MLK weekend is a huge barometer for the top teams in the country, so we dig a bit deeper on what might transpire as team prepare for a post-season run. We also take a quick look at the rankings over the years and what could potentially happen to the longest-running weekly national rankings in the future.
If FAB 50 No. 1 Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) defeats No. 5 IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) in a showdown at Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass. this Sunday, it will be the Eagles' second win over the Ascenders and the talk will grow about Montverde Academy's standing potentially as one of the greatest teams of all-time. Whenever a potentially great team is compared to teams of the past (let's say for arguments sake 25 years or older), the first point brought up is usually "today's teams travel nationally and play much better teams."
In reality, however, elite high school teams have been traveling for over 40 years now. In the 1970s, there were plenty of big-time events where teams would play in showcase games, especially in the Midwest, or teams with a great player would get invited to a big holiday tournament. For instance, Elk Grove (Calif.), with eventual 1975 National Player of the Year Bill Cartwright (a seven-footer who was considering the pros out of high school) traveled to the Whataburger Tournament in Texas, a holiday event that began in 1958. The 1970s is when DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) began to appear regularly in tournaments across the country. Morgan Wootten's 1978 club that finished 27-0 and ranked No. 1 by Basketball Weekly defeated teams from North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and New York, in addition to playing in a tough conference.
If someone asked scouts and reporters familiar with high school basketball what team is the best ever, without much research behind it, the 1982-83 Dunbar (Baltimore, Md.) team would be the one mentioned the most (and trust us when we say most all-time lists and polls done about high school and grassroots basketball doesn't include much research). The Poets, as many general fans know, produced three long-term NBA players, including 1983 Mr. Basketball USA Reggie Williams, but they had incredible depth. Similar to this year's Montverde Academy team, Dunbar's bench players likely comprised of a nationally-ranked unit itself, and popular to contrary thinking, that team did play a national schedule by 1982-83 standards.
Dunbar played in the Capital City Classic, ventured to Kentucky for the King of the Bluegrass Tournament and to Pennsylvania for the Johnstown Tournament. It was at the latter where Dunbar had its closest game, a 57-52 win over Martin Luther King (New York), and where reserve Reggie Lewis stepped up and really made a name for himself. It's pretty incredible to think Lewis, a reserve, only hit double-digit scoring five times that season, but was able to develop into a NBA All-Star who averaged 20.8 ppg in each of his final two NBA seasons.
Not as many teams traveled then as they do now, but elite teams of yesteryear did travel enough to make viable comparisons to this year's Montverde Academy team or other recent elite teams.
The most interesting aspect of this upcoming weekend will be how No. 3 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) and No. 19 Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.) handle the "Springfield Double", especially since Oak Hill Academy is in the thick of the FAB 50 national title hunt and eyeing a high seed at GEICO Nationals. Oak Hill Academy has never lost at the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Springfield, Mo., and on the flip side, plenty of good teams have been tripped up in Massachusetts trying to complete the Springfield Double.
Those two teams are on opposite sides of the bracket at Bass Pro TOC, and win or lose, face tough teams on MLK Monday afternoon at Spaulding Hoophall Classic after a day of travel. Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.) takes on No. 16 Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) at 1 pm ET and Oak Hill Academy takes on always-dangerous No. 36 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) at 3 pm ET.
Oak Hill will be paying attention to the big showdown between No. 2 Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Chattanooga, Tenn.) and No. 4 Wasatch Academy (Mt. Pleasant, Utah) on Saturday at the Kevin Durant MLK Classic in Springfield, Virginia, as will No. 6 Dorman (Roebuck, S.C.). Dorman has only lost to Oak Hill Academy and its ranking is somewhat continent on how well the Warriors do, in addition to No. 9 St. John's (Washington, D.C.), a team Dorman beat. It would benefit Dorman should Oak Hill rise in the rankings, just as the Cavaliers dropped one spot this week after St. John's lost to No. 8 DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.).
Oak Hill could climb to No. 2 should it win the Bass Pro TOC, beat Gorman and if Hamilton Heights Christian Academy were to falter against Wasatch Academy. Even if HHCA loses, it wouldn't fall far in the rankings and a Wasatch Academy loss shouldn't derail it GEICO National chances, either.
Oak Hill Academy and other academy-type programs dominate the top of the current FAB 50 and the gripe from fans and coaches whose teams would almost never appear that high in our national rankings is those programs attract players from all over the country, and can recruit them without having to abide by any state association rules.
Our biggest gripe or concern with independent, academy-types versus traditional schools belonging to a state association is the practice start dates and the scheduling differences. For instance, in New Jersey No. 41 Patrick School (Elizabeth, N.J.) didn't play its first game until December 19 and in some states practice isn't allowed until December. Oak Hill Academy had its first scrimmage on October 14 and by December 1, the Warriors were already 11-1 while plenty of states hadn't yet opened regular season play.
Schools that have a late schedule, with most of their big games in late January or February, are often playing catchup in the rankings to teams that are full-bore by early November.
IMG Academy moved back in front of No. 6 Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kan.) because of its 89-77 win over Huntington Prep (Huntington, W. Va.). After Montverde Academy, many scouts feel Sunrise Christian Academy might have the second most talented team in the country, but they have two losses: one to No. 2 Hamilton Heights Christian Academy and the other to Huntington Prep. The Irish are not eligible for the FAB 50 because all eligible programs must be recognized by a high school athletics governing body or be an associate member of a state association. That generally means programs must be sanctioned to play members schools of the state association in which the program resides (whether they actually schedule them is of no importance) and, outside of recruiting, follow all other rules of the high school governing body in that particular state in order to be FAB 50 eligible.
Why are these rules in place?
It's simple, as the producers of the longest running weekly basketball rankings and the entity that studies the history of high school basketball and national rankings the most, we are in favor of and advocate for a NCAA-type national tournament that would involve all 50 states to end the season. In order for independent programs to participate in that type of tournament, they would have to be recognized and sanctioned. Now the logistics of it would have to be worked out, with a large sponsor footing plenty of the bill to conduct it, but that's a different issue. Teams would be left out in the cold if they weren't associated with a state governing body.
Another scenario could happen.
The independents could form their own wide-ranging tournament, with no state association involvement, and if organized and promoted properly, a majority of the nation's top talent would eventually be part of it. At that point, academy-type programs would no longer be able to play full members, which is already happening in many states.
If that split were to happen, that would signal the fork in the road where we'd have to split up the rankings and do the FAB 50 for traditional high schools and do a similar ranking for academy-type programs.
We won't dictate that split. The strategy of the independents, state associations and event operators will.