The Marietta (Ga.) Wheeler Wildcats claimed the right to be declared the best high school basketball team in the nation.
Wheeler, ranked No. 10 in USA Today’s Super 25, ended multiple winning streaks held by No. 1 Montverde Academy, defeating the Eagles 72-65 Tuesday night in front of 2,000-plus fans at Bishop Verot High School’s John Nevins Gymnasium. The 42nd Annual Culligan City of Palms Classic came to a close.
Wheeler became the first team from Georgia to win the Classic. It also became the first public school program to win the tournament since Niagara Falls (N.Y.) did so in 2004. It also ended Montverde coach Kevin Boyle and his program’s bid to win three consecutive titles since Cypress Lake did in 1979-81, before the tournament transformed into a national format.
“First of all, I’m so proud of my players,” said Wheeler coach Doug Lipscomb, whose team improved to 9-0. “If we play together, we can be pretty darn good.”
The game went back and forth, with Wheeler claiming a final momentum burst on a 3-pointer by Tennessee-bound Shembari Phillips for a 54-51 lead.
Montverde Academy’s Ben Simmons is guarded by Wheeler’s Darius Perry in the championship game of the 42nd Annual Culligan City of Palms Classic on Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers.
Although the Eagles tied the score again at 56-56 and led again at 59-58, the damage had been done, Montverde coach Kevin Boyle said.
Once the Wildcats believed they could win, Boyle said, his team had a problem.
“Our guards needed to step up and put a body on Jaylen Brown,” Boyle said of the heralded senior, who is being recruited by Wake Forest, Duke, North Carolina, UCLA, Georgia and Georgia Tech. “It’s tough when a player like him gets an opening.”
Brown scored a team-high 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. He made 6-of-10 field goals, including 2-of-2 3-pointers and 11-of-13 free throws on his way to the Most Valuable Player Award.
Montverde Academy’s Ben Simmons is fouled by Wheeler’s Hakeem Anchrum as he goes up for a shot in the championship game of the 42nd Annual Culligan City of Palms Classic on Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers.(Photo: Amanda Inscore/news-press.com)
“He’s a very fast and physical player,” Boyle said. “They are a solid, quality team. They played with a lot of heart and a lot of energy.”
The Eagles displayed that at times as well. Senior Ben Simmons, a LSU signee, scored a game-high 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Brown, who fouled out with a minute remaining, said he was thrilled with winning the title.
Cameron Jordan, left, and Darius Perry of Wheeler High School celebrate winning the championship game of the 42nd annual Culligan City of Palms Classic on Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers.(Photo: Amanda Inscore/The News-Press)
“It just shows that the rankings, although we respect them, they don’t really mean anything,” Brown said. “Everybody thinks our team is just me. We have a lot of players. I’m proud of our guys.”
Montverde Academy (65): Martez Cameron 0-0 0-0 0, Howard Washington 4-11 0-0 12, Marcel Ponitka 5-11, 0-0 11, Ben Simmons 11-17 6-8 28, Jean Marc Koumadje 0-1 0-0 0, E.J. Montgomery 3-8 0-0 7, Brian Graves 0-3 0-0 0, Marque Lechter-Ellis 2-6 2-4 6, Doral Moore 0-0 1-2 1, Blake Harris 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-58 9-14 65.
Marietta (Ga.) Wheeler (72): Jalen Brown 6-10 11-13 25, Hakeem Anchrum 0-1 2-2 2, Makhai Eastmond 1-3 0-0 2, Darius Perry 3-12 7-12 15, Shembari Phillips 9-13 0-2 20, Bilal Abdur-Rahim 2-2 2-2 6, Cameron Jordan 1-2 0-0 2, Kenny Aninya 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-43 22-31 72.
3-pointers: Montverde 6-26 (Washington 4-10, Ponitka 1-5, Simmons 0-2, Montgomery 1-4, Graves 0-3, Lechter-Ellis 0-2). Wheeler 6-15 (Brown 2-2, Perry 2-7, Phillips 2-4). Rebounds: Montverde 24 (Simmons 11), Wheeler 28 (Brown 12). Assists: Montverde 12 (Ponitka 4), Wheeler 11 (Brown 6).
Chatsworth (Calif.) Sierra Canyon 61, Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne 56 (Consolation final)
Northfield Mount Hermon 62, Bradenton Victory Rock Prep 61 (Sunshine Series)
Vienna DC Timberwolves (Austria) 57, San Diego (Calif.) Balboa City 50 (Signature Series)
Alpharetta (Ga.) St. Francis 77, Fairfax (Va.) Paul VI 60 (Fifth-place)
Jacksonville Potter’s House Christian 57, La Porte La Lumiere (Ind.) 54 (Signature Series)
High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan Christian 51, Louisville (Ky.) Trinity 47
Marietta (Ga.) Wheeler 72, Montverde Academy 65 (Championship)
THE ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
Jaylen Brown, Marietta (Ga.) Wheeler (MVP)
Ben Simmons, Montverde Academy
Harry Giles, High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan Christian
Kwe Parker, High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan Christian
Christian Thieneman, Louisville Trinity
Malik Beasley, Alpharetta (Ga.) St. Francis
Kobi Simmons, Alpharetta (Ga.) St. Francis
Rex Pflueger, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei
Antonio Blakeney, Orlando Oak Ridge
Franklin Howard, Fairfax (Va.) Paul VI
Cody Riley, Chatsworth (Calif.) Sierra Canyon
DeAndre Ayton, San Diego (Calif.) Balboa City
Udoka Azubuike, Jacksonville Potter’s House