This story originally appeared in the Holiday issue of ESPNHS magazine’s Florida edition.
Most days at lunch, Michael Frazier and Kasey Hill head to the gym to shoot hoops. It’s a chance for Montverde Academy’s starting guards and new teammates to get to know each other. It’s also a lesson in contrast.
Frazier and Hill bring different skill sets, backgrounds and personalities to the table, but they’re of one mind when it comes to this season. The goal is to lead the Eagles — who started 2011-12 as the state’s top team and No. 10 in the POWERADE FAB 50 — to a national championship.
Their differences could help them do it.
“I think we both know we’re the leaders of the team, and for us to win the national championship, we’re going to have to step up and have everyone give it their all,” Frazier says.
Hill, who is rated the nation’s No. 16 junior in the ESPNU 60, can get to the rim at will and dunks with uncanny ease for a 6-foot-1 point guard. He averaged 20.4 points and 6.8 assists per game as a freshman at Mount Dora Bible and earned All-County first team honors in his first season at Montverde last year. He’s also been working hard on his outside shot, and Frazier provides an excellent example.
“He keeps the same form every time when he shoots,” Hill says. “He’s always square and he always follows through.”
A Florida-bound senior shooting guard who is rated the nation’s No. 93 recruit (No. 2 in the state) in the ESPNU 100, Frazier averaged 29.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game last year for Plant. He also excels academically, arriving at Montverde in August with a 4.7 GPA. He says credit goes to his dad, Michael Sr., a pastor who early on told his son his brains would take him further than a basketball would.
For Hill, school has always been more of challenge. He started playing varsity basketball in sixth grade at Mount Dora, and his grandmother, Emma Fisher, says that forced him to mature quickly.
“He was moving so fast with his skills, it’s like he didn’t have time to be a little boy,” Fisher says. “He was out there with the best of those guys and they were talking big-boy talk, and he didn’t fit in.”
That was only part of the struggle. Hill says his mother was often absent, while his dad is in prison. It’s something that has caused him significant pain over the years, but he’s come to a place where he can open up about it. “It’s not something I would wish on any kid,” Hill says. “You see so much and you have to grow up a totally different way. Some nights I’d just cry all night just wishing my parents were together, or at a tournament watching me play.
“It’s just a different lifestyle that you don’t choose. You just have to step up and be able to learn. I think it helps you a lot.”
That last line might seem like a contradiction, but it’s not. Hill draws strengths from the obstacles he’s overcome.
“Basketball is easy for Kasey,” says Jeff Simmons, Hill’s guardian. “It’s everything else that he’s learned to balance and be better at that’s made him what he is today.”
Frazier’s upbringing was very different. He’s close to his dad and he has two mother figures in Winifred, his biological mom, and Vanessa, his stepmom. The oldest of six children, Frazier has been a role model for his younger siblings and says he’s felt guilty — and homesick — since he started boarding at Montverde.
“He misses that kind of attention and being a part of their development,” Frazier’s father says, adding with a laugh, “and I’m sure he misses the food.”
Frazier’s teammates have eased the transition, he says, and this season he should be able to focus on what he does best: shoot. Hill, for one, has been impressed by his new teammate during their lunchtime shoot-arounds.
“He literally goes in and makes like 17-of-20 from mid-range and 3’s. He’s like a mini Ray Allen,” Hill says of Frazier, whose favorite player happens to be the Boston Celtics shooting guard.
Hill didn’t have that kind of shooter in the backcourt last year. While the team was successful, finishing No. 33 in the POWERADE FAB 50, Hill feels like he didn’t really get to play his style — up-tempo and getting out in transition.
That should change this season with Kevin Boyle at the helm. Boyle is a three-time national coach of the year who built St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) into a national powerhouse. He’s also coached dozens of players who went on to star at Division I colleges and even some who made it to the NBA, including Samuel Dalembert, Al Harrington and the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, Kyrie Irving.
Boyle’s teams are known for their pressing, exhausting style of defense, which often leads to fast-break points. And so as gifted as this Montverde team may be, questions remain as to its ability to play Boyle Ball.
“The team’s got a lot of talent,” Boyle says. “The thing comes down to, can we get them to play as good and as hard defensively as we did at St. Pat’s over the years.”
He’ll get his answer soon enough. As in years past, when former coach Kevin Sutton was establishing Montverde as a national-caliber program, the Eagles are playing an aggressive schedule in 2011-12, with several top teams and elite tournaments on the docket.
A competitive college prep school, Montverde draws more than half of its student body from overseas. That includes the basketball team, which this year has players from Cameroon, Russia, Canada, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Argentina and more.
“It’s really, really cool to have people around you like that,” Hill says. “They’re so appreciative of everything, and they love the game of basketball.”
They also know how to play it.
Landry Nnoko of Cameroon is a 6-11 senior with offers from Florida, Clemson and Louisville, while Patricio Garino is a 6-6 senior small forward who played for Argentina in the FIBA U-19 tournament. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s not going to be one person who wins a championship; it’s going to take all of us,” Hill says.
But it’ll likely be the Florida boys, with their contrasting and complementary styles, who decide how high the Eagles fly.
Lucas O'Neill is a senior writer for ESPNHS. Follow him on Twitter @LucasESPN.