Why the 2020-21 high school basketball season will be unlike any other we’ve seen in more than 30 years and how COVID-19 will impact the FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com, the longest-running weekly rankings in the industry. Montverde Academy of Florida in the 2020-21 preseason No. 1 ranked team in the country.
COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of American life and the 2020-21 high school basketball season will be no different. From uncertain scheduling to the cancellation of many of the traditional holiday tournaments, there is a cloud hovering over the start of the season and it will likely remain as fall turns to winter basketball season around the country. With this global pandemic looming over hardwoods across the country, the No. 1 goal for a vast majority of coaches around the country is to simply play each game and get through schedules with as few alterations or cancellations as possible. (Story continues below podcast module).
Hit the play button below to listen to the “In The Paint” Show as Devin Ugland and Ronnie Flores break down the preseason FAB 50 with coaches Luke Barnwell of No. 3 Sunrise Christian Academy (Kan.), Allen Whitehart of No. 21 Milton (Ga.) and Jeff Kaufman of No. 37 Coronado (Nev.).
For elite teams fortunate enough to battle for state championships and one of the coveted 50 spots in the FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com, the goal is similar but the road to national recognition will be slightly different in 2020-21. Because of local government ordinances and state association regulations, some of the nation’s best teams will begin their seasons later than normal (including some teams in calendar year 2021), with condensed schedules and restricted travel. Among coaches we talked to, some athletic directors, school principals and headmasters will err on the side of caution, regardless of local government guidelines, as it relates to COVID-19. For those particular programs, travel is curtailed for the 2020-21 season.
The differences in COVID-19 regulations and restrictions across state and county lines are trickling down to high school sports, and depending on the location of a school, some programs will have a drastically altered season, while other ranked teams may not. For instance, the talented team at Oak Ridge (Orlando, Fla.) can only play games this season in adjacent counties per regulations set forth by Orange County, Fla. The Pioneers were unable to travel to Ft. Myers, Fla., for the prestigious City of Palms Tournament, annually one of the best national level holiday tournaments and originally scheduled for December 18-23. On October 7, tournament director Donnie Wilkie ended up cancelling the tournament. It was an unfortunate development for fans who enjoy elite high school basketball, but the reality of this 2020-21 season.
“This season is unlike any other in my 36 years of coaching,” said Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) head coach Steve Smith. “Our goal is to show up to practice and work harder each day than we ever have before to get better and be our best as players, coaches, and as a team.”
There will be less big-time matchups of ranked teams across the country in 2020-21. What does that mean for contending teams that aspire to earn a FAB 50 ranking? They must have a gaudy won-loss record, especially if they fall in the group with game limit reductions and travel restrictions. Elite teams wishing to maintain its ranking can suffer few letdowns. The overall loss count for teams across the FAB 50 figures to be lower than in recent seasons because of all that has transpired since early March. Although some ranked teams may have fewer losses than normal, the elite teams could end up beating up on each other. Altered schedules didn’t affect teams’ preseason ranking, but could affect their ability to move up. In the final rankings of the 2019-20 season, 37 of 50 teams had their season cut short due to COVID-19. Our faint hope is that the number is zero in 2020-21.
Montverde Academy No. 1 To Begin 2020-21
The impact of COVID-19 on high school basketball is likely to be a permanent one. The dominance of independent, academy-type programs is telling in recent seasons and the circumstances the pandemic created only heightens that trend. This long off-season, more elite players flocked to independent programs, or those not bound by state association rules. With the uncertainty surrounding in-school teaching at public schools, many college-bound players decided the move away from traditional high school was the best move for them. The lure of better competition each game, less regulations and playing the season during a traditional winter calendar was a strong one.
It should then come as no surprise an academy-type program opens the 2020-21 season in the pole position in the race for the mythical national title. Montverde Academy of Florida opens as the preseason No. 1 team in the FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com. Last season the Eagles captured the program’s fifth FAB 50 national title in eight seasons with a perfect 25-0 mark before their season was cut short when GEICO Nationals was canceled as a result of COVID-19. For head coach Kevin Boyle, it was the program’s second undefeated FAB 50 No. 1 finish in three years.
Considering all that transpired in the past seven months, the player movement and the manner in which we build the preseason FAB 50 rankings each season, it should come as no surprise Montverde Academy starts out at No. 1. The Eagles are the defending FAB 50 champions and have re-tooled their roster well enough to nab the top spot in the industry’s longest-running weekly national rankings (since the beginning of the 1987-88 season).
Caleb Houstan, a 6-foot-8 wing, leads this year’s club as the only returning starter and the coaching staff fully expects him to take on an expanded leadership role, both on and off the court. The team returns three other rotation players off the best team in program history and brings in three transfers who earned Ballislife Underclass All-American honors at their respective schools.
“We should have good outside shooting, chemistry and the willingness to share the basketball,” said Montverde Academy associate head coach Rae Miller.
Last season, the Eagles opened up No. 2 behind IMG Academy of Florida in a close decision. The reasoning was the teams had similar talent, but the Ascenders were the defending FAB 50 national champions and beat Montverde Academy in the semifinals of GEICO Nationals en route to the title at the end-of-season, eight-team tournament. That same logic applies to this year’s preseason No. 1 decision. Montverde Academy defeated IMG Academy three times en route to a dominant 25-0 season in which the Ascenders were the only team to even come within 20 points of Boyle’s juggernaut. Montverde Academy has the track record, talent, and coaching to be No. 1 until someone knocks them off.
It’s been nine seasons since a public school that competes for a state title opened up as preseason FAB 50 No. 1. That top-ranked team, Jabari Parker-led Simeon (Chicago), was trailing No. 6 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) by six points entering the fourth quarter of its showdown game at Hoophall Classic when the wheels fell off in the fourth period of a 75-50 loss. It ended up being the only loss for Simeon in a 33-1 season in which it finished No. 6 in the FAB 50. Since then only three programs have had the right combination of talent, tradition and schedule to start No. 1: Montverde Academy (six times including this season), Oak Hill Academy of Virginia (twice) and IMG Academy last season. “I think Montverde, Oak Hill and IMG have separated itself from the competition as far as having a shot at No. 1 (in the preseason),” Miller said.