Commentary

Florida event to showcase elite talent

Originally Published: December 17, 2009
By Christopher Lawlor | Scouts Inc.

Donnie Wilkie isn't bashful about promoting the City of Palms Classic.

As the tournament director, he proudly runs the nation's premier boys' tournament and knows it.

"Everyone knows us," Wilkie said. "Coaches call all the time asking when I'll be inviting them. They all want to play here; we're the best."

Frankly, he's right.

This year's tournament, which starts Friday afternoon, features eight teams ranked by ESPN, including No. 1 Findlay Prep of Henderson, Nev. Add ranked teams such as St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.), Westchester (Los Angeles), Montverde (Fla.) Academy, Paterson (N.J.) Catholic and Milton (Alpharetta, Ga.), and it's easy to understand why.

For Damon Wright, coach of Paterson Catholic, the two-year wait was worth it.

"Donnie and I had a gentleman's agreement that we'd come this year," said Wright, whose team plays its season opener Friday. "All the major teams go; this year there's around eight ranked teams. My guys are right there."

The tournament is widely known for star power among both teams and players, so much that Wednesday's final (9:30 p.m. ET) and third-place consolation (7:30) will be shown on ESPNU as part of the season-long Old Spice High School Showcase presented by Nike.

"We're the only true high school tournament that has the finals shown on the ESPN family of networks; that's really appealing for coaches and players," Wilkie said. "The fact that ESPN won't know who will be playing until Monday night is appealing. You can tell teams that if they win their first two games they'll be on national TV. It doesn't matter if you are ranked, have great players; just win two games."

Winning those two games will be difficult. Teams are likely to hook up with at least one ranked opponent in opening two days

For hoops aficionados, it's five days of basketball bliss, with 33 games at the Bishop Verot High gymnasium in Fort Myers, Fla.

Since 1973, the City of Palms has set the standard for holiday tournaments. What started as a local tournament morphed into a pre-Christmas tradition in southwest Florida.

Consider these City of Palms facts:

• More than 60 players have reached the NBA, including 2001 No. 1 overall draft pick, Kwame Brown, and five top-three lottery picks. Currently are there 38 players on NBA rosters.

• If the McDonald's High School All-America Game is considered the standard for postseason all-star games, 74 players who have played in the City of Palms Classic have been chosen for the annual game, including 14 in the past five years.

• More than 530 players have played on the Division I level, with several others headed to lower-division, NAIA and junior colleges.

Since the tournament moved to the Bishop Verot venue in 1994 -- there were six previous sites -- Westchester (Los Angeles) has won the championship three times. Here's a list of the past 10 champions, a who's who listing of national programs: 2000, Westchester; 2001, Westchester; 2002, Rice (Manhattan, N.Y.); 2003, Westchester; 2004, Niagara Falls (N.Y.); 2005, Brentwood Academy (Nashville); 2006, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.); 2007, St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.); 2008, Mater Dei.

Findlay Prep won't get a chance to play for the championship but will go directly to the consolation regardless of the outcome of Saturday's game against Winter Park (Fla.). Findlay Prep, which is not a member of Nevada's state athletics association, cannot play against schools from California and Georgia.

Wilkie defused the situation by automatically sending the Pilots to the consolation bracket. Findlay reluctantly agreed.

"[Coach] Michael Peck really wanted to play in the tournament but understands our situation," Wilkie said. "He cleared out his schedule to make it and didn't want to bow out."

The Pilots (12-0) roll into Fort Myers with a 77-1 record in three seasons under Peck, a former assistant at UNLV. They'll play at No. 4 Northland (Columbus, Ohio) on Thursday on ESPN. The Pilots, who have won 45 straight games, average 97 points while beating opponents by an average of 30 points.

Here's a look of the tournament's early matchups (All times Eastern):

Friday: 3 p.m., St. Francis Academy (Baltimore)-De La Salle (Chicago); 4:45, Bishop Verot-Flanagan (Pembroke Pines, Fla.); 6:30, Penn Wood (Lansdowne, Pa.)-Butler (Huntsville, Ala.); 8:15, Fort Myers-Paterson (N.J.) Catholic; 10, Sagemont (Weston, Fla.)-St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.).

Saturday: 11:15 a.m., consolation game; 1 p.m., Dudley (Greensboro, N.C.)-Montverde (Fla.) Academy; 2:45, Milton (Alpharetta, Ga.)-Dunbar (Fort Myers, Fla.); 4:30, Dr. Phillips (Orlando, Fla.)-Summit Christian (West Palm Beach, Fla.); 6:15, Westchester (Los Angeles)-Bartow (Fla.); 8:15, Winter Park (Fla.)-Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.); 10, quarterfinals of the winner's bracket.

If you're looking for star power, there are eight players ranked in the ESPNU 100, with 11 juniors and sophomores among the nation's elite in their classes.

The ESPNU 100 players are Tristan Thompson (No. 11), Findlay; Fabricio Melo (No. 20), Sagemont; Patric Young (No. 22), Providence School (Jacksonville, Fla.); James Bell (No. 43), Montverde Academy; Stacey Poole (No. 51), Providence School; Jamail Jones (No. 61), Montverde; and Dwayne Polee (No. 71), Westchester.

Winter Park guard Austin Rivers, a Florida recruit, is the highest-rated junior at No. 2 in the ESPNU Super 60.

Last year became a crowd when Winter Park took third and Rivers was named the tournament's most valuable player as a precocious sophomore. In the third-place game, he scored 46 points, making 15 of 22 shots, in a 91-87 win over Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.), which went on to to win Georgia's Class 5A title three months later.

One team looking to make a national splash is Paterson Catholic. Under New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association guidelines, member schools could not tip off their season until Friday.

The Cougars play local favorites Fort Myers on Friday. Paterson Catholic, the alma mater of Tim Thomas, features six seniors, led by 6-foot-6 Fuquan Edwin, who signed with Seton Hall. T.J. Clemmings, a bruising 6-6 power forward, won't accompany the team after committing earlier this week to play football at Pittsburgh.

"I gave him a few weeks off," Wright said. "T.J. had a lot of things going on with his football recruitment; he'll be ready on Jan. 1 when we play Huntington Prep (W.Va.)."

If the Cougars win, they'll play either Butler (Huntsville, Ala.) or Penn Wood (Lansdowne, Pa.), both are defending state champions from Alabama Class 5A and Pennsylvania Class 4A, respectively.

Youth served

James McAdoo has game. There's no disputing the 6-8 high-flying, athletic junior forward from Norfolk Christian School in Virginia can bring it, but word was confirmed earlier this week when he was named the 2009 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year.

McAdoo, 16, is the youngest recipient in the 30-year history of the award.

"At first it was an overwhelming experience," McAdoo said. "It really didn't hit home until I received the letter from USA Basketball that had the names of some of the past recipients, like Michael Jordan and the Dream Team.

"Just to see my name mentioned in the same sentence as them shows me the potential I have and what could come in the future. It was just an overwhelming feeling of happiness and joy."

Previous winners include Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Jason Kidd, Carmelo Anthony, Shaquille O'Neal, Ray Allen, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Chris Paul and Reggie Miller.

McAdoo, who earlier this year selected North Carolina over Connecticut, Wake Forest, Georgetown and Florida, averaged 16.8 points and 8.6 rebounds and a team-leading two blocks, helping the gold-medal-winning USA squad to a perfect 5-0 record in the inaugural FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Mendoza, Argentina. Perhaps most importantly, the finish qualified the USA for next summer's 2010 FIBA U17 World Championship in Hamburg, Germany.

"James was a quiet leader who drew the respect of teammates and opposing players with his energy and hard work," said Team USA coach Don Showalter of Mid-Prairie High in Wellman, Iowa. "He is one of those elite players with the ability to make everyone around him a better player. He could have scored 30 points a game but he, like his teammates, bought into our 'we, not me' approach."

These days, McAdoo, No. 3 in the ESPNU Super 60, and his high school teammates are currently No. 2 in the Virginia Independent Schools Division 2 rankings. Norfolk Christian plays nationally ranked Christ School (Arden, N.C.) Friday in the quarterfinals of the Chick-fil-A Holiday Tournament in Columbia, S.C.

Court summit

The 13th annual Nike Hoop Summit will return to the Rose Garden, home of the Portland Trail Blazers, on April 10.

That means 10 of the nation's top players, along with several international players who attend high school in the United States, will be eligible for the game. The game is not an all-star game and therefore would not count against a player's ability to play in two postseason national all-star games such as McDonald's or Jordan Brand.

Held annually from 1995 to 2000, the Nike Hoop Summit was resumed in 2004 after a three-year hiatus. In 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2004, the Nike Hoop Summit was held in the city hosting the men's NCAA Final Four, and then at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tenn., from 2005 through 2007.

The 2010 USA Basketball Junior National Select Team roster is expected to be announced in early January, with the 2010 World Select Team announcement to follow in March. The World Select Team will consist of 11 players aged 19 or younger from FIBA's five geographic zones: FIBA Africa, FIBA Americas, FIBA Asia, FIBA Europe and FIBA Oceania, with the approved sanctioning of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), the world governing body of international basketball.

"After attracting last year the largest crowd ever for the Nike Hoop Summit and having one of the most exciting games in the 12 years we've held the game, USA Basketball is excited to again return the Nike Hoop Summit to Portland," said USA Basketball executive director/CEO Jim Tooley. "We know from past games that both the USA and world teams for the Nike Hoop Summit will feature some of basketball's biggest and most promising players. Some of these players will certainly be collegiate and NBA stars in the future."

The Nike Hoop Summit in 2010 will make its third consecutive appearance in Portland at the Rose Garden. In front of a Nike Hoop Summit record crowd of 11,246, the USA lost 97-89 to the World Team in the 2009 Nike Hoop Summit. Overall, USA teams are 9-3.

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY.

Christopher Lawlor

High School Basketball
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years.