Start with two of the premier high school basketball programs in the country, add in mega talent destined for college and NBA greatness and the 47th annual Culligan City of Palms Classic exceeds even its expectations as the nation’s top high school basketball tournament.
IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) and Monteverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.), the No. 1 and No. 2 teams according to USA TODAY, heading into the 2019-20 season, headline a lineup of 16 teams in the main draw for the tournament set for Dec. 18-23 at 3,500-seat Suncoast Credit Union Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWestern State College.
IMG makes a return trip to the holiday event after reaching the quarterfinals a year ago, while Montverde is back in the elite field after a two-year absence. Both are loaded with talent, with IMG featuring Duke commit Jalen Johnson, ranked No. 4 in ESPN’s top 100 class, and Montverde’s Cade Cunningham, the No. 2 ranked player who has yet to commit to a college but is also in the discussion as the top pick in next year’s NBA draft.
Besides IMG and Montverde, the main draw is loaded with top-shelf talent, including hometown Fort Myers, Whitney Young (Chicago, Ill.), Briarcrest Christian (Memphis, Tenn.), Scotlandville (Baton Rouge, La.), Sanford (Hockessin, Del.), Vashon (St. Louis, Mo.), Gonzaga Prep (Washington, DC), O’Dea (Seattle, Wash.), Roman Catholic (Philadelphia, Penn.), Riverview (Sarasota, Fla.), Archbishop Stepinac (White Plains, NY), Marshall County (Benton, Ky.) and Ely (Pompano Beach, Fla.).
This tournament is always the crystal ball to greatness when it comes to what fans will be seeing at college and NBA levels, but all eyes will assuredly be on Johnson and Cunningham. The 6-foot-9 Johnson is a small forward with eye-popping skills, who averaged 19.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists in becoming Wisconsin’s player of the year last season while playing for Nicolet (Glendale, Wis.). He transferred to IMG at the start of this school year.
But the main draw is just the start for the basketball crazy fan as the Signature Series bracket and Sunshine Series bracket are also loaded with plenty of star power. Taking to the court for Signature Series games will be St. Frances Academy (Baltimore, Md.), West Oaks (Orlando, Fla.), Hamilton Heights Christian (Chattanooga, Tenn.) and Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kan.). The always popular Sunshine Series is made up of Charlotte (Punta Gorda), Lakewood (St. Petersburg), Evangelical Christian School (Fort Myers), Seminole (Sanford), Stranahan (Fort Lauderdale), and Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens).
And there is more! In honor of a legendary college and high school coach, the first Hugh Thimlar Tribute Game, featuring hometown Lehigh Senior High School and Venice High School, will be played. As coach of then-Edison Junior College, Thimlar created a junior college national powerhouse over 26 seasons. Overall, he won 604 games over 40 seasons a head coach in Indiana and Florida. He also founded the City of Palms tournament, called the News-Press Christmas Basketball Tournament, in 1973, with six teams competing at Edison in a regional tournament.
Visit cityofpalmsclassic.com to buy your tickets and for tournament information.