Hale finished 29-0 and as the number-one ranked team in the country in the USA Today Super 25, but neglected to prove it at Dick's Nationals in Queens over the weekend, where national number two and LaPorte, Indiana-based La Lumiere High entered as the top seed.
La Lu walloped Wasatch, and outlasted Findlay Prep prior to pounding the third-seeded Montverde Eagles, 70-52, who came in as the eighth best team in the country.
“No disrespect to Nathan Hale, but if you’re not willing to lace up and play for it, you ain’t number one,” proclaimed La Lu head coach Shane Heirman at the post-game presser. “This is the number one team in the country, and I believe that.”
This was the fifth attempt at a national championship in New York City for La Lu, who came closest last year, losing to perennial power Oak Hill in the finals, 62-60, which coach Heirman says he “still thinks about every day.”
La Lu chants of “number one” and trademark rallying cries of “bodybag” flooded Christ the King gym, as did the entire La Lu contingent with an impromptu post-game celebratory court storming.
A pair of McDonalds All-American seniors in Brian Bowen and Jaren Jackson, Jr. ranked respectively at number 12 and 16 in the ESPN 100, helped lead the charge.
Jackson registered a team-best 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting, nailed 4-of-6 free throw attempts, and pulled down five rebounds, while making the All-Tournament team.
Bowen, who won Tournament MVP, netted 15 points and banged in three 3’s, while also recording seven rebounds and shooting 4-of-5 from the foul line.
Sophomore point guard Tyger Campbell rose up and ran the show for the upperclassmen-heavy squad. The number 25 ranked recruit among ESPN’s top players in the class of 2019 finished with 10 points and a game-high seven assists.
Of every emotionally charged showcase of elation, perhaps senior guard Jordan Poole, who entered the tournament shooting 52 percent from deep, epitomized the universal vibe to a tee.
The University of Michigan commit, who scored 13 points in victory, spoke on the floor just minutes after experiencing the euphoria.
“It’s beyond special,” the ESPN number 57 ranked senior remarked. “Especially now playing years before this, and being one of the best teams put together, spending all of our time together. It’s just the best situation anybody could possibly be in or ask for. I’m amazed right now.”
The event’s leading scorer actually did not reside on the well-balanced La Lu squad, as All-Tournament teamer RJ Barrett, the number one sophomore in the country, averaged 25 points and eight rebounds in three games at Dick's Nationals, ending his run with 25 and seven.
Right before La Lu held the fort on ESPN, the ladies of Miami Country Day hammered Hamilton Heights of Tennessee, 81-55, on ESPN 2, winning their second national title in three years, stamped with the team yelling to the high heavens in unison moments after the final buzzer.
Leading the way for the Lady Spartans was sophomore Maria Alvarez, who earned Most Valuable Player honors with a game-high 26 points behind the strength of 8-of-11 shooting from downtown.
Senior guard and University of Miami-bound Kelsey Marshall systemically broke down the Hamilton Heights defense, slashing her way for 23 points, making 8-of-11 from two-point range, while also adding on five boards and four dimes.
Marshall also joined Alvarez as the All-Tournament representatives for Miami Country Day.
Marshall, the number 81 ranked recruit in the ESPN 100, was joined in the backcourt once again by classmate Channise Lewis. Lewis, who is signed to attend the University of Illinois in the fall, finished with seven points and a game-high 10 assists, while causing havoc on the defensive end, proving her ranking as the number 77 recruit in the country, according to ESPN.
Junior forward Aasiya Barry had the game’s lone double-double, with 15 points and 13 rebounds in the victory.
“Only a select few teams get a chance to play here,” said MCD head coach Ochiel Swaby after the game. “You get here because of all the hard work and sacrifice. Our kids give up family outings for Saturday practices.
“Winning this tournament and playing against the national schedule like we do, suddenly everyone want to play for us,” he said.
And in all likelihood, this won’t be the last we hear from them: 36.3 percent of their roster is filled with middle school kids, one of whom (Sydney Shaw) drained a three-pointer in the nationally televised high school championship game.
So good luck to the rest of the country going forward.