Just after No. 2 McEachern High School (Powder Springs, Ga.) knocked off Meadowcreek High School (Norcross, Ga.) 62-54 to claim the 7A state title on Saturday, head coach Mike Thompson confirmed to SUVtv that the Indians were indeed headed for GEICO Nationals in New York on April 4-6.
Now it appears that the Indians (32-0) will be severely shorthanded in the Big Apple after all five starters exclusively told USA Today Sports that they’re opting not to make the trip for a variety of different reasons which range from scheduling conflicts to focusing on finding colleges to attend.
Sharife Cooper, Isaac Okoro, Quentin McElroy, Jared Jones and Alyn Breed said that after putting 100 percent of their focus into winning the state title and going undefeated, it’s time to focus on securing their futures.
“We all would loved to have played in the GEICO Nationals this season,” said Indians wing Isaac Okoro, an Auburn signee. “But we all have different things that we need to take care of and we have to really start focusing on the next step.”
Thompson said he was “unaware” of his players’ intentions and declined further comment until he was able to find out more information.
This isn’t the first time players from a top team have opted out of GEICO Nationals; in 2017 Michael Porter Jr., the No. 1 player in the class, led Nathan Hale High School (Seattle) to a state title and a 29-0 record then skipped GEICO Nationals because he didn’t feel he and his teammates had anything left to prove.
Okoro said he needs to focus on preparing to play in the Nike Hoop Summit, which runs from April 9-12 in Portland, where he’ll be able to practice and play in front of scouts from all 30 NBA teams, and Cooper, who is ranked No. 3 overall in USA Today Sports’ Chosen 25 for 2020, had a prior obligation to attend USA Basketball’s Junior National Team Minicamp in Minneapolis, which runs concurrent with GEICO Nationals.
Cooper, a point guard, is the team’s best player, averaging 27.8 points, 8.2 assists, six rebounds and four steals a game this season.
“It’s an honor to be picked for GEICO, but I made a commitment to USA Basketball and my dad always taught me to honor my commitments,” Cooper said. “It was a dream of mine to go undefeated and win a state title and we’ve done that, but it’s also been a dream of mine to play for my country and now I’m doing that. It’s hard because GEICO isn’t something you can plan for and I already had this locked in.”
Historically, public schools like McEachern only officially earn a GEICO berth after they win their state title.
Indians’ guards McElroy and Breed said that, while the in-season tunnel vision was worth it, the laser-focus put them behind with their recruitments.
“I haven’t been in touch with college coaches because I’ve been focused on my team and winning,” Breed said. “I don’t mind because look what we did, but now I need to get out to some visits and get a decision. That can take time. If we play in GEICO that’s another month I’d have to hold off.”
McEachern could still win the Super 25, especially if No. 1 La Lumiere School (La Porte, Ind.) stumbles.
The Indians certainly have the resume, with nine wins over Super 25 teams this season.
Jones said he felt that it would be selfish of him to ask his teammates to backout of their commitments and plans “to focus on a new goal that we just set.”
“We didn’t know for sure about GEICO until we won states,” said Jones, a Northwestern commit. “My teammates have to do what’s best for them now. We gave up everything personally this season to achieve our goal and we did that. I just feel like it’s time to focus on the individual stuff. I’m OK with it, but we all started this season together and I’m only playing if all of my teammates are getting on that plane and going.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY