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Will Barrett finally add much-awaited first US high school title to U19 gold?
REGENSBURG (David Hein's Eye on the Future) - RJ Barrett rose to the top of the world last summer by guiding Canada to the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017 title. But Canada's next superstar is on the cusp of finally slaying a dragon that he has been fighting with for nearly three years - winning a United States high school national championship.
Barrett has led Florida-based Montverde Academy to an undefeated season and the Eagles are the top seed in the eight-team Geico High School National Tournament (formerly known as the Dick’s Nationals), which will be played on March 29-31 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
While Barrett and Canada were the surprise winners of last summer's U19 World Cup in Egypt, Barrett and Montverde are the favorites to win their fourth title in the 11 years of existence of the event. And there is mounting pressure for the Canadian to finally deliver after losing in the Semi-Finals in 2016 and then getting beaten in the Final last year.
"We're all locked in," Barrett told the USA Today. "We know that teams come into the first game rusty so we don't want to do that. I feel like we're all on the same page and it's so much different after seeing what it takes after last year. We've only had one goal all year, win that national championship. Nothing else."
Barrett and Montverde will have had 48 days without a competitive game when they start the tournament against Lone Peak, a team from Utah that is ranked 25th in the United States but is probably considered the biggest underdog heading to the Big Apple.
Andrew Nembhard hopes to help RJ Barrett and Montverde win the 2018 US high school national title.
But this Montverde team is by far not just Barrett. Also on board for the powerhouse is his compatriot Andrew Nembhard, who played with Barrett at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2016 and will likely be one of Canada's leaders at this summer's FIBA U18 Americas Championship 2018 in Canada.
Filip Petusev knows about winning after helping Serbia claim the FIBA U18 European Championship 2017 title.
There is also Filip Petrusev, who helped Serbia to the FIBA U18 European Championship 2017 title and will be looking to repeat the crown this summer. Big man Balsa Koprivica was on the U18 Serbian team last year and he is with Montverde as well.
Montverde have been tested at times this season, beating Bayside by just four points and Simeon by two before needing a three-pointer from Michael Devoe to beat Findlay Prep, another three-time champion of this tournament and the only team to appear in all 10 previous events. And then there was Barrett's heroics in the third-to-last game of the regular season as he scored seven unanswered points to come back from a six-point deficit with 29 seconds left and beat Roselle Catholic 60-59.
If Montverde get past Lone Peak, waiting in the Semi-Finals would be either defending champions La Lumiere, who eliminated Barrett and co the last two seasons; or Findlay, who would be looking to make up for the loss earlier in the year. Findlay's star is Bol Bol, the son of NBA legend Manute Bol, who many thought would make the USA team for last summer's U19 World Cup but was not selected.
The other half of the bracket features 2016 champion Oak Hill, who are making their 10th appearance - also reaching the final in 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2015. Oak Hill's team is led by the duo of Keldon Johnson and David McCormack, who will both be playing at next month's Nike Hoop Summit.
In the first round, Oak Hill will be facing Garfield High, which is based in Seattle and coached by former NBA superstar Brandon Roy. Garfield will be playing in the tournament for the first time.
Also making their maiden appearance in the competition is University School based in Florida, whose only loss of the season came against Oak Hill. University's two stars are Vernon Carey Jr. and Scottie Barnes, who were USA teammates on the FIBA U16 Americas Championship 2017 and will likely be playing at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2018 in Argentina. Carey was MVP of the U16 Americas tournament.
The eighth team dreaming of the title is Shadow Mountain, who are making their second showing in the event. The head coach is the former long-time NBA point guard Mike Bibby, whose top star is his nephew Jaelen House, the son of long-time NBA wing Eddie House.
For those who might not know much about high school basketball in the United States, this is a great tournament to take in and really see some of the best young players in the United States - not to mention to see if RJ Barrett can finish off his high school career a highlight and slay the dragon that's been haunting him.
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