The trend of elite high school basketball players transferring to more prominent programs finally has hit home.
The trend has been both a longtime friend and foe to City of Palms Classic tournament director Donnie Wilkie.
“I spend half the year building the tournament and the other half of the year rebuilding the tournament,” said Wilkie, who over the years has had to replace some invited teams after marquee players transferred to other programs during the offseason.
But when Wilkie announced the 16-team field for the 43rd annual Culligan City of Palms Classic at a news conference Wednesday at Shoeless Joe’s Sports Cafe, he did so flanked by Lehigh Senior High School boys basketball coach Dawn McNew, a day removed from learning one of her top players would be leaving Lehigh for Bradenton IMG Academy.
Emmitt Williams, a nationally ranked, 6-foot-7 sophomore forward who averaged 15 points per game last season for the Lightning, will not be in this year’s Classic. But his former teammates, who went 27-2 last season, will be on hand when the Classic tips off at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18, at Bishop Verot High School’s John Nevins Gymnasium.
This will be the 22nd Classic at Bishop Verot. The Classic will relocate in 2016 to Suncoast Credit Union Arena, slated to open next October at Florida SouthWestern State College.
Defending Classic champions Marietta (Georgia) Wheeler, runner-up Montverde Academy and third-place High Point (North Carolina) Wesleyan Christian are all returning.
Despite the exodus of Williams, Lehigh fits just fine into the field, Wilkie said. The Lightning have a solid nucleus of Stefan Strawder, Deljuan Thomas, Bershard Edwards, Berrick Jeanlouis and Jarvis Martin.
“This is a team we’re bragging about,” Wilkie said. “The program is strong enough to whether or not they have any one particular player, they’re still going to be one of the three programs that stand out in this area. I went out of my way to not include them last year because I wanted them to earn the invitation. And they did just that.”
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