ZS: Which aspects propelled MVA to a City of Palms tournament championship? How do you describe the talent pool in this year's tournament?
KB: Well the (City of Palms) tournament is always if not the premier high school tournament in the regular season in America. It's always minimally one of the best three tournaments in the country. There's always five teams in the nation's Top-20. So, you've got to play really well. Our expectation, because of the success we've had, is to win the tournament.
But we know you are going to have to win two very good games, two top-10, top-15 type games, if not three there. We were able to go up good against Jonesboro (GA), who had an excellent player but didn't have the guards to handle the pressure.
Then you have IMG, who is putting a lot of emphasis now on being very dependent on the high school level in football where they were excellent this year and in basketball where they were quickly one of the better 10 teams in America. So we got to play them, we got up 14, they made a good comeback. We were able to hang on and win.
In the final we went up against Penny Hardaway's Memphis East team, who had beaten a top-7 team in The Patrick School (Elizabeth, N.J.) by about 15. We were able to fall behind by 15 that game and come back to win by nine points.
ZS: How you assess the progression of R.J. Barrett and how does he fare amongst the nation's elite?
KB: He's one of the better young players in the country. Actually, he's one of the best players in the country period. If he was a senior he would be one of the best players in the country. He's growing, he's about 6-foot-7 now. He's shooting the ball better from the perimeter. His handle is better now. I expect him to go basically where he wants in college. He's being recruited by everybody so I expect him to go where he wants and have an excellent chance to be a high lottery pick after one year.
ZS: Knowing the strength of schedule and knowing where you guys stand amongst the nation's top-shelf teams, how will the ensuing string of games prepare this team?
KB: Since I was at (now defunct) St. Patrick's (N.J.) to moving here to Florida, we always try to play the best schedule in America if we can. A couple years ago, I think we were no.1 in the final USA poll. We played no. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 or something crazy like that.
We're looking to play the best teams. Obviously, City of Palms is a great tournament. It may be the best competition or that very well could be The Bass Pro where were going not this weekend but the following weekend Jan. 12-14. In that tournament you have Sierra Canyon (CA) which has been number one in the country, they just got upset.
You also have Findlay Prep, which just moved to as high as No.2 in some polls, after beating Oak Hill. You've got ourselves, which has been as high as no.2 in some polls. So you have a team that's been number one and two teams that have been number two all in the same tournament. You also have Memphis East again, who got to the final. If we win the first game and they win the first game, we'll play them again in the Bass Pro. So we will play them three times in a five-game period.
ZS: What do you attribute this team's success to, being undefeated thus far and even overwhelming some normally competitive teams as we've witnessed?
KB: We have outstanding guards. In high school, you usually win with guards more than big guys. A lot of times big guys are starting to develop their offense in high school. A lot of them show promise and aren't yet able to score with a defender between them and the basket. Even your better big kids in high school, are starting develop that.
So, you know, I would always rather have a real good guard than a good big. Obviously, if you have a good big like Ben Simmons who also plays like a guard, then you've got an incredible situation. We have four, really five guards.
We've got (PITT-bound) Marcus Carr who is a tough kid from Toronto. He gets after it, he's versatile. He can score at the rim, can make open shots, gets other guys involved, and he's really tough on defense. We've got (Class of 2019 PG) Andrew Nembhard who is being recruited by Villanova, Florida, Michigan, and Duke. He's just a really good kid who at 6-3 knows how to play.
You've got (Rechon ) Leaky Black, who is going to North Carolina, who is sacrificing big numbers to play around all these other guys and fitting in with the rest of this talent. To RJ Barrett, who is possibly as good as anybody in the country in any class.
Then with our post-grad team you've got Cameron Healy, who's going to Albany. During one three-game stretch, he hit 25 three-pointers. He's played really well for us in about 15 minutes as our spot up shooter. As our fifth guard, he's been really competitive. Providence gave us a game and he hit a big 3-pointer and a big two late in the game when we're running plays to him. He's such a good shooter and yet people don't know who he is.