Another high school basketball classic is shaping up for the 48th Culligan City of Palms Classic as powerhouse Montverde, the nation’s top team from a year ago, returns to defend its title and many of the nation’s top players will show off their skills Dec. 18-23 at Suncoast Credit Union Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWestern State College.
Montverede, ranked No. 1 in the country last season according to MaxPreps, cruised through the 2019 Classic, winning its four games by an average of 31 points. There will be plenty of tough challengers standing in the way of Montverde’s attempt to become only the second team in Classic history to win five championships. Bradenton IMG Academy also returns for a third consecutive year, hoping for revenge after losing to Montverde in last year’s title game, 63-55. Leading Montverde this season will be 6-4 senior guard Langston Love, ranked No. 22 on ESPN’s Top 100 list of the top high school players in the country. He is attracting interest from 13 top-level NCAA Division. I universities, including Villanova, UCLA, Texas and Oklahoma State.
IMG features two players ranked in the Top 100. Moussa Diabate is the highest ranked player in the field, owning the No. 7 position. The 6-10 power forward is attracting plenty of attention from the top college programs in the country, including Kentucky, Louisville, Florida, Florida State, and University of Miami. Warren Lynn Kidd, a 6-9 center, ranked No. 77 among the Top 100. He is considering Auburn, Florida, Georgia Tech, Iowa State and Xavier.
The other 14 teams in the bracket include St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, the former prep home of James; Germantown (Tenn.) Houston High School, Washington, D.C. St. John’s College High School, Chicago Fenwick High, Louisville Fern Creek, Georgia teams Alpharetta Milton High and Marietta Kell High, and a powerful Florida contingent, featuring Pompano Beach Blanche Ely, Oakland Park Northeast, Orlando Christian Prep as well as local schools Naples High and Charlotte High.
Other top players in the Classic field include St. Vincent-St. Mary 6-5 forward Malaki Branham, ranked No. 27, Fenwick 6-6 strong forward Bryce Hopkins, ranked No. 31; and Houston 6-8 power forward Mason Miller, ranked No. 92; and Charlotte 6-7 power forward Tre Carroll, ranked No. 6 in Florida, according to 247sports.com, and No. 31 in the country among forwards, according to Rivals.com.
The always competitive Signature Series features Orlando West Oaks Academy and West Chester (Pa.) Westtown School. Two other teams will be announced at a later date. Westtown is led by Frank Kepnang, a 6-10 center ranked No. 21 in ESPN’s Top 100. He is looking at top shelf universities for next season, including Duke, Florida State, Kansas and Kentucky.
There is extra motivation this year for the four teams competing in the Sunshine Series. Bartow High School, hometown Lehigh Senior, Fort Lauderdale Westminster and Windermere Preparatory School will play for the Hugh Thimlar Trophy. 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 as 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. Lehigh won the inaugural Thimlar trophy at last year’s Classic.
Visit cityofpalmsclassic.com to buy your tickets and for tournament information.