Last year’s Montverde Academy team will be remembered as one of the best high school basketball teams ever. Led by R.J. Barrett, the consensus No. 1 player in the country, the Eagles completed an undefeated season capped by a decisive victory in the 2018 GEICO Nationals over University School.
Head coach Kevin Boyle, now in his 8th season at Montverde, will be working with almost an entirely new roster during his 2018-19 campaign. The Eagles are chasing their fifth national championship and the team’s fifth in the last seven years.
Ranked Players (via 247Sports)
Precious Achiuwa: 6-foot-9 Small Forward | No. 8 in the Class of 2019
Cade Cunningham: 6-foot-5 Small Forward | No. 8 in the Class of 2020
Moses Moody: 6-foot-5 Shooting Guard | No 28 in the Class of 2020
Omar Payne: 6-foot-9 Center | No. 38 in the Class of 2019
Balsa Koprivica: 7-foot-1 Center | No. 56 in the Class of 2019
Harlond Beverly: 6-foot-4 Combo Guard | No. 114 in the Class of 2019
Justin Powell: 6-foot-5 Shooting Guard | No. 186 in the Class of 2020
Jordan Mitchell: 6-foot-7 Small Forward | No. 280 in the Class of 2019
Balsa Koprivica is the lone starter who returns from last year’s undefeated squad. The 7-foot-1 center from Serbia will be an important piece for Boyle’s club if they hope to go back-to-back.
Also returning is Jordan Mitchell, a 6-foot-7 forward who is considering offers from Florida, Iowa and Ohio State among others.
As previously stated, this is basically a new roster at Montverde. The losses of R.J. Barrett (Duke), Andrew Nembhard (Florida), Michael Devoe (Georgia Tech) and Filip Petrusev (Gonzaga) will probably be the most damaging.
Barrett, Nembhard, Devoe and Petrusev developed a chemistry that was fun to watch last season. Barrett may have racked the player of the year accolades, but he owes some of his success to that core nucleus of teammates for putting him in great places to succeed. Nembhard and Devoe were both crafty pass-first guards and Petrusev was a versatile big with great basketball IQ.
The arms race for talented transfers was especially chaotic this year. Teams like Oak Hill and IMG Academy reloaded in unprecedented fashion. Montverde followed suit with a roster that features 10-plus players that are being recruited by Division I programs.
Arguably the two biggest newcomers are consensus Top 10 prospects Precious Achiuwa and Cade Cunningham. Long and positionless forwards like Achiuwa and Cunningham will provide opponents with major challenges this year. Power forward Omar Payne and shooting guard Moses Moody were also major additions for Montverde. Both are four-star prospects and will be key contributors.
Harlond Beverly was an especially important pick-up for Montverde. Andrew Nembhard became one of the best point guards in the country last season, which leaves behind a gaping hole in his absence. Beverly should be the best player to step into that role. I wouldn’t describe Beverly as a ‘true point guard,’ but he does meet the model of previous Kevin Boyle point guards that are athletic and taller (Beverly stands at 6-foot-4).
Shooting guard Justin Powell should also be a key rotational piece for the Eagles.
Continuing down the list, the future is bright with three of the best freshman in the country in Caleb Houstan, Dariq Whitehead and Ryan Nembhard. All three players could potentially see minutes on the varsity roster.
There’s no doubt that this year’s Montverde team has the talent to return to the GEICO Nationals and capture a fifth national title. Last year’s team went largely unchallenged in their conquest of of high school basketball. In the few games in which they did meet resistance, R.J. Barrett was the player that Montverde leaned on. In close victories over Roselle Catholic and Simeon, Barrett practically willed the Eagles to victory with timely steals and big-time shots.
I believe the success of this year’s squad will largely depend on whether Precious Achiuwa and Cade Cunningham can step into that type of role. When Montverde needed it most, Barrett was the guy that could get them a bucket. Can Achiuwa or Cunningham do the same?
I like the Eagles’ chances of winning another title, but I don’t see them running the table like they did last year. The team has an especially daunting schedule with games against Oak Hill, La Lumiere, Sunrise Christian, Sierra Canyon, Paul VI Catholic, Roselle Catholic and other potentially dangerous opponents in some of the holiday tournaments. I think Montverde will pick-up a couple losses before qualifying for the GEICO Nationals.
Still, if Montverde is able to survive the gauntlet, there’s no question that they have the talent and depth to win. The Eagles are definitely one of my favorites to cut down the nets in March.
Michael McLamb is the Sports Editor at Mars Reel. Check back daily for his in-depth perspective on the top teams in high school hoops. Follow him on Twitter: @McLambSays
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