Montverde Academy is not the high school basketball team playing on ESPN networks 15 times this season. It’s not the team featuring the son of the greatest athlete of his generation and the son of one of the best shooting guards ever. But while Los Angeles’ Sierra Canyon has generated what feels like unprecedented amounts of interest for a high school team this season, Montverde is driving a discussion with even greater stakes.
Is Montverde the best high school team ever assembled? The question is being openly pondered by mainstream outlets during an undefeated start to the season that has seen the central Florida prep powerhouse make some of the country’s top high school programs look like JV teams.
Head coach Kevin Boyle knows what elite talent looks like. The 56-year-old came to Montverde in 2011 after winning five New Jersey state championships at St. Patrick behind NBA talent like Kyrie Irving, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Al Harrington. Boyle’s list of NBA disciples has grown even longer at Montverde as a prep school that can recruit all over the world. He brought over Ben Simmons from Australia and R.J. Barrett from Canada, in addition to coaching D’Angelo Russell, Joel Embiid, and a litany of players who have made a major impact at some of the biggest college basketball programs in the country.
Montverde has won four mythical high school national championships since Boyle arrived. Just saying this is his best Montverde team is a loaded statement. To say this year’s group is the best the high school level has ever seen is something else entirely. After watching Montverde’s dominance at the HoopHall Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts, this week, it’s easy to let the imagination run wild.
This is the case for Montverde as the most talented high school team of all-time.
Montverde’s roster is stacked with elite NBA talent and depth
Let’s start here: Montverde has eight players currently ranked in the top 65 of their high school class, according to ESPN’s latest rankings. This is not normal.
Montverde basketball roster and rankings
|Player||Grad year||Class rank||College|
|Player||Grad year||Class rank||College|
|Cade Cunningham||2020||2||Oklahoma State|
|Scottie Barnes||2020||8||Florida State|
|Day'Ron Sharpe||2020||14||North Carolina|
In total, Montverde has five five-star prospects on the team, led by Cade Cunningham, the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and potentially the best long-term prospect playing at the high school level today.
Cunningham came to Montverde from his hometown of Dallas ahead of his sophomore year. Originally considered a fringe five-star recruit as a powerful 6’6 wing, Cunningham has blossomed into a point guard with total command of the game at Montverde. During an era when oversized ball handlers like Luka Doncic have become the most valuable archetype in the NBA, Cunningham is poised to be the next big thing after he spends at year at Oklahoma State where his brother is an assistant.
Scottie Barnes would be the headliner on any other team. The versatile 6’8 forward has been considered one of the top players in his class for years. This is his first season at Montverde after transferring from nearby University School in Fort Lauderdale. Barnes has already won three gold medals as part of USA Basketball’s youth program, staking his reputation as a long and strong modern forward with huge defensive upside and rare passing and ball handling ability for a player his size and age.
Cunningham and Barnes (who is committed to Florida State) both already feel like locks to be top-10 draft picks in 2021. Sophomores Caleb Houstan and Dariq Whitehead could be right behind them as part of the first potential preps-to-pros class since 2005 should the NBA abolish the age limit in time for the 2022 draft, as has been speculated.
It’s not just the raw talent that makes Montverde so good. It’s how all the pieces fit together, too.
Montverde’s talent is a perfect complement to each other
In Cunningham, Montverde has a big, powerful offensive initiator with great passing vision, an advanced feel for the game, and go-to scoring ability whenever he needs it. In Barnes, Montverde has an elite defensive forward who can credibly guard three or four positions. What takes Montverde to the next level is how everyone else buys into their role and complements the two senior stars on both ends.
Moses Moody could be one of the most underrated recruits in the nation. The 6’6 shooting guard is a knockdown shooter and lockdown defender who is an ideal match next to Cunningham. Moody’s ability to influence the game without needing the ball in his hands is something teams at every level look for. Don’t be surprised if he becomes a first-round NBA Draft pick after a year or two at Arkansas.
UNC wishes it had Day’Ron Sharpe right now. The senior big man transferred to Montverde this year after committing to the Tar Heels as one of the top players in the state of North Carolina. At 6’9 and 225 pounds, Sharpe is a powerful big man who can run the floor and is blessed with soft hands inside. He should be a perfect fit in Roy Williams’ system that emphasizes crashing the offensive glass and running in transition. He gives Montverde more beef inside against teams with traditional centers.
It feels like NBA teams are going to love Houstan one day soon, too. Only a sophomore, Houstan has a rare combination of size and shooting ability at 6’8. With a quick and smooth stroke, Houstan is an ideal fit for the modern game and should benefit from having an added emphasis on shooting at such a young age. Whitehead — whose brother Tahir plays for the Oakland Raiders — plays a role with his length and athleticism, as does Langston Love, a 6’4 junior shooting guard who can score in a variety of ways. Zeb Jackson, a Michigan recruit, gives the team a shifty 6’3 guard off the bench.
All of these players could have been the big man on campus anywhere else. Instead, they practice against each other daily and accept a lesser role on a supremely talented team. That’s a big part of what makes Montverde so special this season.
Is Montverde really the best high school basketball team ever?
It feels unfair to compare Montverde to traditional high schools that don’t recruit nationally. Still, the topic of best high school team ever is filled with lots of incredible collections of talent.
Indianapolis’ Lawrence North had Greg Oden and Mike Conley in 2006. California’s Chino Hills had the three Ball brothers and Onyeka Okongwu, a potential top-10 pick in the next draft who is currently a freshman at USC. The ‘90s had a Southwestern Detroit team with Jalen Rose, Vashon Leonard, and Howard Eisley, as well as an Oak Hill team with Jerry Stackhouse, Jeff McGinnis, Mark Blount, and UVA legend Curtis Staples. The ‘80s had a Dunbar Baltimore team with Mugsy Bouges, Reggie Lewis, Reggie Williams, and David Wingate.
Of course, Montverde also had D’Angelo Russell and Ben Simmons on the same team in 2014. Constructing a prep school powerhouse is an entirely different ball game.
Right now, Montverde is blowing out everyone they play, with their lone single-digit victory coming against fellow Florida-based prep power IMG. The real test will come in the GEICO High Schools Nationals tournament in New York City. Last year, Montverde lost in the semifinals by one point to IMG. This year’s Montverde roster has so much more talent.
Whether Montverde is the best high school team ever is almost besides the point. With no starter under 6’6 and a group of elite recruits who all know how to play together, it already feels like this team would beat plenty of high-major DI programs in a head-to-head matchup. For now, Montverde will have to settle for being the best team in the country today. If they finish the job and win another mythical national title, these debates can start in earnest.