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Northside Christian set for monster showdown

Monday night at 9, Northside Christian and Montverde (Fla.) Academy will play one of the bigger high school basketball games in Charlotte in years. I mean, how often does a Charlotte school get to play the No. 1-ranked team in the country?

But that’s what Northside Christian will get at Ardrey Kell High. What’s more, the Knights will get a chance for an upset that, when I think about it, would be the high school equivalent of N.C. State beating Houston for the 1983 NCAA championship.

Montverde is as good a high school team as I’ve seen in my 25 years of covering high school sports, and I’ve covered teams that included Tracy McGrady or Ty Lawson or Allen Iverson; teams that had Wayne Ellington and Gerald Henderson; and I covered LeBron James’ old team, too.

Montverde’s starting lineup includes a pair of guards that will play at Louisiana State and California and two forwards going to LSU and Harvard. The team’s most highly touted player, D’Angelo Russell, a top-10 national recruit going to Ohio State, has been coming off the bench. Despite playing a schedule filled with a who’s-who of high school powers, the Eagles are winning by an average of 27 points per game.

“Their roster is littered with high-major Division I talent,” Olympic coach Ty Baumgardner said. “When you’ve got that caliber of talent and you’ve got the ability to get kids from all over the country, and even the world, you ought to have a roster like that, to be honest. Now, coaching them and getting them to play together is one thing and obviously coach (Kevin) Boyle is doing that. They’re a machine, no doubt about that.”

Montverde Academy is located in Montverde, Fla, a town of about 1,500 people just outside Orlando. The school opened in 1912. Today, it has nearly 1,000 students from 13 states and 48 countries on its 125-acre campus. More than 300 of those students are part of the boarding school. High school tuition is nearly $12,000. Boarding school tution is $42,000 a year.

In 2011, the school hired Boyle as its coach. Boyle, who also has coached for USA Basketball, won more than 400 games in 23 years previously at St. Patrick (N.J.). Under his direction, Montverde has replaced Oak Hill (Va.) as the team to beat in most high school circles. Last season, Montverde beat Oak Hill, Prime Prep of Dallas and No. 2 St. Benedict’s to win the National High School Invitational in Maryland and a mythical national championship.

This season, the Eagles have the big target on their backs. They’re always favored and they’re everybody’s Super Bowl.

Monday, Northside Christian – ranked No. 14 nationally – will get its chance.

Through my research of Observer files, the last time a local team faced a near conensus national No. 1 was when West Charlotte’s 1998-99 team, led by All-American Jason Parker, played No. 1 Oak Hill in Raleigh. The Lions were No. 14 in USA Today’s national poll. West Charlotte lost 79-62 to Oak Hill and lost 71-70 the next day to a Durham Mount Zion team that was ranked No. 11 in the nation. West Charlotte didn’t lose again after that, winning a N.C. 4A championship and cementing its legacy as Mecklenburg County’s best-ever basketball team.

There have been some really good teams after that, including a North Mecklenburg team that zoomed to a 2005 state title led by 6-9 All-American center Jamie Skeen. But this Northside Christian team, potentially, is the best since Parker’s Lions. The Knights have four Division I recruits and play hard and share the basketball, taking on the workmanlike approach of coach Byron Dinkins, an East Mecklenburg High graduate who is one of the best basketball players in county history. Dinkins went on to become one of the best players in Charlotte 49ers history and had a brief NBA career.

And if he stays in high school long enough, Dinkins could end up as one of the county’s best-ever coaches. In four seasons, he is 102-6 with three state championship appearances and two straight championships.

Monday night will be his toughest game, though. Montverde, honestly, is a monster.

“They’re spectacular,” Ardrey Kell coach Mike Craft said of the nation’s top-ranked team. “They’ve got it all. They’re big, athletic and they play hard. I don’t know that they have any weaknesses. I’m sure Northside will give them all they can handle and more. Those (Northside Christian) kids play hard and feed off each other. It’ll be a hometown crowd for Northside and it’ll be a great game.”

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