As Calvary Christian knocked off one national power after another on its way to a repeat FHSAA Class 4A state championship, head coach Cilk McSweeney's mind went to one place: GEICO Nationals.
The Eagles would have been a great candidate, having knocked off four Power 25 teams and was a game-winning overtime 3-pointer away from knocking off Montverde Academy, the eventual GEICO champion.
Instead, they will headline a first-of-its-kind tournament put on by GEICO Nationals organizers. The State Champions Invitational, a four-team national tournament for NFHS state champions, runs Thursday through Saturday at Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, Fla. and televised on ESPNU (semifinals) and ESPN2 (finals).
“The reality is I had no choice," McSweeney said. "If I could have made a choice for this year’s team, I would have ended up going to GEICOs because I really thought (we could win it all)."
Consider that a sign of the strength of the field. The Eagles, No. 6 in the SBLive/Sports Illustrated Power 25 national basketball rankings, enter the first-year tournament as the top overall seed. Also in the field are WIAA Class 3A state champion Auburn (Wash.), the 2-seed, GHSA Class 7A state champion Norcross (Ga.), the 3-seed and DCSAA AA state champion Sidwell Friends, the 4-seed.
The four teams invited have already checked off a top goal entering the season. Now, they get to extend their runs in front of a nationally-televised audience.
“Everyone else is getting to enjoy the spring, playing AAU basketball and these guys are still in the gym working hard," Norcross coach Jesse McMillan said. "So we appreciate that.”
Here is the game schedule and a breakdown of each team:
April 7 (ESPNU)
12:30 p.m. PT: No. 4 Sidwell Friends vs. No. 1 Calvary Christian (boys)
2:30 p.m. PT: No. 3 Norcross vs. No. 2 Auburn (boys)
April 8 (ESPNU)
11 a.m. PT: No. 3 Woodward Academy vs. No. 2 Lake Highland Prep (girls)
1 p.m. PT: No. 4 Centennial vs. No. 1 Sidwell Friends (girls)
April 9 (ESPN2)
7 a.m. PT: Girls championship game
9 a.m. PT: Boys championship game
CALVARY CHRISTIAN ACADEMY EAGLES (1-seed)
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Coach: Cilk McSweeney
2021-22 resume: 24-2
SBLive/SI Power 25 ranking: No. 6
THREE TO SEE
Shifty, potent scoring guard is a threat from anywhere. The 6-foot-4 junior de-committed from LSU after it fired coach Will Wade and has picked up offers from Michigan and Georgetown. ESPN’s No. 14 player in the class of 2023, No. 28 per 247 Sports.
Central Florida signee does a little bit of everything, including leading the team in scoring (15 points per game), rebounds (8.1) and blocks (2.9).
Tough-nosed guard with a well-rounded game who prides himself on defensive versatility. Averaging 11.9 points, 3.4 boards, 2.3 assists and 1.9 steals per game. 6-4 junior shooting guard holds offers from LSU, Memphis and Kansas State, among others.
Basing it on talent and resume, Calvary Christian is the clear favorite. The Eagles play a tight six-man rotation and its top six players are all Division I prospects. They have beat nationally ranked teams consistently in addition to winning the FHSAA Class 4A state title. They have Power 25 wins over Greensboro Day (N.C.), North Little Rock (Ark.), Camden (N.J.), Dr. Phillips (Fla.) and nearly beat No. 1 Montverde in overtime, were it not for a game-winning 3 from five-star guard Skyy Clark in overtime.
“I think we do a great job with our guys understanding who we’re guarding, who we’re defending. … We’re a regular high school and all of our guys understand their roles.” —Cilk McSweeney
AUBURN TROJANS (2-seed)
Coach: Ryan Hansen
2021-22 resume: 27-2
SBLive/SI Power 25 ranking: NR
THREE TO SEE
A strong-bodied guard, Arington often guards bigger on the defensive end and runs the point on offense. Averaged 13 points, 4.8 assists and 3.6 steals per game.
Good-sized guard and the statistical leader on a team that has spread out contributions. Averaged a team-high 19.1 points and 6.7 boards per game and utilizes his 6-5 frame on defense.
The 6-foot guard is a Swiss Army knife-type player — a knock-down shooter, capable ball-handler and pest on defense. Averaging 13.3 points, 4.8 boards and 3.2 steals per game.
Auburn often got up or pulled away from so quickly, teams didn’t have time to react. The Trojans are small, but are a tight-knit group with great chemistry and five capable scorers on the floor at any given time. The city of Auburn is just outside of Seattle, and the Trojans went through the vaunted Metro League gauntlet to win its first state title in school history, beating Garfield, Seattle Prep and Rainier Beach in a three-day state tournament stretch. Auburn had to take a tougher road to the state title after it was upset in a regional-round seeding game. Avenged an early-season loss to Garfield — the state’s top two teams all season — in the state quarterfinals in overtime.
“We really want to perform well and represent Washington, the west coast and Have no doubt these kids a long time. One thing I do know is they’re not going to back down, the moment’s not going to be too big for them.” —Ryan Hansen
NORCROSS BLUE DEVILS (3-seed)
Coach: Jesse McMillan
2021-22 resume: 26-6
SBLive/SI Power 25 ranking: NR
THREE TO SEE
The 6-foot-7 forward started the season as more of a face-up big, and has expanded his impact to the low block and led the team in scoring often throughout the postseason. Three-star prospect, No. 17 ranked senior in Georgia has offers from Georgia, East Carolina and Georgia State.
Gifted, athletic facilitator/scorer, Johnson is the No. 3 ranked junior in Georgia per 247 Sports, and and an elite finisher at all three levels. Holds offers from Alabama, North Carolina and USC, among others. Playing for Team World at the Nike Hoop Summit, so he may only be available Saturday if Norcross beats Auburn.
Plays off the ball when Johnson is on the court, but Panoam is a very capable point guard. The 6-foot-3 junior is a bouncy athlete who needs to be accounted for at all times.
The Blue Devils caught fire late in the season. Five of its six regular season losses were by a combined 12 points. By the time postseason arrived, they were more effective finishing games. In its road to the 7A Georgia state title, Norcross beat two teams it lost to previously — Newton in the semifinals and Berkmar, which it lost to three times, in the title. Norcross has won five state titles since 2006, when it won three in a row (2006-2008).
“We knew we had a good team, the biggest thing for us was just to continue to work on defining roles, building up chemistry and developing. There’s some feel for things on offense and on the defensive end … execution-wise late, we kind of flipped the script.” —Jesse McMillan
SIDWELL FRIENDS QUAKERS (4-seed)
Coach: Eric Singletary
2021-22 resume: 29-1
SBLive/SI Power 25 ranking: No. 16
THREE TO SEE
Senior 6-foot guard posted 9.3 points per game in the regular season. Also a standout football player.
The 5-10 junior guard averaged 11.8 points per game in the regular season and was a DCSAA first team all-state selection.
The 6-7 sophomore is the team's leading scorer at 12 points per game already holds an offer from Virginia Tech.
There may not be a hotter team in the field. Sidwell Friends (29-1) won 27 straight games en route to a DCSAA AA state title. The Quakers entered the SBLive/SI Power 25 at No. 17 after beating Wilson (D.C.) 46-45 in the D.C. title game and picking up a key win over then-Power 25 opponent Bishop McNamara (Md.).