In sports, we understand history through landmarks. Think Jordan in ’98, LeBron in ’16. Fans remember entire seasons by highlights, which go down, like Flintstone Vitamins in the place of the buffet meal that is a player’s whole career or a season’s entire duration.
The hype isn’t limited to the pros: elite High School basketball players are crowned as idols, heroes. For every Magic Johnson you have Lonzo Ball. For every Shawn Kemp you have Zion Williamson. For every Carmelo Anthony you have LaMelo Ball. The highschool basketball circus has become as much about celebrity as about success.
Lost in this fascination is a conversation is the fact that these elie players have teammates. We became so engrossed with LaMelo Ball’s halfcourt pull-ups and Zion’s oh-my-god-what-just-happened dunks and blocks that we forgot who they played for. We were so deep in slumber that it took the Goliath from Central Florida to wake us up.
Montverde Academy, located about an hour outside of Orlando, Florida, has a roster that reads like the ESPN top prospects list; Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes, Moses Moody, Day’Ron Sharpe. These boys were kings in their city, each held up as the next phenom to come out of their neighborhood. But they all left home for the greener pastures of Montverde, Florida, population 1,600. 25 wins in a row later, they’re poised to be crowned the greatest collection of high school talent ever.
It’s important to understand that at the watered-down high school level, 25 wins in a row is rarely enough to stir up conversations of greatness. But it’s how Montverde is collecting these wins — they make it look so easy — that has people talking. Watching the Eagles put nationally ranked teams in a chokehold is like watching an elementary school bully in recess. The ending is never in doubt, and you just feel bad for whoever’s getting clobbered.
Montverde’s most threatening opponent seemed to be the fourth-ranked IMG Academy, a fellow Floridia school known for producing NBA talent that just so happens to be the defending national champion. But three wins later, the most recent one a 25-point drubbing at the Saint James Invitational, IMG was left atop the proverbial flagpole, hung by its underwear.
The closest game Montverde has played so far was an intersquad scrimmage. Let me put that in perspective. This team has been so good that the closest game they’ve played wasn’t even against anybody. It was between themselves.
At the head of this venomous snake is Cade Cunningham. The wiry, 6’7 point guard from Arlington, Texas leads this team in nearly every statistical category and is already the projected first pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. He’s a star in every way except one: he’s humble.
Often mellow on the court, Cunningham’s celebrity is a far-cry from the boastful antics that have come to be associated with most five-star recruits. His interviews are few and far between, and his social media presence is grounded when compared to the TikToks and Twitch Streams of high level recruits like RJ Hampton and LaMelo Ball.
When Cunningham goes pro, his team mate Scottie Barnes probably won’t be far behind. Standing 6’8 with arms that seem to go on for days, Barnes’ transfer from rival Floridian powerhouse The University School was heavily criticized. It’s become quite clear, however, that Barnes’ decision to sacrifice personal accomplishments to become part of a historic team has not stopped his individual talent from continuing to shine.
What Barnes lacks in traditional perimeter skills, he more than makes up for with a motor and swagger that leaves foes reeling. He’s a showman, well-known and well-hated by opponents for staring them down or screaming after a particularly vicious dunk or rejection. If Cunningham is the malicious mind of the bully, Barnes is its voice. Leaving dutiful reminders for every poor victim that they’ll be back to take their lunch money again and again and again.
His length and athleticism allows Montverde to constantly switch ball screens and put hard pressure on opposing ball handlers, making life easier for the already dominant Day’Ron Sharpe. Sharpe, the hands of the Montverde bully (and its starting center), continues to garner significant attention and accolades as a dominant shot-blocker, rebounder and finisher around the rim.
The final piece of this puzzle, though, might still be its most underrated. Despite Sharpe’s command of the paint, Montverde’s third most important player after Cunningham and Barnes is Moses Moody, a sharpshooting guard headed to Arkansas.
During Montverde’s second trouncing of IMG at the Hoophall Classic, it wasn’t Cunningham or Barnes or Sharpe that led the team in scoring. Rather, it was Moody, whose ability to come off screens and find daylight through his ball-handling might be unmatched in America.
Paul Biancardi, ESPN’s national recruiting analyst, described Moody’s jumper as “one of the purest in the high-school game.” That might be an understatement. His shooting form seems to flow like water, effortlessly transferring the ball from fingertip to basket. While Moody’s personality seems closer to a quiet Cunningham than a Barnes, his effort, both on defense and on the glass might be second to none on this Montverde team. To put it simply, Moody is smooth. Cunningham is the mind, Barnes is the voice and Sharpe is the hands of this playground terror, Moody, then, is our bully’s silk underwear.
Montverde is the latest in a line of high school basketball powerhouses that have dominated the 21st century. In 2003 it was LeBron leading St. Vincent St. Mary to a 20 point beatdown of then-top ranked Oak Hill Academy. In 2006 it was Mike Conley and Greg Oden reeling off 45 straight victories against the best Indiana had to offer, and in 2016 it was Chino Hills turning everything we knew about basketball on its head.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Montverde’s resume seems destined to be unmatched, but the road to becoming the greatest team of all time still runs through the GEICO High School National Tournament, and it is on that court where Cunningham and company can sit upon the throne they so desperately crave.
Until then, opposing teams should be very afraid of the athletes down in Central Florida.
[Updated: March 18, 2020.]