He doesn’t get too low, but R.J. Barrett certainly can get high in the sky.
The Montverde (Fla.) senior continued to absolutely wow fans at the ‘Iolani Classic on Monday, throwing down eight dunks and scoring 33 points in an 89-43 quarterfinal win over host ‘Iolani.
Barrett, who will play at Duke next season, and his teammates played like a force that is especially good at globetrotting for basketball. When coach Kevin Boyle implored them to step up their concentration defensively, they came through.
“We wanted to be a little more intense and focused on defense. The other night, we weren’t focused. We were cheating to try and score,” Boyle said of a win over Lahainaluna in the opening round.
The Eagles, ranked No. 2 in the nation, don’t belong to a high school association like most schools. They travel up and down the East Coast playing in elite tournaments, and they will cap their season with a national tournament. Montverde Academy has an enrollment of 806, essentially a boarding school. Students there represent more than 100 nations.
Boyle’s squad is primed for success with seniors like Barrett, but the coach also sees greater possibilities when his team is fully healthy.
“We have mature guards in Andrew (Nembhard), Mike (Devoe) and RJ,” Boyle said.
Nembhard and Devoe were active and in perfect sync with their teammates all night. Nembhard finished with nine assists, while Devoe had 15 points and filled the stat sheet with three rebounds, four assists and three steals.
They have power in the paint with 6-10 Filip Petrusev (12 points, five boards, four dimes) and 6-9 Mahki Mitchell (10 points, seven boards). Karrington Davis, a 6-6 senior, is shaking some rust off after returning from an injury recently. He had six points and seven caroms off the bench.
“He’s been hurt all year. He was the best one against RJ in the summer,” Boyle noted.
He also made note of pesky Trevin Wade, a 5-11 guard with outstanding on-ball pressure. Then there’s Mitchell’s twin brother, Makhel, another 6-9 post, who will return from injury.
For the healthy Eagles, life as a globetrotting high schooler is nothing short of a fantastical dream.
“It’s great. We get to see different places,” Devoe said.
Nembhard will suit up for Florida after graduation.
“The best thing about Hawaii is the beach. We were at Waikiki. The people are really nice. There’s a lot of hospitality,” the 6-4 senior said.
On and off the court, the Eagles have a certain composure. They don’t wear suits like their coaches; the purple and gold sweatsuits work fine. But all the travel — they were in China prior to landing in Hawaii — hasn’t changed their core.
“Every game, we work together and get closer to our goal of winning a national championship,” Nembhard said.
For ‘Iolani, the tournament host, it was exciting at times, both for players and fans who roared even when shots didn’t drop. Coach Dean Shimamoto’s team is in the hunt for an ILH title and a state crown, but there’s a lot of distance between a great Hawaii basketball program and the likes of Montverde Academy.
“When a team like that has a lot of options, you pick your poison. We wanted to make sure we got back in transition, but to be honest, they could rebound with just three or four and they had guys out in transition before we could get turned around,” Shimamoto said. “It’s an opportunity for us. In the end, it’s a preseason game that’ll prepare us for the regular season.”
As for Montverde, the consensus favorite to win the Classic, it’s been easy wins over two Hawaii teams. The rest of the field has been through adversity on the court at ‘Iolani.
“It’ll be a better test for them tomorrow (Tuesday) when they face bigger and faster athletes,” Shimamoto added. “That’s what makes it so fun to watch.”