FAB 50 No. 1, 2, 3 All Go Down!

FAB 50 No. 1 and defending mythical national champion Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.), No. 2 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) and No. 3 IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) all go down in pre-Christmas national tournaments. No. 7 Sierra Canyon is also denied an opportunity to play No. 5 La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.), the team that knocked off the No. 1 ranked Eagles.

In our extensive preseason FAB 50 National Rankings, we stated 2018-19 is one season where it could be a wide open race to the mythical FAB 50 National Championship. We also hinted that the top teams could lose and come back to be in the thick of the national title hunt.

Never did we envision a scenario with the three top teams losing in a span of approximately 24 hours, but that's what happened at the City of Palms Tournament in Florida and the Iolani Classic in Hawaii. Top-ranked Montverde Academy saw its 41-game winning streak come to an end, as No. 5 La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) defeated the Eagles, 58-51, in the semifinals of the Iolani Classic.

Grid-Hoop standout Gerald Drumgoole led the Lakers with 19 points and senior forward Keion Brooks hit two big 3-pointers down the stretch and finished with 17 points.

A few hours earlier across the country in Florida, FAB 50 No. 13 Imhotep Charter (Philadelphia, Pa.) jumped all over No. 2 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) in its semifinal contest at the City of Palms Tournament. Imhotep used its terrific team defense to jump out to a 35-15 halftime lead against a Warriors team that didn't suit up senior center Kofi Cockburn and was slowed by an injury to junior Christian Brown. Oak Hill attempted a frantic comeback, but fell short, as the Panthers won 70-60.

Maryland-bound Donta Scott led four double-digit scorers for Imhotep Charter (which lost earlier in the season to Philly rival and No. 12 Roman Catholic) with 25 points and six rebounds. Mr. Basketball USA candidate Cole Anthony led Oak Hill Academy with 33 points (including 16-of-17 free throws) and three steals.

Less than 24 hours earlier at the same tournament, No. 3 IMG Academy was taken down by No. 28 Mountain Brook (Mountain Brook, Ala.) behind a terrific performance by unsigned 5-star big man Trendon Watford. Against IMG's terrific frontline, Watford erupted for 38 points and 12 rebounds. It also didn't look good for IMG when Mountain Brook (which entered City of Palms with three losses) was taken down by No. 10 McEachern (Power Springs, Ga.), 50-29, in the semifinals as Isaac Okoro (12 points) did a good job defensively on Watford, who finished with one field goal and four points. Point guard Sharife Cooper also had a big game for McEachern, finishing with 15 points.

State Association Rulings Affect Tournaments, Rankings

Unfortunately for Watford, he won't get a chance to re-deem himself in the City of Palms third place game against Oak Hill Academy, as the game will not be played. The Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) will not allow its member programs to face Oak Hill Academy. The same scenario would have held true for McEachern as part of the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) had Oak Hill Academy advanced to the City of Palms title game against the Indians. Fortunately for City of Palms Tournament Director Donnie Wilkie, the championship game of his event will go on with the semifinal winners and not an altered or pre-determined scenario based on the results of the semifinal games.

State associations (i.e. the governing bodies for high school athletics) are cracking down on its members playing associate members, teams that don't compete for a state championship and/or if there is eligibility questions about any players on a team's particular roster.

Whereas the City of Palms title game between Imhotep and McEachern was played out through the bracket, unfortunately the same situation did not occur at the Iolani Tournament. No. 7 Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) won its semifinal contest 64-49 over FAB 50 bubble club Westchester (Los Angeles), which advanced to the semifinals courtesy of its 68-63 victory over No. 30 Oak Ridge (Orlando, Fla.). Senior guard Cassius Stanley led the way with 19 points and K.J. Martin added 18.

Sierra Canyon Loses Big Opportunity

With the top three teams in the FAB 50 losing and No. 4 DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) with a loss to No. 3 IMG Academy on its season resume so far, a game with No. 5 La Lumiere would have been big for Sierra Canyon, as No. 6 University School (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) lost to Imhotep Charter in the City of Palms semifinals. With DeMatha also owning a win over the Roman Catholic team that beat Imhotep Charter earlier in the season, it's not hard to figure out the winner of a La Lumiere-Sierra Canyon game would be in terrific national rankings position heading into the post-Christmas holiday tournaments and 2019.

The game is not going to happen, however, as the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) will no longer allow its member programs such as Sierra Canyon to participate in games versus La Lumiere. Starting in 2019-20, CIF programs can no longer play associate members or independent programs that do not compete for state championships such as Oak Hill Academy, Montverde Academy and No. 11 Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kan.). These independent programs annually battle for the FAB 50 national title, so for full association members such as Sierra Canyon to be unable to play them hurts their opportunity to compete against some of the country's best teams at the high school level and takes away opportunities for fans to watch elite teams and players battle against each other. There will still be some of these matchups, but not as often and less results to work with in order to make national rankings more accurate.

Sierra Canyon still has to play whomever comes in front of them, and the goal of a CIF state championship remains, but for a high school sport with national appeal these enforced state association rules will have an impact on potential matchups at holiday tournaments and weekend showcases in the future. The results of many of these games are the basis for the FAB 50 over the course of the season.

As a result of the Iolani Classic semifinal results, it was already pre-determined that Sierra Canyon will play Montverde Academy (a semifinal loser) and La Lumiere will play Oak Ridge (a quarterfinal loser). Sierra Canyon was originally slated to play an unranked opponent, but will instead get to play a team that entered the tournament ranked No. 1 in the country. It's still could be an excellent game, but players want to compete against teams it just witnessed win either before or after its game in a tournament.

As for La Lumiere, it really has nothing to gain from a game versus Oak Ridge. It's a lose-lose scenario for both Sierra Canyon and La Lumiere, besides the fact the best teams must win against who is slated in front of them. It's how the scenario came to be that is unfortunate.

No. 17 Rancho Christian Falls

Just as Sierra Canyon looks to keeping wining and move up in the rankings, so does the No. 2 ranked team from California, No. 17 Rancho Christian (Temecula, Calif.). The Eagles have one of the nation's most difficult schedules and advanced to the championship of the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas. In order to keep pace with Sierra Canyon and the other top-ranked teams, Rancho Christian was looking to capture the Tark tournament championship, as well as The Classic at Damien next week in Southern California.

Rancho Christian just couldn't keep pace with the quick guards of No. 26 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.), which used its transition game and foot speed to convert easy buckets, take an early lead and win going away, 61-39, to hand the Eagles their first loss of the season after 10 victories. Bishop Gorman won the tournament for the second consecutive year, joining Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) in 2012 and 2013 as the second back-to-back champion in the event's seven-year history.

Bishop Gorman, which came in the game with one loss to No. 21 Guyer (Denton, Texas), jumped out to a 18-7 lead in the first half, as it was evident Gorman sophomore point guard Zaon Collins could penetrate at will to create scoring opportunities and control the tempo of the game. Gorman was also hitting enough outside shots to force Rancho Christian to have to play catch-up the entire contest.

Near the end of the first half, Collins kept the dribble alive on the perimeter, as Rancho Christian looked for a five second ball, got the ball in the key, hit a low crossover to keep it from the big men, and converted a reverse lay-up at the halftime buzzer to make the score 32-20 in favor of the Gaels. The play summarized the game, as Gorman got the easier looks, to more loose balls and negated Rancho Christian's ability on the boards.

"Our strategy was to go after them," said Collins, who finished with nine points, four rebounds, six assists and six steals and was named co-MVP of the tournament with teammate and junior guard Noah Taitz. "We knew they were big, but we are faster than them."

Rancho Christian (10-1), which advanced to the finals courtesy of its 76-57 semifinal win over No. 24 Federal Way (Federal Way, Wash.), was led by the Mobley brothers, senior forward Isaiah Mobley (13 points) and junior Evan Mobley (16 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks), who many feel is the best long-term prospect in the country. The brothers shot a high percentage from the field, made 13 of Rancho Christian's 17 made goals, but no other player made more than one field goal. It wasn't until 12:18 remained in the second half that the Eagles received a field goal from someone other than the Mobleys or Luke  Turner, as they trailed 37-26 at that time.

Taitz finished with 16 points, as did 6-foot-9 junior center Isaiah Cottrell, who also added seven rebounds and did an admirable job of scoring a couple of field goals around or over the Mobley brothers. Bishop Gorman, which advanced to the championship game with a 63-46 win over Sheldon (Sacramento, Calif.), was credited with a 27-25 rebound advantage for the game.

In the 80-62 loss to Guyer, Gorman's Collins was saddled with cramping and never returned to the game after early in the third quarter. It was obvious in this tournament, the sophomore quarterback and leader is quite the difference-maker for the Gaels. Gorman is now off until January 4-5, when it travels to Wheeling, W. Va., to participate in the Cancer Research Classic, where it will face No. 5 La Lumiere and always-tough Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.).

"Whenever I get hurt, I feel like I let my team down," Collins said about his cramp issues versus Guyer in Phoenix. "I started to do the right thing for my team, like eating right and sleeping right. It's just maturing."

Rancho Christian (10-1) will play at The Classic beginning on December 26 and is the prohibitive favorite to win that tournament. Coach Ray Barefield knows he will need continued improvement and production from his backcourt to survive its schedule. After The Classic, the Eagles travel to West Memphis, Ark., to take on No. 36 Memphis East (Memphis, Tenn.) on national television. One good omen for Barefield's team from tonight is it gets it crack at the McEachern team that just captured the City of Palms Tournament.

The No. 10 ranked and still unbeaten Indians defeated No. 13 Imhotep Charter, 68-47, in Saturday evening's title game, Cooper took home MVP honors. Similar to Collins in Las Vegas, Cooper was the catalyst with 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting, five rebounds, four assists.

Scott, who may be playing himself into serious McDonald's All-American consideration with his play so far as a senior, led Imhotep with 15 point and two blocked shots.

That Rancho Christian-McEachern contest will also take place on national television on MLK Monday in Springfield, Mass. The Eagles hope to rebound from the loss to Gorman by winning The Classic at Damien and to see a McEachern team still without a loss on January 21. That would be the best scenario for Rancho Christian to remain in serious FAB 50 title contention, along with Gorman defeating La Lumiere to take some of the sting out of the loss to the Gaels.

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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