The last time Kevin Boyle and Dakari Johnson were involved in a basketball game in the state of New Jersey, they lost the mythical national championship to coach Bob Hurley and arch-rival St. Anthony in March 2011.
Now, nearly two years later they will make a triumphant return to the Garden State.
Boyle, Johnson and their Montverde (Fla.) Academy teammates are ranked No. 1 in the nation by ESPN after winning the prestigious City of Palms Classic. Their next stop after winning that event will be the Holiday Hoops for Troops event at Roselle (N.J.) Catholic Jan. 2-3.
“I feel good coming back to New Jersey,” the 6-foot-11 Johnson, who is considering Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown, told SNY.tv. “To go back home and see my friends and also my family, they will get to see me play so I am very excited.”
Montverde will face St. Peter’s Prep on Wednesday, and will then meet Syracuse-bound Tyler Roberson and Roselle Catholic on Thursday.
Montverde also features Florida-bound guard Kasey Hill, West Virginia-bound power forward Devin Williams and uncommitted 2014 shooting guard D’Angelo Russell, while RC also has 2015 wing Malachi Richardson, who holds offers from Indiana, Cincinnati and Miami, among others.
“I think Kevin wanted to come back to New Jersey to play this year, and it was a case that we were able to put together the type of event he wanted to be a part of and fit his schedule with Montverde,” RC coach Dave Boff told SNY.tv.
“I am glad [Coach Boyle] set these games,” Johnson said. “One, it added to our already tough schedule, and second, I will get to play in front of my family. They rarely get a chance to watch me play live so it will be very exciting for them as well.”
The Johnson who left New Jersey was more of a role player on the 2011 St. Pat’s team that also featured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Derrick Gordon. The one who returns to Jersey is more of a dominant force. He had 10 points and 11 rebounds en route to MVP honors as Montverde beat Highland (Utah) Lone Peak in the City of Palms championship.
“Dakari is one of the top players in the country and has been for sometime,” Boff said. “I think people will be interested to see his development over the past year.”
Originally a member of the Class of 2014, he has since reclassified to 2013 and trimmed his list to the aforementioned three schools, the same three schools to which current Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel cut his list before picking the Wildcats.
Johnson says he has no visits planned during the high school season.
“So far I’m focusing on the season right now,” Johnson said. “After the season, I will make a decision.”
Johnson has been listing these same three schools for several years now, and all have a strong connection.
Johnson and his family lived in Lexington, Ky., for several years during his middle school years and he has extended family there.
“Of course they have great tradition and they have a great coach in Coach Cal, and great assistants in Coach O (Orlando Antigua) and Kenny Payne,” Johnson said. “I am very familiar with Lexington as I’ve lived there during my middle school years, so I am very familiar with the area.”
Syracuse assistant Adrian Autry has been recruiting Johnson since the player was in middle school, and Syracuse has produced its share of talented big men.
“I watched them ever since I was growing up in New York City,” Johnson said. “It’s a great school, and they have a great coach in Jim Boeheim.”
Georgetown, of course, has a tradition of sending big men to the NBA, from Patrick Ewing to Greg Monroe.
“Obviously, Georgetown is a good big man school and they have been great in developing big men from Ewing to Roy Hibbert and Greg Monroe,” Johnson said. “Coach [John] Thompson is a great coach, and I’d fit pretty well in their system.”