High School Sports

Prestigious high school basketball tournament awaits Providence Day

Matt Bowling (center), Providence Day student manager, had fun leading the team out through a tunnel of students after a pep rally Wednesday. The school's nationally ranked basketball team has been invited to the DICKS Nationals Championships in New York City Thursday where they will play three-time national champ Montverde (Fla.) Academy. Students from middle school through high school formed a tunnel for the team to walk through after a send off pep rally on Wednesday, March 30, 2016.
Matt Bowling (center), Providence Day student manager, had fun leading the team out through a tunnel of students after a pep rally Wednesday. The school's nationally ranked basketball team has been invited to the DICKS Nationals Championships in New York City Thursday where they will play three-time national champ Montverde (Fla.) Academy. Students from middle school through high school formed a tunnel for the team to walk through after a send off pep rally on Wednesday, March 30, 2016. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Forward Josh Howard said he still hears those who doubt just how good Providence Day’s boys’ basketball team is, even after the Chargers recently won their first state title in 17 years.

That’s OK with him and his teammates, who say they are using it as motivation heading into Providence Day’s greatest tournament challenge in the shool’s history.

The Chargers will open play in the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School Nationals in New York on Thursday, taking on top-seed Montverde (Fla.) Academy in a quarterfinal game.

“We’re ready to work and prove everybody wrong,” said Howard, a 6-foot-6 senior. “People see that we’re the No. 8 seed playing the No. 1, but that usually fuels our fire. We’ll go out there and work, because we’re not afraid of competition.”

Providence Day (30-3) won its first N.C. Independent Schools 3A state championship since 1999 last month, and enters the Dick’s Nationals riding a 20-game winning streak.

The Chargers’ three losses were against out-of-state opponents – Oak Hill (Va.) Academy and Mountain Mission of Grundy, Va., to open the season, and to Greenforest Christian of Decatur, Ga., on Dec. 19.

“I want to win the whole thing,” 6-8 senior forward Grant Williams said. “I know we have the potential to, and this is the best chance we have to do it.

“I’m actually pretty confident, because I know these guys will work hard, and no matter who we play, we’ll do pretty well.”

Thursday’s game will feature Providence Day’s toughest opponent this season.

Montverde Academy (25-1) – ranked No. 2 in USA Today’s Super 25 poll – has won the past three Dick’s Nationals titles and made it to the finals five times in the past seven years.

The Eagles enter this year’s tournament riding a 17-game winning streak, with their lone loss coming Dec. 21 against Chino Hills (Calif.).

Like the past championship teams, Montverde Academy’s roster is stacked with talent – 11 Division I prospects in all, led by 6-foot-10 center Micah Potter, an Ohio State signee; 6-2 guard Howard Washington (Butler), and 6-10 center Bruno Fernando, ranked eighth nationally among centers by ESPN.com.

“We love challenges,” said coach Brian Field, whose Chargers finished first in the Observer’s Sweet 16 poll. “(Montverde) is incredibly talented and incredibly well coached. They’ve got that national program name out there, which immediately our guys recognize and get excited for the game.”

Of course, Providence Day – No. 14 in the Super 25 rankings – has its own talent.

The Chargers’ starters are all considered Division I college prospects, led by Williams, who has signed with Tennessee. Howard signed with Brown, and 6-8 forward Isaac Johnson has offers from Winthrop and Appalachian State.

“Obviously, this is the biggest stage we’ve ever played on, and Montverde is right up there with Oak Hill (Academy),” Field said. “But our guys aren’t going up there just for the trip. Our guys are going up there to try to win a game, to try to win the whole thing.”

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