By Collin Atwood
When reflecting on the greatest basketball dynasties in history, it’s impossible to not include the 1980-91 “Showtime” Lakers, 1990-98 Chicago Bulls and the 1957-69 Boston Celtics, but that’s only when looking at the professional level.
Adjust the lens to the world of high school hoops, and the elite level of play by the countries’ top programs will stand out. IMG Academy, La Lumiere and Oak Hill Academy have been the teams to beat year after year.
The IMG Academy Ascenders consistently have some of the top ranked players in the country and are frequently sending them off to play at the next level. Since 2016, 60 Ascenders have committed to play at Division I schools.
That number will only continue to grow with eight current players committed to play college basketball next season.
The limit for IMG alumni does not stop at the college level. There have been 11 IMG graduates drafted in the NBA since 2005, including Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Thunder), Jaden Springer (76ers) and Josh Green (Mavericks).
All three were members of the Ascenders’ 2019 GEICO National Championship team when they took down another national powerhouse in La Lumiere School 66-55.
The recent success for the Ascenders has a large part to do with head coach Sean McAloon, who was given the job in 2017. In his 17 years coaching he has won over 300 games and earned 6 Coach of the Year awards. With McAloon at the head of an already respected program, the downfall of the Ascenders doesn’t seem to be in the near future.
La Lumiere also made a coaching change for the 2017-18 season when they promoted Patrick Holmes to head coach after three years of being the assistant coach.
The school out of Indiana has proven to be able to stick with the other elite programs in the country. They have been to the GEICO National Championship game three times since 2016.
In 2017 the Lakers won the GEICO National Championship against Montverde Academy, which was a bounce back win after losing to Oak Hill at the buzzer in the championship game the year before.
Their key to success is simple. “We want guys that are going to work hard and get better everyday,” Holmes said.
Of course a player’s skill set matters when it comes to forming a winning team, but Holmes would rather have his players have winning characteristics.
“Finding kids that fit our personality and want to get better and want to be held accountable and don’t give a crap about the mixtapes and all the other stuff that doesn’t matter; we want guys that want to win,” he said.
The Lakers current roster has two players on ESPN’s 2022 Top 100 Prospects list: J.J. Starling (No. 27) who has signed with Notre Dame and Zebba Njie (No. 79) who has signed with Penn. State.
“We’ve got really high character kids who buy in and play hard,” Holmes said.
La Lumiere has also had a few players reach the NBA: Jordan Poole (Warriors), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies) and James Bank III who signed with the Pelicans, but currently plays in the NBA G-League.
Getting players to the NBA is something that another top high school program in the country is used to. The Oak Hill Academy Warriors have been producing NBA caliber talent since 1980. Over those 42 years, the program has had 29 alumni drafted into the NBA.
More players who went to Oak Hill have reached the NBA, but they didn’t graduate as a Warrior. Micheal Beasley went to Oak Hill for the 2005-06 season and Kevin Durant, a two-time NBA champion and future Hall of Famer, went to Oak Hill for the 2004-05 season.
The Warriors have a winning reputation at Oak Hill. And Steve Smith, their head basketball coach, played a huge role in building that.
Smith has been with Oak Hill for over 30 years, and during that time has prioritized making his team treat each other like family.
“We go to church together every Sunday. We’ll go bowling, when we eat in the cafeteria we all eat together, we go to school together,” Smith said. “It’s just one big family as far as the way the team is.”
Smith believes that his off-court time spent with the team is what produces greatness on the court – and that greatness has shown. The Warriors have won eight national championships during Smith’s coaching career, with the last one being in 2016 against La Lumiere.
From 2009-15, the Warriors made it to the GEICO National Championship game four times, falling short in each game. They haven’t been to the championship game since 2016, but their victorious past is enough to attract the biggest recruits in the nation.
“Hopefully we built something that kids want to come be a part of,” Smith said.
Photo by Joe Arruda/The Student