DICK’S Nationals Boys Final

By Christopher Lawlor

NEW YORK – When the final loop of the net was clipped it official broke the cycle. The loop of 365 days was severed and realization of a dream was met. It also exorcised the demons that haunted La Lumiere School (La Porte, Ind.).

When you have the DICK’S Nationals title within your grasp and watch it vanish with a buzzer-beating tip-in, waiting for redemption meant waiting a year. And even then after receiving another invite to the nation’s No. 1 high school boys basketball event there were no guarantees.

“It was a motivating factor for us this season I must admit. I’d think about every day. I replay that final play from the 2016 final; even if I was sitting at a red light I through of it. It was in the forefront of everyone’s minds,” La Lumiere coach Shane Heirman said.

The specter of last year’s loss dissolved with a dominant second half performance. It was the crowning glory for the Catholic boarding school less than an hour from Chicago.

“This team is No. 1; I believe it,” Heirman said.

A gracious Montverde coach Kevin Boyle, who won the DICK’S Nationals three straight years from 2013 to 20015, agreed and fueled the debate of dumping Nathan Hale (Seattle, Wash.) from the top spot in the national rankings after declining to participate in the DICK’S Nationals.

“That’s like Gonzaga [University] declining a bid to the NCAA Tournament after they won their conference tournament. No one does it. No disrespect to Nathan Hale but they might be the No. 5 team in the country; who did they really play? They had an opportunity to play in the best basketball tournament in the nation and they chose not to attend. They should have came here.

“La Lumiere winning here is No. 1.”

And entering the fourth quarter, the Lakers were focused and would not concede.

Just under two minutes into the fourth, La Lumiere could sense it and so could their loyal, boisterous student section as Jackson drove the baseline for a 52-38 lead. The ebb and flow of the game began to wear on Montverde (Fla.) Academy and it was just a matter of the clock clicking down to zero before the celebration began.

The La Lumiere Lakers are National Champions. They earned it. They did not duck the competition. They had two McDonald’s All American who jetted back early Thursday morning to participate in a team event that capped a marvelous 29-1 season.

The vaunted sixth man or Laker “Rowdies” packed the gym all week. The students and their parents made the 12-hour, 750-mile trip on their own dime. They were clad in Navy Blue and White and as the final horn sounded, like a wave they crashed on the court in unison, surrounding their heroes at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.

The Blue and White wave mirrored their team, smashing through and leaving three DICK’S Nationals’ teams in their wake.

Final: La Lumiere 70, Montverde 52.

“It’s an awesome feeling to do with these guys; all great teammates,” said Michigan State-bound post Jaren Jackson Jr., who had 17 points and 5 rebounds in the final and played in the McDonald’s Game earlier in the week.

In one of the more competitive boys’ championship games of the DICK’S Sporting Goods High School National Tournament, La Lumiere took a deep breath at halftime and came out with a scorching third quarter that swung the momentum in its favor. That 20-10 run was difference.

But Heirman thought the was an X-factor on Saturday.

“It had to be Franklin Agunnane; he was the difference in the game. He altered so many shots and made Montverde think twice about going inside. He was a game changer,” he said. “You can’t measure it with stats.”

Agunnane was more of the role player, who stepped up at the right time. In 14 minutes the 6-9 junior sank both shots for 4 points, cleared 7 rebounds and regained territory in the post.

Another McDonald’s All American, Brian “Tugs” Bowen from Flint, Mich., was named Tournament Most Valuable Player, capping his three days in Queens with 15 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals.

“I had to give it my all this week; my legs were fatigued but it’s about the team,” said Bowen, who will announce his college plans later this month.

Jordan Poole, another Big Ten-bound player and Michigan signee, stretched Montverde’s 2-3 zone with 13 points, but dropped in a trio of 3-pointers—all in clutch fashion.

“Coach [Heirman] always told me to shoot even if I wasn’t having a great day. That confidence alone was so important to me and my development as a player,” Poole said.

When Montverde through they could make a run, La Lumiere answered with another role player, this one from Australia. Jacob Epperson hammered home back-to-back dunks and the Lakers were creeping closer up 10 (56-46) at 3:59.

The joint erupted and the finish line was in focus.

Much like in Friday’s semifinal win over Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.), the Lakers came out scoring and took a 40-31 lead at four minutes when Bowen canned a deep three from the left corner. Montverde broke a 2 ½ minute drought with a three from Carr and Black’s 17-footer from the left wing.

And unlike on the final play of the second, Poole drilled a 3-pointer and the Lakers seized a 47-38 lead. It was a 20-10 run that set the table for La Lumiere in the fourth. Both teams battled through foul troubles as the aggressive nature of the contest started to take its toll.

That decisive quarter had the Lakers drain 6 of 9 shots (66.7%), including 4 of 5 (80%) from 3-point range, and all four free throws. For the game, La Lumiere controlled rebounding, 40-33.

In spite of La Lumiere’s push in the second, the Eagles were up 28-27 when Barrett hit both free throws with 33.8 seconds left in the half. RJ Barrett had 14 points and 6 rebounds and Cameron Healy added 9 (on a trio of 3s) in the opening half. Healy went scoreless after the break.

Barrett, a 6-7 slender Canadian, demonstrated why must feel he will be the next lottery pick from Montverde. The sophomore had a solid tournament and wound up with a game-high 25 points (10 of 24 shooting), 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.

“He’s the best guy I’ve seen this year at his position who will go in the NBA Draft [in 2020],” Boyle said. “RJ has become more consistent with his shot and his potential is unlimited.”

Poole could have given the Lakers a lead at the break but his 3-point rimmed out at the horn. La Lumiere climbed back into the game with their defense, converting 5 turnovers into 9 points. Campbell paced the scorers with 8 points.

The Lakers looked more like themselves in the second, but still trailed, 23-19, at the midway point. Poole’s deep 3-pointer with 4:14 brought the Lakers back within two points. Barrett’s lay-in upped the edge to 23-19. La Lumiere took its first lead at 2:29 when Bowen drilled a left-wing trey.

“What hurt is that we did not get on quick enough in transition; instead of being up five points at halftime, it should have been 10 or 12,” Boyle acknowledged.

Montverde (26-5) was efficient in the opening quarter and controlled the glass. The Eagles led 17-12 and used a 10-0 edge in fast break points to build the lead. The pesky, active 2-3 zone gave La Lumiere trouble. Barrett paced the attack with 6 points. Jackson and Campbell also hit for 6 apiece in the opening 8 minutes. The Lakers complicated matter missing on all eights from downtown.

But they recovered and gladly collected the hardware for the trip to northwest Indiana.

When Heirman reflected on the season, he was succinct.

“Collectively there was a uniqueness to this team, everyone fed off each other,” he said. “They recognized the strengths and weaknesses of their teammates. It’s a blessing to be around them and knew it took sacrificing the egos to accomplish it.”

Joining Bowen on the all-tournament was teammate Jackson; Barrett of Montverde; PJ Washington of Findlay Prep; and JP Moorman of Greensboro (N.C.) Day School.