As the lead public address announcer at the City of Palms Classic, I had a front row seat for the nation’s top high school basketball tournament. Chauncey Billups, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, John Wall, Austin Rivers, and Kevin Love all made some of their first appearances on the national scale in the Bishop Verot High School gym in Fort Myers. 2012 was no exception, as the tournament provided some unforgettable moments. Here are the top 10.
1. Montverde claims the crown
In a battle between MaxPreps’ No. 1 team in the nation and ESPN’s No. 1 team in the nation, it was the Eagles of Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla) that ultimately made their claim as America’s top preps team. The Eagles dominated Lone Peak (Highland, Utah) to win the 40th Annual State Farm City of Palms Classic, 66-45. Tournament MVP Dakari Johnson recorded a double-double in the win, and Devin Williams had a team-high 15 points. Florida-boudn guard Kasey Hill put the exclamation point on the win with a reverse jam in the final minute. Montverde coach Kevin Boyle became the first coach to win the Classic with two different schools- he won the 2010 Classic with St. Patrick (Elizabethton, N.J.)- and Montverde became the first Florida school to win a 16-team tournament since Miami Senior in 1991.
2. Huntington Prep tops Signature Series
The Huntington Prep Express, a basketball academy with five Division 1 recruits, entered the City of Palms ranked No. 3 in the nation, and with the fanfare of a No. 1 recruit, forward Andrew Wiggins. The Express did not disappoint. Huntington Prep rolled through the four-team Signature Series, an event within the Classic designed for teams not in their respective state associations. The Express topped HCYA (Houston, Texas) in the semifinals behind a 31 point effort from Wiggins, and took home the title with a 55-35 win over Arlington Country Day (Jacksonville, Fla.), led by 26 points and 13 rebounds from Arkansas signee Moses Kingsley.
3. Lone Peak dazzles, wins over crowd
The Lone Peak Knights entered the Classic as the wild cards. Despite entering the tournament as MaxPreps.com’s No. 1 team in the nation, Lone Peak was the first Utah team ever to play in the City of Palms, and no one was quite sure how they would fare. By week’s end, the Knights had ended any doubts, and become the darling of the tournament. With a run-and-gun style led by four BYU signees (three basketball, one football), the Knights ended the 61-game winning streak of Chester (Penn.) and advanced to the tournament title game. Lone Peak was also the first team since Cincinnati Woodward in 1992 to win both the slam dunk contest (Eric Mika) and the three-point shootout (Nick Emery). Mika won the dunk contest on the strength of a pass from Emery from behind the backboard, which Mika whipped around and slammed in.
4. Curse broken at the buzzer
The host Bishop Verot Vikings (Fort Myers, Fla.) hadn’t won a championship bracket game in the COP since 1979, when the tournament was still an all-local affair. The Vikings had lost 29 straight Classic games before a challenge-round victory in 2011 gave the hosts a triumph. In the opening round of the 2012 COP, the Vikings trailed by one with 30 seconds to play against St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla). Verot guard Mason Taylor caught an entry pass, but had his first shot blocked. Taylor then reocvered, and passed to senior Max Williams, who put up a desperation 10-footer that hit nothing but net just before the buzzer sounded. The game-winner sparked what ESPN analyst Dave Telep referred to as “Mini pandemonium” as the home fans celebrated the upset.
5. Midnight Madness, Part One
It was probably the best game of the tournament. It didn’t end until after 12:30 a.m. And a crowd of roughly 1,500 people stayed up to watch it end. Montverde and Whitney Young (Chicago, Ill.) waged an epic battle centered around two superstar big men: Montverde senior Dakari Johnson and Whitney Young junior Jahlil Okafor. In the back-and-forth affair, Montverde grabbed a three-point lead in the closing seconds. On Whitney Young’s last-gasp attempt with under ten seconds to play, guard Miles Reynolds was fouled on a three-point attempt, and coolly drained all three foul shots to send the game into overtime… at 12:29 a.m. A clutch effort from Montverde’s Kasey Hill gave the overtime triumph to the Eagles, but not before one of the classic games in Classic history.
6. Feagin for the Win
One night after Bishop Verot beat the buzzer, the Jackrabbits of Long Beach Poly found some late-game magic of their own. With four seconds to play in their quarterfinal game with Omaha Central, Brandon Staton delivered the inbounds pass to the fourth option on the play, sophomore Ke’Jhan Feagin. With the attention on Pac 12 signees Jordan Bell and Roschon Prince, Feagin was left open on the left wing. The sophomore drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer to send Poly to the semifinals and hand Omaha Central its first loss in 42 games, sparking a wild celebration from the Jackrabbits.
7. Dickie V in the House
ESPN analyst Dick Vitale made his annual appearance at the Classic, sitting courtside for the Huntington Prep-HCYA game on the third day. Vitale, sitting next to Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton, was impressed with Wiggins’ play, and has since called him “The best player in the nation, including college.” Vitale also awarded the three-point shootout trophy to Lone Peak’s Nick Emery, who upon being told by tournament director Donnie Wilkie that he could accept the trophy from, “this bald-headed guy over here,” could only mutter a stunned “Oh my goodness.”
8. Dupay named Top Player
In the weeks and months leading up to the Classic, officials unveiled a list of the top 40 players in the history of the City of Palms. The public was left to vote for the top five. Four of the five are household names- Austin Rivers, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Trevor Ariza, and Kenny Boynton. But the fifth is a bit more obscure. And the fifth was named the top player in the 40-year history of the Classic. Former Florida guard Teddy Dupay, who was a high school All-American, was named the tournament’s best ever player. The Mariner (Cape Coral, Fla.) star never played in the NBA for various reasons (just google his name, his story is a fascinating one that would take far too long to tell), but is still beloved in COP circles and emotionally thanked his family when presented with a tournament game ball.
9. Jordan Bell breaks the rim
Jordan Bell may be the best high-school shot-blocker in America. The Oregon commit AVERAGED 6.3 blocks a game in the tournament. But his biggest impact, literally, came on the offensive end. Bell, in the second half of Long Beach Poly’s quarterfinal win over Omaha Central, got the ball on a breakaway and delivered a thunderous windmill slam. How thunderous? He broke the rim. Seriously, just watch the video. Tournament officials raced to replace the rim before the next game, and to their credit, only caused a delay of a few minutes.
10. Midnight Madness, Part Two
You would expect a totally empty gym for an 11:30 p.m. game between two Florida schools, right? Not at the City of Palms. Nearly 250 fans from Community School of Naples filed into the gym for a late-night battle with North Florida Educational Institute (Jacksonville). Despite a distinct home-court advantage- 30 miles from their campus – the Seahawks fell 67-49 to NFEI. At tournament’s end, NFEI head coach Michael DuBose remarked, “You can go ahead and book us for the 11:30 game next year.”