospect in the class of 2019 according to ESPN, struggled to find his rhythm against the stifling presence of Koprivica.
Even beyond the starting five, though, this year’s Montverde roster contained rotation players that will play high-major Division I basketball.
Senior forward Kevin Zhang, who is mulling offers from UCLA and DePaul, gave the Eagles solid production on their way to another national title. Karrington Davis, who will play at Nebraska, also registered seven critical points to propel Montverde past Lone Peak in the first round.
Simply put, this was an all-time great high school basketball team.
2. University School could be the next perennial power
NSU University School (Fort Lauderdale) was not ranked in the USA Today Super 25 at the beginning of the season.
Although the Sharks boasted four players in Vernon Carey Jr., Scottie Barnes, Trey Doomes (West Virginia signee) and Drue Drinnon (New Mexico signee) that will play Division I basketball, the team quietly flew under the radar in the preseason.
Everything changed in late December when the Sharks began an incredible run at the City of Palms Classic that would propel them to a spot in the Super 25 rankings. University School defeated four of the nation’s best teams including No. 4-ranked Memphis East to claim the prestigious holiday tournament title.
“Our standards from the beginning of the season were always high expectations… We came into these tournaments playing hard and playing together. People always wanted to sleep on us, but we came up and started beating higher ranked teams and that’s how it started,” said Barnes.
One week later, the Sharks travelled to North Carolina for the John Wall Invitational and took down traditional powers Wesleyan Christian Academy (High Point, N.C.) and Hillcrest Prep (Phoenix) to further supplant themselves as one of the nation’s top teams.
University School later dominated the 5A FHSAA Tournament by winning five games by an average of 31 points to claim the program’s first ever state title. From unranked to national championship contenders, it was a banner year for University School.
Although head coach Adrian Sosa’s team wasn’t able to win a national title, the Sharks showed that they possess the pieces to challenge again next season. Vernon Carey Jr. and Scottie Barnes are two of the top prospects in the class of 2019 and 2020 respectively.
3. The duo of Vernon Carey Jr. and Scottie Barnes is the real deal
Vernon Carey Jr. is an athletic freak at 6-foot-10 and 245 pounds. Carey has the body build of a middle-linebacker, but he can elevate and run the floor like a stretch forward.
When Carey receives the ball in the paint, he’s a nearly impossible force to counter. He has good skills with his back-to-the-basket, but what makes him especially dangerous, is his ability to follow-up missed shots.
Even when Carey misses his own shots, he’s often able to grab the offensive rebound and score on a second chance opportunity. Carey is not only bigger and stronger than most post players, but he’s also more athletic.
When playing against Carey, defenses have to devote much of their attention to taking away his chances in the lane. For their part, Montverde Academy did a nice job of limiting Carey’s touches by employing a swarming defense led by Balsa Koprivica.
Carey displayed an ability to score from outside, but at times, he also looked hesitant to pull the trigger against Montverde. If Carey can continue to build a little more confidence in his ability to shoot from mid-range and from deep, it would prevent defenses from clogging up the lane like Montverde attempted to do.
Scottie Barnes is undoubtedly one of the most exciting sophomores in the country.
The aspect of Barnes’s game that will immediately grab the attention of scouts is that he battles with an unmatched competitive fire. Barnes has a high-motor and he plays the game with intense physicality. In Saturday’s title game, Barnes didn’t shrink at the challenge of going against the nation’s consensus top-player in R.J. Barrett.
“I don’t back down from anybody, if you come at me, I’m gonna come right back at you,” said Barnes when asked about competing against Barrett.
At 6-foot-7 with a chiseled 175-pound frame, Barnes plays like a grown man at just 16 years old.
Barnes impressed at the GEICO Nationals by finishing in the paint against some of the top centers in David McCormack and Balsa Koprivica. He explodes to the basket, even in the midst of considerable pressure from taller defenders.
It’s scary to think about what Barnes could become as he continues to develop.
4. High school basketball has four “Blue Bloods”
Montverde Academy, Findlay Prep, Oak Hill Academy and La Lumiere School are the “blue bloods” of high school basketball.
Since the inception of the GEICO Nationals in 2009, the four powerhouses have combined for 34 appearances and nine national championships at the event.
The obvious element that has led to continual success for these programs has been the presence of elite players. This year, the teams possessed four McDonald’s All Americans in R.J. Barrett (Montverde), Bol Bol (Findlay Prep), Keldon Johnson (Oak Hill) and David McCormack (Oak Hill).
La Lumiere School also featured one the best points guards in the country in Tyger Campbell (UCLA signee) and one the top centers in the class of 2019 in Isaiah Stewart.
However, the road to success has been paved with much more than just talented players. For all four schools, perennial dominance has come at the price of playing tough national schedules and building a culture of winning.
“[We went] on the road and played 25 or 26 games. We never back down from anything. I put these guys through the fire. We played in some places where only five people were cheering for us… I think that’s why we do the [difficult] schedule. That’s why we play the games we do to build-up to this game (GEICO Nationals),” said Findlay Prep head coach Paul Washington.
Montverde head coach Kevin Boyle added to Washington’s statement in a later press conference.
“We’re at the point now where you’re Kansas or Duke and you gotta win the whole thing or it’s kind of a little less than… It’s a good thing because that’s where you [want to] have the bar, but [also], the reality of this is that getting to the Final Four isn’t enough anymore.”
5. Public schools cap amazing seasons with GEICO Nationals appearances
Anytime a public school team reaches the GEICO Nationals– it’s an impressive feat. For obvious reasons, public school teams are at a disadvantage to prep schools like Montverde and Oak Hill.
For Garfield (Seattle), Shadow Mountain (Phoenix) and Lone Peak (Highland, UT) to gain invitations, the schools needed to complete a nearly perfect season. This was a fact that Shadow Mountain head coach Mike Bibby was quick to point out.
“It’s hard for us because we don’t play all the top schools in the country. In order for us to get here, we have to win almost every game unless we play a top team. [We also] can’t pick-up guys after the season like some of these schools do and we don’t get to recruit… So I feel like it’s an accomplishment for us to even be here,” Bibby said.
Garfield and Shadow Mountain had to overcome especially steep odds to even reach the GEICO Nationals.
Both teams were pushed to overtime in their respective state championship games, but still found ways to win. Shadow Mountain trailed by as many 22-points in the third quarter against Salpointe Catholic (Tucson) in the 4A AIA Championship before roaring all the way back to win 83-79.
Although the teams failed to gain a victory in the first round, the experience of playing in the GEICO Nationals is a huge statement for public school basketball. Lone Peak especially made the most of their trip to New York City.
The Knights, which were highlighted by a 29-point outburst in the second half by Steven Ashworth (Utah State signee), nearly pulled off the greatest upset in the history of the GEICO Nationals. Montverde Academy had to hit some big shots down the stretch to even narrowly defeat Lone Peak by a score of 87-82.
The success of public schools at the GEICO Nationals brings more excitement to the event and provides further confidence to future competitors.