Looking to definitively pronounce the best high school team in the country the nation’s eight best squads gathered in New York for the GEICO Nationals to chase the crown. The Gators were lucky to have 2 committed players represented at the event with Andrew Nembhard running with Montverde Academy and Keyontae Johnson at Oak Hill Academy. Here is a recap of how both players performed and how the skill sets they demonstrated can help the Gators next season and beyond.
Oak Hill Academy
6’5” 190 Pounds
247 Composite National Rank: #80
A fast-rising player amongst national recruiting rankings Keyontae Johnson has put his name on the map as a do-it-all player with ridiculous athleticism and a toughness that should help him transition seamlessly to the college game. Here are his stat lines from the two games he played:
Oak Hill Academy 75-Garfield 53
19 Points, 9 Rebounds, 6 Assists, 8 Steals
(Named Player of the Game)
Oak Hill Academy 65-University School 80
13 Points, 5 Rebounds, 2 Steals
Though his team got eliminated by the lower seeded University School in the semi-finals, the two games he played in were enough to showcase his full box of tools. The first thing you notice watching him play is that he is already physically developed and has the strength and athleticism to be an above-average athlete at the high-major college level right now. Most impressively, he isn’t just a guy that will wow people with warm-up dunks or flushes on uncontested breakaways but a player who I would say is very functionally athletic and aware of how he can practically use his athleticism during in-game situations. Against Garfield he regularly knifed his way towards the hoop using his quick burst to get a step on his defender and his wide shoulders to shield the ball before elevating in the air, hanging, and hitting an easy floater. He is also great at cutting towards the hoop when off the ball and should be the beneficiary of a lot of backdoor passes for dunks within Mike White’s system. His defensive presence was also front and center all weekend long, particularly against Garfield where he gathered an absurd 8 steals. With his length, foot speed, and defensive anticipation, he is an excellent defender in transition (an area the Gators struggled in last year) and a player that can easily guard the other team’s best perimeter player. Though he plays with Kentucky commit Keldon Johnson who gets most of the attention, Keyontae unquestionably had a better tournament and from what I have seen throughout the year could definitely be a more impactful college player than the 13th nationally ranked Keldon.
Projected Impact For The Gators
While I don’t want to put too many expectations on him right away, I can’t ignore the fact that he looks like he can plug a lot of the holes the team had last season. Last year’s team lacked toughness, and Johnson always competes like it could be his last game ever. Last year’s team struggled to defend on the perimeter, and that is one of Johnson’s biggest strengths. Last year’s team couldn’t score inside or off drives, those are the areas he thrives in. A big, physical wing was missing from the team last year and Johnson will have every opportunity to fill that void right away and make an impact. I fully expect him to push Deaundrae Ballard for minutes at the wing spot and if I’m being honest, I think there is a chance Johnson quickly usurps him in the depth chart. Competition for minutes is a good thing and with Ballard and Johnson possessing similar size and skill sets it will be interesting to see who commands minutes from Coach White.
Things To Improve
Shooting would not be considered one of Johnson’s strengths and I’m sure it’s a skill he’ll be looking to develop before he gets to Gainesville. His jump shot is relatively smooth looking and definitely isn’t broken but it would be the biggest thing currently missing from his game.
6’4” 185 Pounds
247 Composite National Rank: #26
Starting at point guard for the team that came into the Geico Nationals ranked #1 and came out winning at all, Andrew Nembhard is a player that knows how to win and knows how to play alongside some of the best high school players in the world. Sharing the backcourt with #1 ranked player in the country RJ Barrett and starting alongside other stars like Balsa Koprivica, Filip Petrusev, and Michael Devoe, he is tasked with orchestrating the best offense in high school basketball and he does it with poise and grace. Noted as one of the best passers in his class, he backed that reputation up with a fluid movement of the ball that I didn’t see from anyone else at the tournament. Getting to play three games as they made it to the championship game (and won), here were his stat lines:
Montverde Academy 87-Lone Peak 82
16 Points, 7 Assists, 6 Rebounds, 4 Turnovers
Montverde Academy 71-Findlay Prep 53
8 Points, 8 Assists, 4 Rebounds, 4 Turnovers
Montverde Academy 76-University School 58
8 Points, 13 Assists, 0 Turnovers
When you look at his stats it’s immediately apparent that he is an elite passer. Putting up those assist numbers in a 32-minute basketball game (they play four 8-minute quarters) isn’t easy and the 3.5 assist-to-turnover ratio is a number Coach White is going to drool over. His passing ability doesn’t just show up in the assist category as his quick pivot-like ball movement at the point kept the ball swinging side to side at a speed the defense couldn’t adjust to quick enough, opening up driving lanes for his teammates. If you had to boil down Nembhard’s game to a single sentence, it would be that he is a selfless player who does everything to help his team win even if it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. Standing at 6’4” at the guard spot with solid quickness and athleticism, he dominated the point of attack defensively throughout the tournament and showed that he will likely be a plus defender at the college level. He also uses his size and nose for the ball to rebound defensively and that helped his team get into the fast break quickly and kept the tempo of the game high.
Projected Impact For The Gators
He should be a primary facilitator for the Gators immediately. The coaching staff will give him every opportunity to earn a starting spot, and I think it’s a role he’ll be able to step into with his college-ready size and the basketball IQ of a senior. Florida’s offense last year relied heavily on Chris Chiozza’s ability to get the team into sets and distribute the ball and Nembhard should be able to replenish a lot of that passing ability immediately. Another advantage of Nembhard’s length is that he can create a lot of passing angles smaller guards couldn’t and I expect him to use that ability particularly when throwing skip passes across the court or dumping the ball down low. He has won at every level he has played at and that mindset of excellence paired with his selflessness should make for excellent leadership on the floor and in the locker room. The Gators got a good one and I fully expect him to play a huge role this upcoming season.
Things To Improve
Much like Keyontae Johnson, Nembhard needs to work on his jump shot. He hasn’t taken many of them in his high school career and his stroke lacks refinement. This is one area I could see him struggling with next year and though he hasn’t been a bad free throw shooter in his high school career his inconsistent stroke doesn’t aspire a lot of confidence in me if he were to step up for some big free throws at a key moment in a game. Intelligent in every other aspect of the game, I can’t see shooting always being a struggle for him but when he steps on campus in Gainesville I think he will be a below-average shooter and that will be something for him to work on. Though both Nembhard and Johnson are below average shooters, we know the Gators other 2018 commit Noah Locke is one of the best 3-point shooters in the class and should make up for some of these two guys’ deficiencies until they develop a reliable stroke.
The Gators have stayed involved with University School’s Scottie Barnes, a 6’7 combo forward from Fort Lauderdale who is the #7 ranked player in the 2020 class. Getting to see him play was an absolute treat and he clearly has the skills and physical attributes to be a star. He got to play against both Keyontae Johnson and Andrew Nembhard and hopefully saw some players he’d like to play with in the future. Florida is considered to be well in the mix to land him so this is a name to keep an eye on throughout the recruiting season.