For the third year in a row, Fan-I Sports will be covering the best high school tournament in America. The DICKS Sporting Goods National Invitational has was organized in 2009, originally as the National High School Invitational. In 2014, DICK's Sporting Goods sponsored the event, moving it to New York City. Since 2009, only four programs have walked away as "National Champs"; Findlay Prep (2009, 2010, 2012), Montrose Christian (2011), Montverde Academy (2013, 2014, 2015), and Oak Hill Academy (2016).
The field this year will include the defending champs Oak Hill Academy (VA), La Lumiere (IN), Findlay Prep (NV), IMG Academy (FL), Wasatch Academy (UT), Greensboro Day School (NC), Montverde (FL), and Shadow Mountain (AZ).
#1 La Lumiere Lakers
La Lumiere made it to the National Championship game last season, falling to Oak Hill. The Lakers of LaLu enter the tournament as the #2 team in the country according to USA Today, with a record of 26-1. The Lakers are led by seniors Jaren Jackson and Brian Bowen with sophomore Tyger Campbell running the point. Jackson joined the Lakers prior to the start of his senior season. Jackson's biggest performance this season came against Findlay Prep at the Cancer Research Classic in January, outplaying P.J. Washington with his 24 points 17 boards performance. Jackson gives the Lakers a different dynamic compared to last year's squad that included Jerimiah Tilmon and James Banks. Jackson has the ability to play inside the paint but can step outside for mid-range or three pointers.
Bowen and Campbell create the best backcourt in this field. Bowen is a prolific scorer with an unorthodox style mixed with great footwork, while Campbell is a well-composed floor general that can create a bucket for himself or anyone on the floor. Bowen averages 21 points this season, a point more than his average in last year's Nationals.
Lakers also have a solid bench and supporting cast, led by Kevin Zhang and Jacob Epperson, Zhang is one of six reserve players that return from last year's runner-up squad. Epperson is another 6'11 forward that stretch the floor.
The Lakers diverse roster will bring problems to any team in the field. The biggest difference this season is they are experienced and know what they need to do.
#2 IMG Academy Ascenders
IMG is a newcomer to the tournament but could be considered a favorite to win it all. IMG has the most athletic starting five in the field, led by super point guard Trey Duval. Trey is ranked as the #1 point guard in the country by many of the recruiting websites. He is strong, quick, and will put someone's son on a poster with no remorse. He averages 16 points and 7 dimes per contest, most of the dimes coming from lobs to Emmitt Williams and Silvio De Sousa. De Sousa has some experience in The Nationals, playing with Montverde last season.
The Ascenders only have one loss this season to Montverde at the City of Palms Classic. They have big wins over The Patrick School, Neuman-Goretti, and 8th-seeded Wasatch Academy. Much of their success comes from their fast pace offense, creating transitions opportunities with their defense inside the paint. Williams and De Sousa are brick walls at the paint and contest any shot that is close to the rim. If any of the guards are at the rim, they are there to back them up.
The supporting cast includes DeAndre Osuigwe, Keyonte Johnson, and Fabian Rial. IMG doesn't have the same depth as LaLu but their seven-man rotation has been able to accumulate 26 wins and a spot in the USA Today top 25 rankings.
#3 Montverde Acadamy Eagles
The Eagles are lacking the big names that they have had over the last five years. During their back-to-back-back run as National Champs, the program was led by D'Angelo Russell and Ben Simmons; both of which that on to become top picks in the NBA draft. This year, the only name that pops out at you is Canadian guard RJ Barrett. Barrett is ranked #1 in the class of 2019 and the only player on the Eagles roster ranked in any ESPN rankings.
Despite the lack of big names, the Eagles are still ranked 7th in the country with victories over IMG, Bishop Montgomery, Findlay Prep, and Memphis East. Kevin Boyle has coached some of the best talent in the last few year but his coaching job this season is possibly one of his best. The Eagles will be underdogs in this tournament but a strong outing from Barrett could carry them to the title game.
#4 Oak Hill Academy Warriors
Oak Hill won their first DICK's Nationals tournament last year. It was the only high school basketball tournament legendary coach Steve Smith had not won.
The Warriors will return four guards from last year's championship team, Matt Coleman, Lindell Wigginton, Ty-shon Alexander, and Devontae Shuler. Wigginton scored 16 points in the championship game last year with two big plays in the final minutes. Coleman, who recently announced that he will be playing his college ball at Texas, is the leader of this unique group of guards. Coleman, also a Fan-I Favorite, is a classic-style point guard with both scoring and passing abilities. He could be considered the best point guard in the country.
The newcomers to the squad include forwards Billy Preston and David McCormack. Preston is one of the best big man in the country, named to both the McDonalds All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic. McCormack, only a junior, is known for his aggressive style and mean streak, standing at 6'10 285lbs. Oak Hill is looking to become third program to win back-to-back.
- #5 Findlay Prep: Findlay Prep will be riding the back of their workhorse, PJ Washington. This will be Washington's third trip to The Nationals, his first trip coming in 2015 alongside former teammate Alonzo Trier.
- #6 Shadow Mountain: Shadow Mountain is the only public school and the only undefeated team in the field. Former NBA player, Mike Bibby is the head coach of the squad.
- #7 Greensboro Day School: Greensboro Day School is apart of the Nationals for the second year in a row. The Bengals finished the season 33-3 and claimed their 9th NCISAA state championship.
- #8 Wasatch Academy: Wasatch Academy is also making their second straight appearance in The Nationals. Wasatch is led by one of the best players in the class of 2018, Emmanuel Akot.
Usually the field is split between four public and four private but this season, one team was not allowed by their state board, and the other rejected. Memphis East was offered a spot to play in the Nationals but TSSAA denied their waiver request. Memphis East is ranked third in the country and has big wins over Pebblebrook, Montverde Academy, Pace Academy, and The Patrick School.
The number one team in the country, Nathan Hale High School, will not participate because of their star player's appearance in the McDonald's All-American game. The MCDAA will take place March 29th, one day before the quarterfinals. Michael Porter Jr. will participate in the MCDAA which will not allow him to practice with his team. Other players will also be apart of the MCDAA, Billy Preston, Brian Bowen, Trey Duval, and PJ Washington.