Arkansas signee Bobby Portis leads Hall High against nation’s top team tonight

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By most metrics, Little Rock Hall High and Montverde Academy in central Florida are worlds apart. Hall, a public school, has a nice basketball arena but not much else in way of athletic facilities. It uses nearby Forest Heights Middle School’s football field and track because it doesn’t have its own.

Private Montverde Academy has an equestion center that includes 38 stall barns, 3 all-weather riding arenas. 7 day turn-out paddocks and a storage born. For two-legged sports, it rocks a new  athletic complex that includes tennis courts, a golf practice area, track and baseball, football, soccer and softball fields.

Hall’s students go home after school. The older students at Montverde – self-described as a “A Coeducational Independent College Preparatory Boarding (7-12) and Day School (PK3-12) – do not.

But tonight Hall and Monteverde will inhabit the same universe or, rather, the same court on the campus of Missouri State University.

Hall High’s mens basketball team play Montverde, ranked #1 in the nation by and ESPN, at 9:30 p.m. in the first round of the Bass Pro Shops Tournament of Champions in Springfield, Mo. Hall is a perennial power in Arkansas, having won three consecutive state titles, but Montverde may be the most talented team the program has ever faced in the last decade.

Bobby Portis, Hall High Warriors

Bobby Portis, Hall High. Photo by Tom Hardin

It boasts six Division I recruits, including Florida signee Kasey Hill, a 6-0 point guard, and Kentucky commit Dakari Johnson, a 6-10 center. Montverde’s coach has won three national coach of the year honors. While Montverde has already crushed several elite opponents from around the nation on its way to a 17-0 start, Hall (10-3)  has had a much tougher go of it.

Hall has looked vulnerable in losses to North Little Rock along with Memphis schools White Station and Southwind. Indeed, to those who put much stock in the transitive property, the Warriors’ fate seems already sealed: this season Southwind beat Hall 47-45 in late November, Southwind lost to Simeon (Chicago) 55-53 and Simeon lost to Montverde 82-53.

Don’t expect Hall head coach Jon Coleman to be all doom and gloom, though. He and his players firmly belives Hall stands a chance. “When Hall was notified of its first round opponenent a couple weeks ago, “there definitely wasn’t any apprehension or anything” from the players, Coleman said.

The key, as Coleman sees it, is slowing the game down in a way that Simeon couldn’t when it played Montverde on ESPN. “We’re not gonna make it just a fast paced up and down game,” he said. “We’re under the impression that they’re not gonna be able to speed it up to where we’re gonna have to play at a frantic pace.” He added:  “We want to make sure we stay patient, take our time, take what’s given.”

For Hall to keep it close, a couple things much happen. First, its best player, Arkansas signee Bobby Portis, must stay out of foul trouble while keeping Hall from being pummelled inside by a frontline that includes five players 6-6 and above. “Bobby’s a competitor,” Coleman says. “He’s really excited about the challenge” of going up against a center who he’ll play next season in the SEC. The 6-10 Portis averages 18.9 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 4.6 bpg and 1.8 spg this season.

The Warrior guards also must neutralize Kasey Hill as best they can – not an easy task. Montverde coach Kevin Boyle, who coached the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving at a previous stint, said Hill “is as athletic as any guards I have had. He can be among the best.”

Gregg Easter, Hall High Warriors

Gregg Easter, Hall High. Photo by Tom Harden


Expect Hall guards Gregg Easter (8.2 ppg, 1.4 apg) and Javon Perry (9.6 ppg, 4.8 apg, 1.8 spg) to log heavy mintues tonight. “I think we match up well as far as our starting five,” Coleman says. “But when you talk about over the course of a game – well, you know how you can get into foul trouble and fatigue. Those are the kind of things that concern us.”

No matter what happens tonight, Hall will play three games – it’ll also play on Friday and Saturday – and will likely stay in Missouri until Sunday morning. Coleman said the tournament director has planned that his team tomorrow visit a local hospital to visit with children with Down Syndome.

An interesting sidenote concerns Montverde’s Dakari Johnson, who started the season as a junior but has since gotten permission to reclassify as a senior. He became the nation’s fourth elite high school player to make such a move this season, and he strengthens a Kentucky signing class many pundits believe will end up as the consensus best  in college history.

Coleman believes this is a trend that will continue. One reason: certain elite high school juniors believe they will be in a better position to make a leap to the pros as a one-and-done two years from now as opposed to three years from now. The timing depends on the strength of certain players who play at that player’s position in a partcular class of projected draftees two, three years down the line.  “I think if the player and his family looks into the situation, and it looks like the situation is gonna benefit them eduationally and financially then I think certainly we’ll see” more players go this route, Coleman says.

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