IMG Academy Wins First-Ever GEICO Nationals Crown!
National Grassroots Editor
Ronnie has evaluated basketball talent for 20 years and has over 15 years of experience in publishing, editing and managing high school sports websites for companies such as Student Sports, ESPN and Ballislife. Ronnie compiles the FAB 50 National Team Rankings while serving as an account manager and consultant for grassroots event run by Ballislife and other companies, in addition to serving as a color commentator on high school broadcasts.
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FAB 50 No. 4 IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) used a balanced attack and put pressure on La Lumiere to play from behind, and the Ascenders never let their foot off the gas, winning 66-55 to hand the Lakers their first loss of the season. With the win, IMG Academy captured its first GEICO Nationals championship. Read on for key facts, key stats and the turning point in the title game.
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No. 4 IMG Academy (Brandenton, Fla.) 66, No. 1 La Lumiere (La Portne, Ind.) 55
Quick Summary: The Ascenders played a confident and complete game and never trailed. They got out to a quick start, paced by two early 3-pointers by Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and led 15-8 after one period. La Lumiere, which lost its first game of the season, battled valiantly, but was working extremely hard for quality field goal attempts all game long. The Lakers, who trailed 31-26 at halftime, hurt themselves by taking some ill-advised jumpers in the second half that led to easy scores in transition for the Ascenders. La Lumiere’s game plan was to pound the ball inside-out through Mr. Basketball USA Isaiah Stewart, but the Lakers didn’t shoot it well enough from the perimeter, as the Ascenders did a good job of closing out on shooters and keeping the Lakers’ secondary players from having an offensive impact. La Lumiere seemed to have some momentum on its side after a 3-pointer by Gerald Drumgoole and a steal and an underneath bucket by point guard Wendell Green Jr. to cut its deficit to 45-41 with under 30 seconds left in the third quarter, but IMG Academy freshman Jarace Walker (five points) hit a critical 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining in the period to give his team a 48-41 lead entering the final period. IMG Academy didn’t tire, made solid decisions offensively and was able to counter whatever La Lumiere did offensively and push its lead to double-digits in the final period.
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Pivotal Moment: Walker’s 3-pointer was a big momentum killer for La Lumiere entering the fourth period. The Lakers weren’t shooting well from the outside but were sticking with the game plan. If they could have tied the game, perhaps the pressure would have affected IMG’s shot-making ability or decision, but it was evident the Ascenders were in great physical shape and not going to wear down as La Lumiere’s first two opponents did in this tournament. Another key moment was the game’s onset when it was evident IMG Academy had more offensive firepower and La Lumiere wasn’t going to get easy looks. The Lakers just couldn’t match IMG’s foot speed to create separation at most of the positions. They were going to have to shoot an extremely high percentage from the field or it was going to be an uphill battle and it turned out to be the latter for the Lakers.
Key Statistic: La Lumiere shot 41 percent (21-of-51), including 19 percent (4-of-21) from 3-point range. Plenty of the long misses ignited IMG’s fast break and getting up and down the floor is what the Ascenders wanted to do. IMG head coach Sean McAloon had three players score in double figures: guard Jaden Springer had 12 points and seven assists and averaged 21.3 ppg for the tourney champions, Josh Green had his best game the tournament with a game-high 19 points, and Robinson-Earl had 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Robinson-Earl, a Villanova recruit and the son of 1996 McDonald’s All-American Lester Earl, was named the tournament’s most valuable player. In three games he averaged 14 ppg and seven rpg and also played good interior defense. Along with Armando Bacot, who had six points and eight rebounds, Robinson-Earl and Green became the first trio of players from the same high school team to be named McDonald’s All-Americans. IMG’s talent level showed in this game, even though without the play of Springer in the first two games IMG would not have been in position to defeat La Lumiere. The Lakers were led in the scoring department by Kentucky-bound Keion Brooks with 15 points, while Stewart finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. Drumgoole was the Lakers’ third double-digit scorer with 12 points and made all three of La Lumiere’s three 3-point baskets in this game. Joining Robinson-Earl on the official all-tourney team were Springer, Green, Stewart and Brooks.
Quotables: “We’ve been waiting a long two years for this moment,” Green said. “It’s awesome, the school is known for the golf team, the football team, but to win the first-ever national championship, it’s amazing,” Robinson-Earl said. “We could have faded yesterday, but we couldn’t do that. We trust coach when he told us to press (versus Montverde). We hadn’t really pressed all year,” he added. “We are known as a football school, but when coach McAloon came in here, he changed the culture,” Bacot said. “We are fast as a team, and I don’t think there is a team faster than us, one through five at every position, in the country. We wanted to rebound and run and that’s what we did in this game,” McAloon said.
What’s Next: IMG Academy finishes its season 31-1 and will undoubtedly move up in the final FAB 50 rankings that will be released on Monday, April 8. The Ascenders came into this tournament ranked No. 4 in the FAB 50, but beat No. 9 Sunrise Christian Academy by 15 points, beat No. 3 Montverde Academy after trailing by 16 points entering the fourth period and defeated No. 1 La Lumiere by double-digits. No. 2 McEachern (Powder Springs, Fla.) beat Sunrise Christian Academy in overtime earlier in the season and finished unbeaten. The team IMG Academy lost to, No. 6 Mountain Brook (Ala.), was beaten by McEachern. La Lumiere finished its season 30-1 with the only loss to IMG Academy at this tournament. McEachern was invited and publicly accepted an invitation, then decided it wasn’t going to compete at the event.