The mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden in New York City, may not have been available this year, but the Suncoast Credit Union Arena at Florida SouthWestern State College, home of the Culligan City of Palms Classic, filled in admirably as the host for this year’s GEICO Nationals. Fourteen of the top boys’ and girls’ high school teams from across the country took to the hardwood earlier this month to see who would be crowned national champions.
Of the ten boys teams competing, nine had either taken part in or were scheduled to take part in the City of Palms Classic, including the defending COP champion and runner-up, Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) and IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)
The boys’ tournament featured 31 ESPN-ranked players, while the girls’ tournament featured nine espnW ranked players. Also participating were seven McDonald’s All-Americans: Nate Bittle (Prolific Prep, Napa, Calif.), Kendall Brown (Sunrise Christian, Bel Aire, Kan.), Kennedy Chandler (Sunrise Christian), Nolan Hickman (Wasatch Academy, Mt. Pleasant, Utah), Moussa Diabate (IMG Academy), Caleb Houstan (Montverde Academy) and Raven Johnson (Westlake High School, Atlanta, Ga.).
Monteverde entered as the No. 1 team in the nation and left as the same, defeating No. 2 Sunrise Christian 62-52 for their fifth GEICO Nationals title. On the girls’ side, No. 2 Westlake High School came in as the odds-on favorite and didn’t disappoint. They handled their business and left Fort Myers with an easy victory over No. 4 St. Paul VI High School (Chantilly, Va.) 70-50 for the national championship to go along with their four consecutive Georgia state titles.
GEICO Nationals officials left Fort Myers very impressed with the facility and the hospitality they received while in the Sunshine State. We’ll have to wait and see if this event becomes a springtime staple for hoops fans in Southwest Florida.