Updated: Mar 31
One year ago, virtually all basketball events were canceled due to COVID-19. This included the GEICO High School Nationals, where some of the top schools in the nation compete for what has become the de facto national championship tournament. Last year, a Montverde team that was considered one of the best teams in recent memory was not able to compete for the crown nor was IMG Academy able to defend their 2018 title. The 2021 edition of GEICO Nationals will be held at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, Florida.
The tournament will begin with two play-in games, featuring Prolific Prep (CA, 7th seed) against La Lumiere (IN, 10) followed by Pace Academy (GA, 8) taking on Oak Hill Academy (VA, 9) on March 31. The winners of those match-ups will play Sunrise Christian (KS, 2) and Montverde Academy (FL, 1), respectively, on April 1. Rounding out the quarterfinal matchups: Arizona Compass Prep (AZ, 4) versus Wasatch Academy (UT, 5) and IMG Academy (FL, 3) against Milton HS (GA, 6). The semifinals will be held on April 2 with the finals being held on April 3 at 12 PM (EST) on ESPN.
This year’s event will feature six McDonald’s All-American selections, along with a number of highly sought after future high major prospects. Historically, Montverde has won the tournament four times — most recently in 2018. Montverde’s lone loss this season is to second-seed Sunrise Christian, who they have also beat twice on the year.
On the eve of GEICO Nationals, Pro Insight held a roundtable discussion to preview the event, featuring top storylines, a list of players to watch, along with an idea of what some teams bring to the table, collectively. This features questions by Pro Insight’s Michael Visenberg, answered by PD Web, Andrew Slater and Matt McKay.
Michael Visenberg: Who are three of the top prospects that you are most excited to see and what do you hope they show during the tournament?
PD Web: Kamari Lands of Prolific Prep has flown a bit under the radar this year. Lands, the long 6’7 wing, transferred in from La Lumiere after a strong sophomore season and immediately fit in well with this big-centric roster, adding needed perimeter scoring and a do-it-all ability. Lands doesn’t have a singular skill that stands out strongest, he is best when filling every category of a stat-sheet from points on down to steals. Lands contributes to winning in a multi-faceted approach that certainly will overjoy his college and pro coaches in the future. If Lands gets hot from 3 to pair with the Bittle/Gueye/Bona frontcourt trio — Prolific will be a tough out. Bruce Thornton of Milton is one my personal favorites to watch. The Ohio State commit & GSHA 7A state Player of The Year doesn’t have the flashiest game, but it is a joy to watch a young guard who “gets” it. Thornton’s combination of strength, poise, pull-up shooting and feel has proven to be a dangerous mixture for opposing defenses this season. Milton has a strong 1-2 punch at the guard spot between Thornton and Kanaan Carlyle and the GA 7A champs are out to prove Georgia success translates to a national stage. Eric Dailey, Jr. of IMG may be the highest ceiling player on the Ascenders roster, it’s just a matter of when Dailey puts tools and the flashes together every time on the court. I’ve really liked the two-way potential of Dailey, who has the versatility to slide between multiple types of defensive assignments as needed. Offensively, Dailey has shown offensive development this season to potentially have some creation ability, but is as comfortable finding opportunistic scoring through cuts and in transition. I’ve liked his passing chops and once in the paint Dailey has the physical talent to finish over and through defenders at the rim.
Andrew Slater: The three I’m most curious about are: Bruce Thornton, Matt Cleveland, and Adem Bona. For Thornton and Cleveland, this is a significant jump in competition and therefore helps further gauge or help calibrate their respective strengths and weaknesses. With Bona, he’s been fortunate to play in The Grind Session, but the combination of coaching and collective talent with higher perceived stakes will help highlight the areas that he needs further development in. Two others would be Jaden Bradley and Nate Bittle, who will both get their first tastes of GEICO competition. While neither have to carry the burden of a Cleveland or a Thornton, they’ll have to produce consistently, in order for either of their respective teams to have a chance at the title.
Matt McKay: The three that quickly come to mind for various reasons: Matthew Cleveland, Dariq Whitehead, and Jaden Bradley. Cleveland was arguably the best player not named to the 2021 McDonald’s All-American Game. He’s a wiry, lanky, do-it-all wing that is bound to flourish for Leonard Hamilton at Florida State. Whitehead has been one of my favorite prep prospects since getting the chance to see him live at the October 2018 USA Basketball Junior National Team minicamp in Colorado Springs. The 2022 wing has made significant strides in literally every viewing since that initial evaluation, and now stands 6’5” with a plus-five inch wingspan and has become one of the most dangerous transition players in America. He’s improved his range shooting and playmaking chops, as well, and is trending toward becoming yet another one of Montverde’s NBA success stories. Bradley is an interesting case study. He achieved tremendous success in his first two years of high school at Cannon School (NC), and made the understandable pivot to IMG for the 2020-21 season. Since then, things haven’t gone south by any means, but this season has presented some challenges for the five-star 2022 PG. At his best, Bradley is a table-setter on offense with the ability to call his own number. He keeps the defense on its heels, plays with great pace and does a nice job keeping his teammates involved. Other times, he can tend to blend in amongst the crowd and struggle vs. elite size, strength and athleticism. I’ll be watching closely to see which Bradley shows up at GEICO.
MV: Who are three of the top long term underclassmen prospects? What skills do they have that merit excitement about them as prospects and what should we look out for from them during GEICO Nationals?
PD: This year’s GEICO field is thin on volume of underclassmen compared to previous years, but the talent for the freshman and sophomores is as real as ever. The two names that standout most to me are Kanaan Carlyle of Milton and Caleb Foster of Oak Hill. Kanaan Carlyle, a 6’2 explosive scoring guard, has produced at every stage of the season including 24 points against Pebblebrook in the 7A state semifinals and a game-high 15 in the state final win over Berkmar. His scoring prowess will need to be on showcase to overturn national powerhouse IMG. Caleb Foster wasn’t a name I was hip to before the season started — HUGE performances at MAIT and NIBC raised his stock to national prominence. Often with young point guards, it’s scoring and scoring bunches that drives attention (and don’t get me wrong, Foster can fill it up), but it is his maturity that sticks out. The game that really stood out from his breakout season was the 2OT clash against Lewisville — Foster played 40 high intensity pressure packed minutes and registered only 1 TO. The rest of the statline was great: 17/7/8, but to play a game that [intense] while maintain a sterling A:TO is special. I’m very much looking forward to a potential matchup between Foster and Nembhard should Oak Hill get past Pace in the opening round.
AS: Due to the stakes, the underclassmen usually don’t get much of an opportunity to play, but three that will need to contribute: Kanaan Carlyle, Caleb Foster, and Jeremy Fears, Jr. This will be a good test for all three, but they also wouldn’t be playing, if their respective coaches didn’t think they could perform and didn’t have a necessity at their position. Two others to watch long-term are sophomore Gus Yalden and freshman Anthony Gilkes of IMG, but I don’t expect either to get major minutes in this setting.
MM: Three 2023 guys stand out in my mind. I’m eager to see if Caleb Foster can pick up where he left off from when Nick Danforth, our regional analyst, watched him ball out at The St. James NIBC Invitational in Virginia several weeks ago. He’s a tough, heady point guard with a very bright future in Steve Smith’s Oak Hill program (and beyond). La Lumiere’s Jeremy Fears, Jr. is another young guard that stood out at NIBC with his handle, finishing upside, lateral mobility and toughness. I’ll be looking to see how he handles bigger. older, stronger opponents in Fort Myers. Lastly, Milton’s Kanaan Carlyle is billed as one of the top guards in the 2023 class and is fresh off a state championship run in Georgia where he played a major role as a sophomore. He’s one I haven’t been able to see live, yet, thanks to COVID...but I will be watching intently as his team looks to upset IMG in the quarterfinals.