It was a high school basketball showcase called the Metro Classic in 2018 where I watched one of the most exciting games I’ve ever seen in person. R.J. Barrett, who was the number one high school senior in the nation at the time, led Montverde Academy, the number one team at the time, to a come-from-behind win over Naz Reid and the number 21 ranked New Jersey powerhouse Roselle Catholic at the Harwood Arena on the campus of Kean University, a college in New Jersey about 45 minutes outside of New York City.
Since 2013, the Metro Classic has been hosting future NBA stars such as Ben Simmons, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Barrett among others.
The event was conceived by Pryia Roy, whose former high school coach is Montverde coach Kevin Boyle’s brother-in-law. Boyle was also the coach of Patrick School, formerly St. Patrick, where Kyrie Irving, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Al Harrington played for him. After Boyle started his new head coaching job at Montverde during the 2011-12 season, he wanted to continue playing games in New Jersey, and the Metro Classic was born.
However, Roy wanted to ensure that the event would be bigger than basketball, and a vehicle to positively impact the community. Since its inception, the Metro Classic has partnered with local charities including the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Ocean County, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of New Jersey, and the Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. This year, it was the People’s Pantry of Ocean County, which began during the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
For the first time, the event was split into two weekends at the larger RWJBarnabas Health Arena in Toms River, which seats 3,500 as opposed to the smaller 2,500 Kean venue. “It’s grown so much – and there’s a demand for teams to play, along with high-level girls teams,” said Roy.
Montverde headlined the first session on January 10th and 11th, and is led by Oklahoma State bound Cade Cunningham, a 6’7” 215 pound point guard, who’s ranked the number three senior in the country and projected to get drafted number one overall in 2021 according to ESPN. Along with Florida State bound Scottie Barnes, the fourth ranked senior and UNC commit Day’Ron Sharpe the 11th ranked senior, Montverde took care of business easily defeating highly regarded New Jersey prep school Gill St. Bernards (NJ) 75-40 during the first session on Friday, and Archbishop Carroll (PA) 99-47 the following night.
During the second session on February 7th 8th , Bronny James and Sierra Canyon flew in from a suburb of Los Angeles to play two games in two nights. Because of James’ profile, Sierra Canyon’s games have been broadcast on various ESPN channels multiple times. Each of these games were ESPN
“We reached out to them. We knew it would be tough,” said Roy of Sierra Canyon. “We didn’t just want them, we wanted the girls team as well, who are also ranked.” The Lady Trailblazers, who are ranked 16th in the country according to MaxPreps, split the weekend, beating Blair Academy on Friday, and losing to Rutgers Prep on Saturday.
I attended four games of session two on both nights. UConn coach Danny Hurley, Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell, Temple coach Aaron McKie, former Net Kerry Kittles, World Wide Wes, and LeBron’s wife Savannah Jones were all in attendance.
On Friday night, The Patrick School, led by the Jonathan Kuminga, the number one junior in the country, took care of Huntington Prep of West Virginia, 69-45. Huntington Prep’s Duke-bound Jaemyn Brakefield, the 24th ranked senior in the country, was not a factor with six points. Kuminga, a 6’8” 210 pound forward, finished with 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Sierra Canyon was the headliner, and the crowd’s reaction was much more energetic than the local Patrick School team, despite the lofty status of Kuminga.
Unlike an NBA or college game, the type of fans that attend these high school showcases vary. There are sections reserved for friends and family of the teams in attendance, but everyone else generally consists of “niche, passionate, more objective local high school fans who come out to see the players,” says Roy.
Despite James’ fame, he is only a freshman and comes off the bench, as does Dwyane Wade’s son Zaire. Sierra Canyon is led by Kentucky-bound senior B.J. Boston, a 6’6” 175 pound forward with shades of Brandon Ingram, and Ziaire Williams, a 6’8” 180 pound athletic wing. Boston and Williams are the nation’s number the sixth and seventh ranked seniors respectively according to ESPN. Sierra Canyon took care of Gill St. Bernards 74-58 with a series of dunks and alley-oops by Sierra Canyon. Both seniors had 15 points, and Bronny had six points.
On Saturday night, Patrick School played again, this time against Wildwood Catholic, a private school on the southern tip of New Jersey, who put up a fight to tie it up at 25 at the half, but Kuminga hit a 3-pointer at the end of third quarter, and Patrick School never relinquished the lead, beating them 55-48.
In the finale, Sierra Canyon faced off against Long Island Lutheran, the 18th ranked team in the country at the time. Despite 20 and 19 points from Boston and Williams respectively, Andre Curbelo, the 48th ranked senior in the country, delivered a masterful performance, and won 84-74.
A six-foot, 155-pound point guard heading to Illinois next season, Curbelo controlled the pace of the game with a series of floaters, pull-up 3s, and crafty old-man-move shot and pass fakes. He was constantly doubled-teamed during the full-court press, and always made the right pass.
He’s not the most athletic or largest of guards, but it didn’t matter as he blocked an alley-oop attempt at the rim. Sierra Canyon had three different defenders on him, and still couldn’t contain him. It also helped that Curbelo had Ohio-State bound big man Zed Key to feed it to, who had a tidy 25 points.
It’s moments like these where under-the-radar players can break out onto the national spotlight, that make this event special.
What’s next for the Metro Classic? It may grow even bigger. “We may seek another venue. A professional arena is possible,” remarked Roy. If that’s the case, the intimacy may be sacrificed, but it will still be the best place to see tomorrow’s stars blossom today at a reasonable price.