FAB 50 Champs: Montverde Academy!

By virtue of beating FAB 50 No. 2 Sunrise Christian Academy (Kan.) three of four times, including the title game of GEICO Nationals, Montverde Academy (Fla.) officially finishes as the top-ranked team in the FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com for the 2020-21 season. The program has now won six mythical FAB 50 national titles.

By Ronnie Flores

RELATED:   "In The Paint" Podcast |"On The Rise" Show | The Future Of Big-Time HS Basketball | FAB 50 Rankings Criteria | How To Make A HS Version Of March Madness  | Updated FAB 50 Rankings

It wasn't going to be easy for Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) to defeat Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kan.) for the 2021 GEICO Nationals championship. After all, the teams had already played three times and the Buffaloes had the luxury of knowing they could beat the Eagles, having done so in February.  With Kennedy Chandler at the controls, Sunrise Christian Academy already recorded two impressive come-from-behind victories at the event.

What transpired during the third quarter of the championship contest summed up this entire season perfectly for the Eagles. Montverde Academy got quality, timely shots inside from junior center Jalen Duren and back-breaking 3-pointers from Creighton-bound Ryan Nembhard to score 28 points on 12-of-12 shooting from the field to take control of the game.

It's hard to beat perfection and for one quarter, at least, Montverde Academy was just that.

While Kevin Boyle's program wasn't perfect this season, having seen it's 44-game winning streak snapped, this year's team had a nice blend of balance in its front court and back court and a group of returning seniors and new underclassmen who contributed to the cause. And even though it didn't dominate quite like last year's Montverde Academy team did, its resume made the rankings decision to place them No. 1 fairly easy once again.

Today, Montverde Academy has named mythical FAB 50 national champions by Ballislife.com. For the program it's the second consecutive No. 1 FAB 50 finish, although last year's team wasn't able to compete at GEICO Nationals because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The program also won GIECO Nationals in 2018 and 2013-2015. In all, Montverde Academy has won five GEICO Nationals titles and six FAB 50 crowns since the 2012-13 season.

The only run of mythical national championships comparable to the current MVA run is Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) capturing five FAB 50/National Prep Poll titles between 1993 and 2004. In all, the Warriors have captured seven FAB 50 titles (1993, '94, '99, 2001, '04, '07, '12) and eight overall mythical crowns, as the now defunct USA Today Super 25 named the Warriors their No. 1 team in 2004-05.

"Our returning seniors Caleb Houstan, Ryan Nembhard and Langston Love were outstanding and carved out their own place in Montverde Academy basketball history," Boyle said.

With Duren joining the returning seniors and a quality bench, the Eagles resume was just as impressive as their other FAB 50 championship teams. Three of its No. 1 teams did not finish unbeaten and only the 2018 unit was unbeaten and won a GEICO Nationals title. Still, the Eagles played a daunting schedule and won the inaugural National Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC) title with a 61-57 victory over Sunrise Christian Academy. They not only went 4-1 against No. 2 Sunrise Christian Academy and No. 3 IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.), the Eagles won 16 games against teams that were FAB 50 ranked at some point in the season. That doesn't include the AZ Compass Prep (Chandler, Ariz.) club that  was the only other team to defeat Sunrise Christian Academy. MVA beat that club twice, once with and once without Dayton-bound big man DaRon Holmes, who actually started the season as part of MVA's roster.

Houstan was the only returning starter from last season's all-time great unit, but Duren stepped up to be the team's leading scorer and rebounder and was unselfish with his dominating interior play. Duren, Houstan, Love and junior Dariq Whitehead all averaged double-figure scoring while Nembhard was the team's on-court floor general and clutch 3-point shooter.

Last year's team was easily one of the greatest high school units of all-time (with a winning margin of 38.9 ppg and by virtue of winning games against 12 FAB 50 ranked clubs at the time of the matchup), but didn't get the big stage GEICO Nationals offers for college and everyday basketball fans to truly appreciate their dominance. The COVID-19 outbreak also prevented the Eagles from perhaps being tested by another ranked team and taking their game to another level. There was a motivation, especially for Houstan, to capture this year's GEICO Nationals crown for the group that wasn't able to participate last season.

To add some perspective on Montverde Academy's recent run of dominance at the top of the FAB 50 rankings, 17 former MVA players participated in this year's NCAA tournament. There is a chance four players off last year's historic FAB 50 title-winning team will go in the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft.

"We our so proud of all our current and past players," Boyle said. "Through their skill, hard work and dedication we've been able to win 6 of last 9 (FAB 50) national championships and will have six players drafted in this year's NBA Draft."

What About Teams Still Playing?

Last season, 37 of the 50 teams in the final FAB 50 rankings were affected by COVID-19, including Montverde Academy. This year many were and there are even some FAB 50 caliber teams that never got to play in a single sanctioned game.

Among teams that did not participate in GEICO Nationals, DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) will finish as the highest-rated team at No. 4. It's the second consecutive season the Stags will finish No. 4 behind three teams selected for the end-of-season tournament.

As for teams still playing we had to come to some determination if there was any way they could leap frog DeMatha Catholic or any of the GEICO Nationals participants ahead of the Stags and the answer is "no". Minnesota and Michigan will conclude their state championships this week. No. 7 Minnehaha Academy (Minneapolis, Minn.) has a sole loss to No. 3 IMG Academy by twenty points, while No. 6 Milton (Milton, Ga.) lost to the same team by five points (73-68) at GEICO Nationals. Michigan's top-rated team, No. 16 St. Mary Prep (Orchard Lake, Mich.), will have to finish undefeated to  have a chance at the final Top 10.

Teams in New York are still in a state of flux and there will be no New York State Federation Tournament. In California, games have begun but there will be no regional or California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) state championships. Teams in New Mexico are now playing while Washington and Oregon have yet to begin.

Teams in California have been strong in recent seasons, but can only play other CIF teams this season. Hosting or traveling to national holiday season events and tournament is where their opportunities lie to claim a FAB 50 national crown. No. 10 Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) or any other CIF power just won't have the opportunity to move up that high without its normal slate of games. Teams in New Mexico, Washington and Oregon are basically in the same boat and began lower in the rankings than Sierra Canyon.

Teams can still move up and down in the rankings in the coming weeks, but congrats to the Montverde Academy Eagles on another championship season.

RELATED:   "In The Paint" Podcast |"On The Rise" Show | The Future Of Big-Time HS Basketball | FAB 50 Rankings Criteria | How To Make A HS Version Of March Madness  | Updated FAB 50 Rankings

Note: The FAB 50 powered by Ballislife.com is a continuation of the National Sports News Service ratings that began in 1952. These were the first national high school rankings and the late Art Johlfs of Minnesota compiled them. They were compiled for many years by the late Barry Sollenberger of Phoenix, who merged them into the FAB 50 21 years ago.

Ronnie Flores is the national Grassroots editor of Ballislife.com. He can be reached at [email protected]. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores


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