By Joe Arruda
Montverde Academy came into the 2020 Spalding Hoophall Classic as the team to beat. Favored to win the GEICO nationals and make its case as one of the best high school basketball teams ever, the Eagles made history as the first program to produce four first-round NBA draft picks in the same class.
Highlighted by the 2021 No. 1 overall draft pick Cade Cunningham (Detroit Pistons), Scottie Barnes (Toronto Raptors), Day’Ron Sharpe (Phoenix Suns before being traded to the Brooklyn Nets during the draft) and Moses Moody (Golden State Warriors), the team finished the regular season at 25-0. The Eagles looked forward to the challenge of the national playoffs, but never got the chance to test themselves in that environment because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Head coach Kevin Boyle doesn’t remember where he was when the GEICO nationals were canceled, but he does know his team was the consensus champion at No.1 in the polls.
“I don’t really think there was unfinished business,” Boyle said, referring to his 2019-20 team. “I think they finished their business. They played the best schedule, they played all of the best teams, there was nobody left for them to play that they hadn’t played.
“We would’ve liked to play one more tournament. But, you know, we think we were clearly the best team.”
Boyle, who was named MaxPreps’ coach of the decade in the 2010s, has coached future NBA talent virtually every year of his lengthy, 30-plus year career (11th season with Montverde). Current NBA stars other than the likes of Cunningham and Barnes have developed under him including Kyrie Irving, D’Angelo Russell, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid – the list goes on.
The COVID-19 pandemic posed a new threat to the perennial top school in the country, but the program repeated as national champions in 2021 when it finished 24-1.
The 2020-21 national championship squad was stacked; highlighted by projected 2022 lottery pick Jalen Duren, projected first-rounder Caleb Houstan (who rounded out the 2020 Hoophall Classic starting five), one of the best point guards in college basketball right now in Creighton’s Ryan Nembhard and Baylor’s Langston Love.
Montverde’s current roster boasts six players ranked in the ESPN Top 25 for the class of 2022: Dariq Whitehead (No. 5), Vincent Iwuchukwu (No. 11), Skyy Clark (No. 16), Dillon Mitchell (No. 18), Malik Reneau (No. 23) and Jalen Hood-Schifino (No. 24).
The pandemic didn’t hinder Boyle’s recruiting – if one wanted to call it that. Boyle and his staff in Montverde, Florida, have built a reputation that recruits itself. Rather than pitching to the nation’s top athletes, Boyle is often on the receiving end of talented fastballs.
“It’s really not how people think of attracting players. The vast majority of guys are almost all reaching out to us either directly or through travel teams,” Boyle said.
“They look at some of our players’ past success and the team’s past success, and they say, ‘Well, Montverde has a really good track record of players developing, they seem like they have a really good culture. They play hard and almost all of their players are excelling in college, internationally and in the NBA immediately.’”
Boyle had never seen Sharpe, Cunningham or Moody play before they arrived on campus. For Barnes – who has been an NBA starter since arriving with the Toronto Raptors – the recruiting process was a phone call that lasted less than two minutes.
“That’s how simple it was,” Boyle said.
A year later Barnes was starring at Florida State and a year after that, Boyle was at the Barclays Center watching him get drafted No. 4 overall.
“Coach Boyle, he talks about the NBA a lot and he doesn’t sugar coat anything and he doesn’t tell us how good we are, he always keeps it real with us,” Cunningham told Danny Priest of The Basketball Times in 2020. “He constantly reminds us of big time players in high school that we don’t know where they’re at right now. Just having that in our ear all the time, I think it’s helped me a lot and it’s made me want to work harder.”
As of Dec. 27, 2021, Montverde is ranked No. 2 in ESPN’s Top 25. With a roster that includes commits to blue-blood programs like Duke, Kentucky and Indiana, as well as other top schools in USC and Florida, the Eagles could be set up for a three-peat as national champions.
But Boyle knows as long as his dynasty has lasted, it could fall at any moment.
“We’ve been fortunate that we won six of the last nine national championships and we’ve had the team of the decade, the player of the decade and they named me the coach of the decade. We’ve had a lot of stuff that we’ve accomplished, but to us it’s like nobody cares. Now it’s a new decade. Can we win the next decade now? Well, we’ve got to win the next game. My thought is, if we don’t win this year, we have a lot of new guys to follow. We might not win next year, it might be a long time before we win,” Boyle said.
“I don’t want to stop because when it stops, there’s no guarantee. So you want to stay sharp, you don’t want to give up the edge and you want to coach the next day. And if you start looking too far ahead or counting your success stories or media clippings, you’re gonna find yourself quickly at the end. And you should be at the end if you’re taking time thinking about those things.”
While his tenure has resulted in a list of accolades and accomplishments too long to enumerate, Boyle has his sights set on the immediate future, with no rear-view mirror.
“I just like coaching basketball and everybody likes recognition – it’s nice, but I don’t really give it much thought. It’s better for resumes and camp brochures or stuff like that,” Boyle said. “My mindset is I’ve got to constantly prove myself again, as a coach and as a program. There’s somebody new on the block trying to say, ‘Oh, Montverde’s not good, we’re gonna take your spot.’ It’s always somebody new trying to challenge us.”