Well before the City of Palms Classic got underway this past week in Florida, many had already tabbed Whitney Young (Ill.), led by top senior recruit Jahlil Okafor, and Montverde (Fla.), ranked number one in the nation, as the finalists for Monday’s championship game.
The prediction didn’t sit well with Paul VI, which was also ranked nationally and still had a bitter taste from last year’s tournament appearance when the Panthers lost in the first round.
“Everybody was talking like Whitney Young and Montverde were the only options to make it to the championship game, but we knew what we were capable of,” Paul VI junior Joshua Reaves said. “Going out and winning our first game was for pride and from there, we were on a mission.”
The motivated Panthers rolled through the first three rounds, including a convincing win against Whitney Young, before falling 58-53 to Montverde in Monday’s championship.
Reaves, along with All-Met junior Marcus Derrickson, earned all-tournament team honors after averaging a team-high 22 points over the course of four games. The performance continues a strong start to the season for Reaves, who has transitioned well into a starting spot this year after playing sparse minutes as a freshman and sophomore.
The athletic swingman can use his tremendous leaping ability to attack the rim, improved jump shot on the perimeter and length to disrupt the passing lanes, as he did Saturday against Whitney Young by reeling in a deflection by Evan Taylor to help seal the win in the final seconds.
“I just like to make energy plays to impact the game,” Reaves said. “Coach (Glenn) Farello told me after our second win that he likes how I make winning plays, like the little things that add up in the end. Those things have helped rebuild my confidence as a player.”
Also critical in Saturday’s semifinal win was Quadree Smith. The UNC-Greensboro-bound senior was tasked with guarding the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Okafor, and, as he did this past summer during an AAU matchup, Smith held his own. Though Okafor tallied 21 points and 11 rebounds, Smith’s physical play on both ends helped saddle Okafor with foul trouble during the fourth quarter. The 6-foot-7, 265-pound Smith finished with 13 points and four rebounds.
“Coach told me before the game that I’d be checking [Okafor] but he said it wouldn’t just be me alone,” Smith said. “I got good help from Marcus and Josh and Tyler (Scanlon) and others. He’s a great player and it wasn’t easy but we just wore him down, and I took it as a personal challenge to do all I could to help us win.”
The Panthers weren’t so fortunate in Monday’s championship, which marked a rematch of last year’s Bass Pro Tournament of Champions final, where Paul VI knocked off Montverde on a Kevin Dorsey buzzer beater. On Monday, a slow first quarter doomed the Panthers, who fell behind 26-11 before narrowing the gap in the second half. Humidity in the Bisho Verot High gym forced the game to be relocated just minutes into the opening quarter. The two teams reconvened – with a crowd that dropped from 2,100 to about 1,000 – four miles down the road at Fort Myers High. The game initially tipped off at 9 p.m. Monday and did not conclude until 12:20 a.m. Tuesday.
Though the loss halted their 8-0 start, the contest marked another helpful early test for the Panthers, who have played the Nos. 2 and 3 teams (St. John’s and Montrose Christian) in the Post Top 20 and three other out-of-area opponents (Whitney Young, Wheeler and Montverde) who are or were ranked in the national polls this season.
“I think some people see us as a young team, and for us to be able to get some wins in a tough tournament like the City of Palms is great for us as we mature as a team,” Smith said. “As a senior, this was my last go-around there and of course, I would have liked to go out with a championship. But I wouldn’t trade this experience and playing with these guys for anything.”