The Bank of America City of Palms Classic tipped off Thursday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with easily one of the finest tournament fields ever assembled. Preliminary round games are under way, but the real fun begins Saturday afternoon with four quarterfinal games at Bishop Verot High's cozy gymnasium. Seven teams from the ESPN RISE FAB 50 boys' high school basketball rankings remain alive for the championship, including four in the top-10.
The five-day event features 15 players from the ESPNU 100.
The finals will be televised Dec. 23 on ESPNU, starting at 3 p.m. ET with the third-place game.
"It's as good a field I've seen," said Paul Biancardi, ESPN's national recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. "There's the rare mix of great players, teams and coaches."
Thursday, Roman Catholic (Philadelphia) fired the first salvo when it upended No. 15 Arlington Country Day (Jacksonville, Fla.) 56-55. No. 18 Westchester (Los Angeles) and No. 8 Duncanville (Texas) also advanced.
Since the tournament moved to Bishop Verot in 1994 -- there were six previous venues -- Westchester has won the championship three times and top-ranked Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) has won it once. Here's a list of the past 10 champions, a who's who listing of national programs: 1999, Ballard (Louisville); 2000, Westchester; 2001, Westchester; 2002, Rice (Manhattan, N.Y.); 2003, Westchester; 2004, Niagara Falls (N.Y.); 2005, Brentwood Academy (Nashville); 2006, Mater Dei; 2007, St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.).
Instant analysis: The star power of the tournament will certainly shake, reshape and immediately impact the ESPN RISE boys' rankings. The main criteria of the rankings are strength of schedule and record against opponents. Simply put: aggressive scheduling counts heavily. To win the City of Palms Classic, teams will play up to four games against ranked competition. Arguably, the winner could ascend to the No. 1 ranking.
ESPNU 100 Player Watch
Some of the nation's premier players are on display during the City of Palms Classic. All players listed are seniors unless noted.
No. 1 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.): 6-foot-9 David Wear (No. 49 overall prospect in Class of 2009); 6-9 Travis Wear (No. 50 overall); 6-8 Andy Brown (No. 44 shooting guard in Class of 2009). Juniors: 6-2 Gary Franklin; 6-5 Tyler Lamb.
American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.): 6-3 Kenny Boynton Jr. (No. 13 overall).
Fayette County (Fayetteville, Ga.): 6-6 Noel Johnson (No. 53 overall).
Sickles (Tampa): 6-10 John Henson (No. 3 overall).
Winter Park (Fla.): Sophomore: 6-3 Austin Rivers.
What's on tap: Here's a breakdown of the schedule at Bishop Verot High and the Sunshine Series -- a separate competition from the tournament field. (All times are Eastern).
Friday: 1 p.m. American Heritage-Dunbar (Fort Myers); 2:45 p.m. Arlington Country Day-Fort Myers; 4:30 p.m. Duncanville-Winter Park (Fla.); 6:15 p.m. Westchester-Olympia; 8:15 p.m. Lincoln-Briarcrest Christian; 10 p.m. Mater Dei-Fayette County.
Saturday: Quarterfinals are at 1:45 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 9 p.m. Consolation games at 10:15 a.m. and noon. Sunshine Series: 5:15 p.m. Montverde Academy-Zion Lutheran (Deerfield Beach, Fla.).
Monday: Semifinals are 7 and 9:30 p.m. The fifth-place semifinals are 3:30 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. Challenge round and consolations tip off at 8:30 a.m.
Tuesday: Championship is 5 p.m. and third-place game is 3:30 p.m. (both games will be televised by ESPNU). The fifth-place final is 12:20 p.m., with two challenge-round games before. The first tips off at 9 a.m. Sunshine Series: 7:15 p.m. Bishop Verot-Sickles.
Arlington Country Day: The Apaches were ousted from the championship bracket Thursday afternoon, losing to Roman Catholic 56-55. Leading in the fourth quarter, ACD committed turnovers on four straight possessions to drop their second game in nine tries. 6-9 Wally Judge and 6-4 Rodney McGruder are both headed to Kansas State.
Duncanville: Shawn Williams signed with Texas, while Roger Franklin and Reger Dowell are going to Oklahoma State. If the Panthers advance to the semifinals, they would be assured of their second game this season on the ESPN family of networks. Earlier this month the Panthers crushed No. 9 Lincoln (Brooklyn, N.Y.) in Dallas. Coincidentally, the Panthers and Lincoln could meet again in the championship game. Coach Phil McNeely's team was the preseason No. 1 by ESPN RISE, but dropped a pair of games in its first 10 contests.
Lincoln: Last year, the Railsplitters won their fifth overall and second straight New York State Federation Class AA championship as 6-6 Lance Stephenson pocketed the Most Valuable Player award. The Brooklyn team also won their third straight PSAL City Championship and sixth in seven years. Stephenson is unsigned but is considering several schools such as Memphis, Kentucky, USC, UCLA, Kansas, Texas, St. John's and Tennessee. Padgett signed with Maryland.
Mater Dei: The Monarchs have already won a tournament this season. In the Loara Tournament, coach Gary McKnight notched his 800th career victory. Twin posts David and Travis Wear have signed with North Carolina, while Andy Brown is headed to Stanford. Junior guard Tyler Lamb gave a verbal to UCLA.
Montverde Academy: Coach Kevin Sutton's club will play one game in the Sunshine Series against Westlake Prep (Davie, Fla.) Saturday night. The No. 32 Eagles features 7-0 Ruslan Pateev, 6-8 Nick Diatta (a Towson recruit) and 6-0 Dmitry Zimin. 6-5 junior James Bell, who transferred from Arlington Country Day, will sign with Villanova. Last weekend, the Eagles defeated No. 34 Olympia (Orlando).
Olympia: The Titans are the preseason favorite to win Florida's Class 6A state championship. They are led by a quartet of seniors, Dexter Fields (committed to UAB), William Green (Western Kentucky), Jamel Marshall (Florida International) and Martell Blue. Green, Marshall and Marshall all average double digits this season.
Roman Catholic: First-year coach Chris McNesby earned his first national-themed victory Thursday when the Cahillites knocked off Arlington Country Day 56-55 in the opening round. Junior Rakeem Brookins, a 5-11 guard, dropped in a game-high 27 points, 16 above his season average. Guard Maalik Wayns, a Villanova recruit, sank a free throw with 5.2 seconds left, breaking a 55-55 deadlock.
St. Patrick: The Celtics are a perennial national power who last won the New Jersey Tournament of Champions in 2007. Last season, they advanced to the North Jersey, Non-Public B final, falling to eventual TOC champion St. Anthony (Jersey City). Oddly, Saturday's game is the first this season for coach Kevin Boyle's squad. New Jersey schools open the regular season on Dec. 19. Two players have signed with Division I schools, 6-3 Dexter Strickland (North Carolina) and 6-6 Paris Bennett (George Mason). St. Patrick is making its eighth tournament appearance.
Westchester: The Comets have won a record three City of Palms Classic titles since 2000 and are 15-0 -- including Thursday's win -- all-time in the event. At 6-7, junior Dwayne Polee, who gave Southern California a verbal commitment as a freshman, is the Class of 2010's No. 16-rated small forward. Other key juniors are 6-4 Kareem Jamar and 6-2 Jordin Mayes.
Wheeler: The Wildcats have an ACC flavor in their senior class as 6-7 Ari Stewart will attend Wake Forest and 6-8 Richard Howell committed to North Carolina State. Strangely, the Wildcats enter the tournament with a 3-2 record, still looking to develop chemistry. Last season the Wildcats lost in Georgia's Class 5A final to Norcross but are the favorites this time. Coach Doug Lipscomb won four state titles in 16 years After competing in this tournament, the Wildcats and St. Patrick are bound for the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., which tips off Dec. 26.
Word of God: The Rams defeated American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) 63-61 on Thursday in the opening round. Next up is St. Patrick in the quarterfinals. Junior post C.J. Leslie says he'll sign in November with North Carolina State, but the nation's top-ranked senior point guard, John Wall, is undecided.
The City of Palms has 39 alumni who have gone on to play in the NBA. Most notably, Michael Beasley (Miami Heat), Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons), LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trail Blazers), Chauncey Billups (Denver Nuggets), Marvin Williams (Atlanta Hawks) and Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves).
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball, and boys and girls basketball. He also for worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.