Florida Eagles Take Top Flight Invite!

Florida Eagles defeat Columbus Explorers in the championship game of the Top Flight Invite bracket at the Border League at Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.). Florida Eagles (Montverde Academy) captures championship at event for the second straight season and serves notice it is the favorite to begin No. 1 in the upcoming 2023-24 preseason FAB 50 National Rankings.

Last fall, the Florida Eagles (the team at Montverde Academy) ventured to Las Vegas for the Top Flight Invite, the elite division of the Border League fall event, and needed overtime to take down AZ Compass Prep (Chandler, Ariz.) to capture the annual event for the first time. This fall it didn’t take overtime, but the Florida Eagles once again won the Top Flight Invite title with a 83-77 victory over the Explorers (Columbus of Miami). This year the Eagles hope to use the fall league championship as a springboard to a championship when it really counts, at the end of the 2023-24 high school basketball season in March of next year. That’s when the Eagles hope to capture GEICO Nationals, the end-of-the-season tournament reserved for the nation’s best academy-type programs that compete for the FAB 50 National Team Rankings title each season.

Capturing GEICO Nationals doesn't automatically mean the winner is the FAB 50 national champion at the end of the season, but the Eagles served notice, by virtue of their Top Flight Invite title, that they’ll likely be in the pole position when the 37th edition of the preseason FAB 50 rankings drop on October 29.

This event showed the Eagles have the talent and chemistry to win the program’s seventh FAB 50 crown in 2023-24. They also have something else: motivation. That comes from falling to Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kan.) in the first round of GEICO Nationals last season.

"That’s our mindset, after losing last year (at GEICO) we wanted to come out here and start off with a win,” said Cooper Flagg, the nation’s top-rated senior (2024) who led five Eagles’ double-digit scorers with 20 points in the win over the Explorers. Flagg, who showed why he’s considered the nation’s best prospect throughout the three-day event, dominated the title game in various capacities on both ends of the floor, finishing with a game-high 11 rebounds, adding seven assists, four blocks and two steals. He was especially potent in the first half, hitting a variety of pull-up jumpers in situations any other high school-aged player in the nation would be hard pressed to execute, scoring 16 points of 7-of-8 shooting from the field as the Eagles built a 48-32 lead.

It’s not a given the FAB 50 title will be won by an academy-type program or one belonging to the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC). Columbus is a parochial program in Miami and showed it will be a major challenger for the 2023-24 FAB 50 crown after finishing No. 6 in last season’s final rankings. The Explorers didn’t go down without a fight and even though they won’t begin as preseason No. 1, they won’t be very far from the top.

After trailing big early in the second half, the Explorers cut their deficit to 57-47 with 11 minutes remaining in the game on a slashing lay-up by recent Michigan St. pledge Jase Richardson (11 points), a 2024 guard and transfer from Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas. The Explorers made one final push and cut the Eagles’ lead to three points. Cayden Boozer missed a contested, side step 3-pointer that would cut the Eagles’ deficit to two points when the score stood at 74-69 with under two minutes remaining. The Explorers would get no closer and had a few key missed shots and opportunities on fast breaks where they couldn’t convert that could have changed the game.

Boozer, a 6-foot-4 junior point guard, finished with 22 points, including 3-of-6 3-pointers with nine assists. His brother Cameron, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound power forward and last season’s Mr. Basketball USA as a mere 15-year old sophomore, also played a big hand in keeping the Explorers in range against the most talented lineup in high school basketball (the Eagles only played six players). Cam Boozer and Flagg had three memorable battles this summer during the grassroots season and Sunday evening before a national television audience was another epic battle. Cam Boozer dominates around the paint like no other player in the country, but he continues to improve his face up game and deep range. In this contest, he made 5-of-7 3-pointers and finished with 26 points and eight rebounds. Flagg is ultra-talented, but there is no doubt Cam Boozer could repeat as the national player of the year in 2023-24.

Liam McNeeley, who committed to Indiana during the event, finished with 16 points for the Eagles. Baylor commit Rob Wright, one of the nation’s best point guards, added 13 points and nine assists for the victors. In addition to Richardson and McNeeley, forward Pharaoh Compton of Arbor View (Las Vegas, Nev.) and guard Trent Perry of Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood, Calif.) also committed on live television during the event. Compton is headed to San Diego St. and Perry is headed to USC.

In the championship semifinals, The Explorers took on a Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.) team that defeated Harvard-Westlake, the defending California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) open division champions, in the opening round, 81-70. It was a terrific test for Prolific Prep in terms of gauging its team against one of the true FAB 50 national championship contenders for 2023-24. It was also a contest involving the top-two ranked players in the national 2025 class. Now Cam Boozer and small forward A.J Dybansta don’t play the same position, but when Dybansta, a transfer from St. Sebastian’s (Needham, Mass.) and originally from Brockton, Mass., re-classified from the 2026 to the 2025 class a week ago and was elevated over Boozer in the mainstream recruiting network player rankings, this became a big matchup. Boozer showed why he’s not ready to give up the mantle as the top player in his class, putting forth a virtuoso performance with 29 points and 16 rebounds in the Explorers’ 83-61 win that was dominant as the score indicates.

Dybansta finished the contest with six points. Prolific Prep and Dybansta bounced back to win the third place game over AZ Compass Prep, 72-62. Dybanata and Tyran Stokes, a 6-foot-7 forward now considered the best prospect nationally in the 2026 class, both finished with 15 points for the victors.

Cam Boozer had 20 points and 16 rebounds versus Coronado (Henderson, Nev.) in the opening round to finish the three-game set with averages of 25.0 points and 13.3 rebounds per game.

As for the Eagles, they easily downed AZ Compass Prep in their semifinal contest, 85-51. McNeeley led the way offensively with 25 points and seven rebounds. In its quarterfinal opener, the Eagles downed Bishop O’Connell, 86-58, as Wright had 21 points and Flagg had 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field.

Perry averaged 20.3 ppg for Harvard-Westlake in its three games to come in second in tourney scoring behind Cam Boozer. Quincy Wadley, a talented 6-foot-4 sophomore (2026) for O’Connell, was third in scoring at 19.7 ppg, while Flagg came in fourth at 19.0 ppg.

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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