Our friends at the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers unveiled the teams that will be participating in the 2023 event, the 50th edition of what has become the best high school basketball tournament in the country. And just when you think Donnie Wilkie and company can’t possibly top the previous year, they go out and do just that. It is an incredibly strong slate of teams, not just in the Classic bracket, but also the Small-Town Signature Series as well as the Sunshine Series. It won’t surprise us if as many as eleven of the sixteen teams in the Classic bracket are nationally ranked in the Top 25 at the start of the season and we think four of the remaining five teams will certainly be somewhere in the top 26-100.
Instead of simply spitting out a list of the teams and top players that will be participating in the event, we thought it would be a tad more interesting to put a “bracketology” spin on things. Using some reasonable assumptions while at the same time throwing caution to the wind, here are the one-seed through sixteen seed matchups we think make logical sense. We are assuming that there are no byes in this year’s event.
#1 Montverde Academy vs. #16 Cape Coral Mariner
Farleigh Dickinson, 2023. Maryland-Baltimore County, 2018. Miami Northwest Christian, 1998. All times a #16 seed has toppled a #1 seed. That is what local entrant Cape Coral Mariner is looking to do against the likely Pre-Season #1 team in the country in the first round of the CoP. The Tritons like to play at a fast pace, but that may not work against the Eagles. What would make the contest far more interesting would be for Montverde to play its five young phenoms, 6’4 FR Gabe Nesmith, 6’2 SO Dhani Miller, 6’3 SO Kayden Allen, 6’8 SO Caleb Gaskins, and 6’6 JR Bryce Heard, a bunch of minutes together to get a look at the future.
#2 Link Academy vs. #15 Goodyear (AZ) Millennium
Link Academy is a member of the Missouri High School Athletic Association but like Monteverde does not participate in the state playoffs. While Link may have lost nearly all of the players that contributed to their run to the championship of the GEICO Nationals, it doesn’t take long to rebuild coming off of that level of success. 6’5 SR Tre Johnson, 6’4 SR Labaron Philon, and 6’9 SR James Brown are all top fifty national level talents and just a few of the high-major newcomers. Millennium is one of three teams in this year’s field that are underclassmen-dominant, led by 6’6 SO Cameron Holmes. Look for Millennium to contend to pull the upset of the millennium, but one would think that Link’s depth of talent and experience gives it a great advantage.
#3 Washington (DC) Paul VI vs. #14 Concord (NC) Canon
Paul VI returns for the second year in a row. After finishing third last year, the team returns intact, losing only Maryland signee Deshawn Harris-Smith. Players like 5’9 SR Ben Hammond, 6’5 SR Darren Harris, and 6’10 SR Patrick Ngongba were part of Peach Jam champions Team Takeover and are looking to add the CoP chip to their collection. It is a team that has great depth, size, and plenty of team chemistry. Canon is one of the better programs in North Carolina. Austin Swartz, a 6’4 SR, was one of the top scorers in Nike’s EYBL this past spring and summer. He has some quality teammates but not like that of Paul VI.
#4 Miami Christopher Columbus vs. #13 Philadelphia (PA) Archbishop Ryan
Columbus finished as last year’s runner-up at the City of Palms, and a still very young squad is looking to get over the hurdle this time around. Cameron Boozer, a 6’9 JR, is considered by many to be the top overall player in high school. His twin brother, 6’5 Cayden Boozer, isn’t far behind. Columbus got an influx of talent as Jase Richardson, a 6’5 top seventy-five senior and younger brother Jaxon Richardson, a 6’3 top fifty sophomore, transferred in over the summer. Also transferring in was 6’3 SR Randy Smith from Palmetto in Miami. This will give the Explorers much more depth than in the past. We picked AB Ryan for this spot mainly for the presence of 6’10 SR and Georgetown commit Thomas Sorber. He was the inside presence for a Team Final group that was a top seed heading into the Peach Jam this past summer. His battle in the paint with Boozer should be must-see.
#5 Bradenton IMG Academy vs. #12 Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy
We hesitated to put together two Florida teams in the first round but moving either team up or down to avoid the matchup would be disrespectful. IMG returns a pair of quality wings in 6’8 seniors Khani Rooths and Amier Ali. Like most teams at the IMG level, the transfer portal is important and IMG used it well. Darius Acuff, a 6’3 JR, was dynamic at the NBA Top 100 camp this summer and 6’9 Syracuse commit Donnie Freeman will provide interior versatility. Add in 6’4 seniors Cole Certa and Chase McCarty and IMG looks to be a real threat in both the NIBC and the City of Palms. However, Westminster Academy, one of the three underclassmen-dominant teams in the field, may be just as talented. Jeremiah Police, a 6’6 senior, 6’6 JR Dwayne Wimbley, Jr., 6’4 JR Alexander Lloyd, and 6’8 SO Alex Constanza are all athletic and talented basketball players. Our question is who will run the point for the Lions? If that question gets a positive response, Westminster’s seeding will be way too low.
#6 Long Island (NY) Lutheran vs. #11 Charlotte (NC) North Mecklenburg
This matchup features not only a pair of high-level teams, but arguably the two most explosive offensive players in the 2024 Class. Long Island Lutheran, out of the NIBC, features 6’5 SR V.J. Edgecombe, a player that has become a hot commodity by high major programs. Many thought he was the best player on the Adidas circuit this past spring and summer. Isaiah Evans, a 6’6 SR and Duke commit, is an explosive athlete that scored 62 points in a high school playoff game this past season. While both teams have quality players filling out their respective rosters, the spotlight will be on Edgecombe and Evans. Strap in for this one.
#7 Ramsey (NJ) Don Bosco vs. #10 White Plains (NY) Archbishop Stepanic
Don Bosco features 6’4 Dylan Harper, considered the #2 player in the 2024 Class behind Monteverde’s Cooper Flagg. The Ironmen return three of their top four contributors from last season where they spent some time in the Top 25. Stepanic has a pair of quality guards in 6’3 SR “Boogie” Fland and 6’1 JR Danny Carbuccia. Essentially, we are looking at a matchup of the best guards in the basketball tradition-rich New York City/New Jersey area. That’s a lot of fun right there, I don’t care who you are.
#8 Powder Springs (GA) McEachern vs. #9 Richmond Heights (OH)
McEachern won the City of Palms in 2018 on its way to an undefeated season. This time around, the bring in 6’9 SR Ace Bailey, a Rutgers commit who is considered the #3 player in the 2024 Class. He’ll get support from the likes of 6’3 JR Moses Hipps, and 6’6 SR Jeremiah Wilkinson. Hopefully, 6’9 JR J.D. Palm will be available after having gone through an emergency kidney transplant. Richmond Heights, the third underclassmen-dominant team in the field, went unscathed last season in winning the Ohio Division IV state championship in dominating fashion. The backcourt for sophomores Dorian Jones and De’Erick Barber, along with classmate Demarris Winters, gives this group of young but talented players from the Buckeye state a chance to make some national noise with a good showing in Fort Myers.
SMALL-TOWN SIGNATURE SERIES
Not sure if this will be a tournament or a pre-selected series of games. We will assume a tournament format.
New Market (AL) Buckhorn vs. Lexington (SC)
The draw in this matchup is Buckhorn’s super sophomore 6’6 Caleb Holt vs. Lexington’s 6’6 SR Cameron Scott, a Texas signee.
Punta Gorda Charlotte vs. Eddyville (KY) Lyon County
No doubt the fans will turn out to see the Tarpons of Charlotte, the “home town” team in this group of four. They will have their hands full with Lyon County’s 6’2 SR Travis Perry, a varsity player since the seventh grade (at least) and already the Bluegrass State’s all-time leading scorer.
Again, not sure if this will be a tournament or a pre-selected series of games. We will assume a tournament format.
Santa Ana (CA) Mater Dei vs. Windermere Prep
Before the California Interscholastic Federation banned its members from playing high schools that do not play for state championships (see Montverde, IMG, etc.), the Monarchs and legendary coach Gary McKnight were seemingly at the City of Palms every other year with very strong and talented teams. Because it is the 50th City of Palms, the best way to bring back Mater Dei was to have them play in the Sunshine Series (they have sunshine in California as well). The Monarchs are a young group, but so is Windermere Prep.
Miami Riviera Prep vs. Lakeland Victory Christian
The draw here is Riviera Prep’s 6’4 junior Dante Allen matching up (hopefully) with 6’2 SR Lorenzo Cason of Victory Christian. Riviera Prep, last year’s Class 3A champion, will certainly contend again while Victory Christian is looking to get over the hump known as Orlando Christian Prep to play for a state title in Class 2A less than five minutes from their campus in Lakeland.