Category: mceachern basketball

City of Palms Classic field 'wide open' for 2019, tournament vice president says

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In the world of elite high school basketball tournaments, it’s generally been necessary to think ahead, sometimes a calendar year in advance. Locking in teams for the next year’s tournament and beyond before the current year’s event concluded is common.
And perhaps nobody thought more moves ahead than Culligan City of Palms Classic vice president Donnie Wilkie.
More: Sharife Cooper, McEachern shred Imhotep in City of UpPalms championship
The always-changing landscape of high school basketball thanks to a transfer market that never seems to close has forced Wilkie to change his approach. While in past years Wilkie has teased a big-name team or two for the next year’s field following the City of Palms championship, he had no early Christmas presents to give following Powder Springs (Georgia) McEachern’s 68-47 win over Philadelphia Imhotep on Saturday at Suncoast Credit Union Arena.
Instead, he gave some insight into what his mornings look like between March and September each year. The first thing he does every morning after he wakes up is Google “high school basketball transfers.” And without fail each day there are always new nuggets about where a top player or two will land.
Locking in the 2019 City of Palms field too early would be a mistake.
“The list of teams we don’t have this year but did have at certain points is mind-boggling,” Wilkie said. “At some point, you just have to be a little more patient.”
So other than Sarasota Riverview and Montclair (New Jersey) Immaculate Conception, who were in Fort Myers this year on the first year of two-year arrangements, the 14 other slots for the 2019 main draw are wide open.

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This year’s City of Palms featured seven programs ranked in the USA TODAY Super 25 with 16 of the top 100 seniors in the nation. Rankings mattered very little, though.
No. 2 Bradenton IMG Academy, No. 3 Mouth of Wilson (Virginia) Oak Hill Academy and defending tournament champion No. 4 Fort Lauderdale University School were tournament favorites that were knocked off in the quarterfinals and semifinals. It set up an Imhotep-McEachern final, featuring the 20th and 10th-ranked teams in the nation.
Watching 25 minutes of McEachern highly-touted junior guard Sharife Cooper (20 points, four assists, five rebounds) controlling the tempo of the game in a 68-47 McEachern win was enough for fans to forget they weren’t watching an IMG-Oak Hill final.
“Upsets are tremendous for the tournament,” Wilkie said. “I tell coaches all year round that this is the place that they can come where if they play well they have a chance to win. A chance. If they don’t play well, they will lose because there’s that many good teams there.

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“My obligation is to set up a tournament for when the ball goes in the air we’re out of it. We play no role in the outcome. Oak Hill doesn’t win because they’re Oak Hill. Montverde doesn’t win because they’re Montverde. The team that wins is usually the team that deserves to win that night. Because of that, I think historically we’ve been proven to be one of the tournaments that’s probably the most prone to upsets, one of the most volatile. But I think that makes us one of the fairest tournaments. I want people to have to earn it.”
A controversy that arose during the tournament and threatened the championship game was Birmingham (Alabama) Mountain Brook’s inability to play Oak Hill due to an Alabama High School Athletic Association rule that member schools can’t schedule teams that are not members of their state athletic association. Oak Hill is an approved non-member of the Virginia High School League.
Imhotep’s upset of Oak Hill in a semifinal made it a non-issue as far as the championship was concerned. However, the third-place game between Mountain Brook and Oak Hill was canceled on Saturday.

“We’ve been extremely fortunate in recent years to avoid those situations entirely,” Wilkie said. “I think it’s fair to say we were extremely fortunate this year in hindsight. I’ll deal with whatever problems I have to deal with, but this kind of feels like a problem we could have avoided.”
It wasn’t an issue exclusive to the City of Palms. The Iolani Classic in Hawaii had its championship affected as Chatsworth (California) Sierra Canyon’s state athletic association prevented it from playing LaPorte (Indiana) La Lumiere. Instead, La Lumiere was crowned the champion based on its record in the tournament after Sierra Canyon fell to Montverde.
Wilkie plans to be more thorough when choosing the field for future City of Palms tournaments. And it’s a problem that could become more widespread next year.
In April, the California Interscholastic Federation unanimously approved a new rule that, starting in the 2019-20 school year, will ban California teams from playing schools around the country that don’t compete in their state championship playoffs.
IMG and Montverde among other top-ranked programs are members of their state athletic associations but don’t play for state titles. It will force Wilkie to make choices on a yearly basis between top California teams and schools like Oak Hill.
 “I suspect the safe path moving forward is if we have Oak Hill specifically in a couple of years like we’d like to have, then we need to be really careful that year,” Wilkie said. “I need to be a little more thorough than I was this year regarding sanctions.”

Sharife Cooper, No. 10 McEachern shred Imhotep in City of Palms championship

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Despite being ranked No. 10 in the USA TODAY Super 25 and having valuable experience in the Culligan City of Palms Classic, Powder Springs (Georgia) McEachern High School was at best considered the fourth-best team in the tournament. Sharife Cooper defied those odds when he was on the floor and his teammates even showed they were pretty good without him.
Cooper shredded a Philadelphia Imhotep defense that owned two top-20 teams the previous two nights up and down the floor, going off for 20 points while teammate Isaac Okoro and company held down the fort when Cooper got in foul trouble during a 68-47 victory in the City of Palms championship game on Saturday.
The tournament went 10 years from 2004 to 2014 without a public school taking home the crown. Now, three of the last five winners – Wheeler (Georgia) in 2014, Chino Hills (California) in 2015 and now McEachern – have been public school champs.
“Coming into this tournament, you already know the history off of social media everywhere. You know all these players who played here,” said Cooper, who earned tournament MVP honors. “It’s kind of surreal right now. But I feel like I’m going to feel it later because I don’t really feel it right now.”
It wasn’t the final many expected with Imhotep and Birmingham (Alabama) Mountain Brook upsetting two of the top-four teams in the country on a wild quarterfinal Thursday. Imhotep held off a late surge by No. 4 Fort Lauderdale University School for a 57-54 win and Mountain Brook slowed the game down against a No. 2 Bradenton IMG Academy team with starting lineup full of Division I recruits for a 72-67 win.
Imhotep (7-1) wasn’t done, though. The Panthers turned in one of the most dominant defensive performances of the tournament in a 70-60 upset of No. 3 Mouth of Wilson (Virginia) Oak Hill Academy in a Friday semifinal.
The Panthers defense, which held Mountain Brook and Oak Hill to 30 percent shooting the last two nights, faced its toughest matchup yet against Cooper, who flew by full-court pressure on possession after possession.
“Sharife Cooper is a special talent,” Imhotep coach Andre Noble said. “He made it really difficult for us to keep him in front. And then he started making plays for other folks.”
Imhotep’s inability to recreate the defensive intensity against Oak Hill and Mountain Brook frustrated the coach as McEachern (8-0) shot nearly 66 percent from the field and 9-for-9 in the fourth quarter.
“When we’re good that’s what we do,” Noble said. “That’s why tonight’s so frustrating.”
Cooper’s speed allowed Imhotep little time to set its defense as McEachern built a double-digit lead early in the second quarter. Finishing the half with 10 points and two assists, the 6-foot-1 guard got to the rim on back-to-back possessions with under 20 seconds remaining. With seven seconds remaining he avoided a double team at half court and floated a shot through the net at the buzzer to make it 36-23.
The top-25 junior in the country, however, picked up his third and fourth fouls in short order early in the third with his team up 13.
Enter senior guard Isaac Okoro who shouldered the workload in Cooper’s absence for nearly seven minutes. Okoro stuffed the state sheet with 18 points on a perfect shooting night with eight assists and six rebounds.
“Everybody knows he handles the ball mostly on our team,” said Okoro, who made the all-tournament team, of Cooper. “Once he picked up his fourth foul I know I had to start handling the ball and creating more for our team so we won’t lose the lead.”
Donta Scott, an all-tournament selection, led Imhotep with 15 points.
When Cooper returned to the court at the start of the fourth McEachern led 47-36. The Indians went on to outscore Imhotep 21-11 in the final period.
 “Offensively, it wasn’t really nothing,” Cooper said. “We always say it’s about us and not about the other team. When we just play our game things will fall our way.”
Tournament MVP
Sharife Cooper, Powder Springs (Georgia) McEachern
All-Tournament Team
Cole Anthony, Mouth of Wilson (Virginia) Oak Hill Academy
Armando Bacot, Bradenton IMG Academy
Vernon Carey Jr., Fort Lauderdale University School
Cam’ron Fletcher, St. Louis Vashon
Joseph Girard III, Glenn Falls (New York)
Elijah Hutchins-Everett, Montclair (New Jersey) Immaculate Conception
D.J. Jeffries, Olive Branch (Mississippi)
Jarod Jones, Powder Springs (Georgia) McEachern
Makhi Mitchell, Washington D.C. Woodrow Wilson
Isaac Okoro, Powder Springs (Georgia) McEachern
Khalil Robinson, West Columbia (South Carolina) Gray Collegiate
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Bradenton IMG Academy
Donta Scott, Philadelphia Imhotep
Trendon Watford, Birmingham (Alabama) Mountain Brook
Malachi Wideman, Sarasota Riverview