Sky High: All-Access with National Power Montverde Academy

For Montverde Academy, competition breeds success on and off the court. Get an inside look at how one of the nation’s premier programs takes flight.

Sky High: All-Access with National Power Montverde Academy

For Montverde Academy, competition breeds success on and off the court. Get an inside look at how one of the nation’s premier programs takes flight.

“When you come to Montverde, you know that’s the place for greatness.”

The Place for Greatness. Has a nice ring to it, huh?

We’re giving you an exclusive look behind the scenes at the program that doesn’t just create superstars on the court, but upstanding men off it.

With alumni like Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell, Dakari Johnson, and Kasey Hill, Montverde is on a quest for its fourth straight National Championship, and we witnessed first-hand what it takes to create a culture of champions.

Bruno Fernando greets everyone the same way. He smiles and flashes a peace sign with a nod - as if to say, “Sup?” to this stranger from Lincoln - as he is met with hugs and laughter from a group of his friends. That trademark smile goes away the minute he steps into the locker room.

It’s time for the annual Montverde Academy Invitational Tournament. It brings four of the best teams from Florida, and four other top programs from around the United States, to this rural town to compete at one of high school’s best facilities for three days. The Nest is rockin’ on Friday night, and the boys are ready to get the party started. From deep within the Nest, you can hear the student section chanting from the locker room as they get the crowd hyped up for the Eagles last homestand of the season.

The team sits with steely eyes, focused on the challenge ahead. To many, the outcome is inevitable. The Eagles stand, literally, head and shoulders above many who they face.

Coach Boyle doesn’t say much. He makes sure the team knows talent alone can’t get them to the championship. They have to play together to win this thing. As the team breaks the huddle and steps into the hallway, they are met with the images of the famous faces that used to play here. These Eagles have one thing on their mind: It’s time to ball.

“What are you willing to sacrifice to get to where you want to go in life?”

It’s the question assistant coach Rae Miller asks all of the athletes who want to come to Montverde. For Los Angeles Laker D’Angelo Russell it was clear. “His goal was, ‘I need to help my family.’ What is going to motivate him to help his family, and how can he get there,” recalls Miller. But more than that, it was a question of how can they help him get there? “For a player like Ben [Simmons], he wanted to come to America, and he realized that to reach his dreams, he thought he needed to be in this competition level,” said coach Boyle.

It’s a common theme for the players here. They uproot their lives to chase their dream. R.J. Barrett moved away from his family in Toronto to play at Montverde - he’s a freshman in high school. Senior Kevin Cham, from Versailles, France, has been here since his freshman year. Coming to Montverde can be difficult, but the allure of playing every single day with some of the most talented young players in the world makes the decision easy. Elite talent can’t be denied, but Montverde is about much more than that.

“When you have so many like-minded individuals, it propels them. They push each other. They make each other better.”

For senior guard Kevin Cham, he knows that this is going to end someday. “Montverde isn’t just a place where you’re going to come to play basketball… They’re also going to teach you about life.” From academics to basketball, that teaching equips players for the future. Because, for all the elite basketball players, there are players whose growth is more than just about making it to the NBA.

The staff challenges every player who walks into their gym. You have to put in the work to get where you want to go. “No matter the player we get at Montverde, we are about development, whether that’s athletically or academically. We get good players, but we develop them,” said assistant Frank Holloway

“We talk a lot about [education], and understanding how to use the sport you play to provide for yourself in the future. Use it. Don’t let it use you,” said assistant Rae Miller. That message runs from the top down, ingrained in the players’ heads the moment they set foot on campus.

The culture at Montverde is so unique. The dynamics of this team - from two 6’10” Angolan centers destined to play big-time Division I basketball, to guys who are likely pivotal starters for mid-major programs - breeds a level of competition unlike anything you’ll see in any other high school gym. There’s no trash talk. They just go hard, and that makes the Eagles’ practices intense.

“Coach Boyle starts it,” said senior forward Micah Potter. Boyle often grabs the basketball from his players and halts practice. He’ll grab a group of players and set up the offense the way he expects it to be run, dishing dimes to his players - reminding his kids he used to ball for coach Bill Raftery - as he demonstrates to his starters how he wants them to exploit the opponent. As he steps off the court, he expects his players to run the drills at as high of a pace as he just demonstrated. That’s the way Boyle expects his practices to go because that’s the way they play–the way they always have.

The drive within every player helps propel them to greater heights. “When you have so many like-minded individuals, it propels them. They push each other. They make each other better,” said Frank Holloway. The culture of competition here is unique. Each player is competing for spots, and “if you don’t bring it that day, they are going to bring it to try and take your spot. You always gotta bring it 120% every day in practice,” said senior guard Kevin Cham.

It’s when Bruno Fernando and Silvio de Sousa race each other from baseline to baseline with smiles on their faces the entire time, that you see what this team is about. It’s just competition in its purest form, and boy is it fun to watch.

 The fierce commitment to development never stops. It takes place in the quiet moments alone as often as when they’re together on the court.

As Micah Potter sits on his bed, he studies last week’s game on his iPad, not just to see the opponents, but also himself. “I can understand what I do wrong, but [when] I actually see myself do it, it makes it easier for me to understand how to do it better,” said Micah. Not only is he studying his own game, he’s watching guys like Kevin Love, who he models his own game after, perform on the biggest stage. The opportunities to improve are endless. With wide eyes, Micah analyzes Love’s ability to hit an outside jumper as much as he studies his own ability to finish at the rim.

For Frank Holloway, video analysis is vital to a team’s win/loss record, regardless of overall skill. From the time he was playing in Europe to his days as an assistant at FIU under NBA Hall of Famer Isaiah Thomas, video analysis was a critical part of his development, and the development of the players he coached. “The one thing about video is that it does not lie. It highlights what you do well, but it also highlights what you do not do well.”

“I can understand what I do wrong, but [when] I actually see myself do it, it makes it easier for me to understand how to do it better.”

Holloway pours over video of his team in Sportscode, breaking down every aspect of the game for the other coaches on the staff to review. With data and video analysis combined, Holloway identifies key moments in a game where he sees the need to improve, and he will export a sequence of plays during their own games and upload them to Hudl for the entire team to view.

“What Hudl has brought to the table is a specific way of teaching. Specific points to individual students or in a group that is much more user friendly,” said Rae Miller. “You put four or five clips together of them doing good things and things they need to improve in. It really helps that student to focus in on the specifics of it.”

Not only does the staff identify key aspects of the game for athletes to improve on, it also allows the team to analyze its opponents. When Holloway codes an opponent’s game, he will find key weaknesses where the team can exploit an opponent. This is vital in their preparation. When they step out on the court, wherever they are, they’re ready. They know what is coming.

The Nest is lit up like the Staples Center. As the Eagles run out onto the court, you know immediately they have shown up to entertain. Freshman forward RJ Barrett throws down a ferocious tomahawk during pregame warm-ups and you know it’s game time.

The lights dim and the team is introduced, the spotlight beams down onto the starting five as they huddle up. That steely look of intense focus is on every one of their faces as they look at each other. They’re prepared.

The sounds of shoes screeching on the hardwood is met with raucous cheering as sophomore Silvio De Sousa throws down a windmill dunk in transition. Freshman R.J. Barrett drains a corner three and shimmies as he celebrates with his fellow Canadian Simi Shittu - he’s no stranger to highlights himself, adding some swag to a dunk of his own - the team is clearly hyped.

Late in the fourth quarter, junior guard Cameron Healy drains a 3-pointer and the bench erupts. The way the Eagles celebrate from the bench you’d think he just threw down one of the sickest dunks in the history of high school basketball. As time expires and he returns to the bench, the whole team, coaches and players alike, mob him, all smiles.

The boys came out firing on all cylinders. The game was over before it even started.

The brotherhood, the bonds that this team and staff have created, you can see it in their smiles in this moment. As they exit the court together, some have their arms around others’ shoulders, others exchange smiles, high-fives.

It’s clear, these Eagles have fun, and they ball together.

The Eagles went on to win the MAIT for the fifth consecutive year, and will take their team to the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament, where they will compete for their fourth consecutive tournament title. Follow the action March 31st- April 2nd on ESPNU.

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