The rigorous travel and ambitious schedule that Montverde (Fla.) Prep plays as one of the nation's elite high school basketball programs is what attracted D'Angelo Russell to the school three years ago. But four games in four days, including one with a turnaround of less than 24 hours? Must be physically exhausting, right?
Not to Russell. "It's all mental. I can't even remember when I last came out of a game," Russell said after playing all 32 minutes and scoring 16 points with 11 rebounds, four assists and four steals as Montverde won its second consecutive national title by defeating Oak Hill Academy, 71-62, Saturday in the championship game at Madison Square Garden.
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What a week it's been for Russell, a 6-4 senior swingman headed to Ohio State and considered one of the top high school players in the country. He scored 11 points in 15 minutes in Wednesday night's All-American game in Chicago. Then after getting up before dawn to fly to New York, Russell scored 11 points in 21 minutes as Montverde Prep walloped Weston (Fla.) Sagemont, 81-63, on Thursday afternoon.
On Friday, he played 31 of 32 minutes as the Eagles held off Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, 56-51. Russell won't have this kind of a pace in the Big Ten next year, or even in the NBA, should he make what many consider an inevitable jump to the pro game. "I try to send a message to the younger players: Push yourself every day in practice and you don't get tired," said Russell, a key to Montverde's fast start Saturday.
He scored 13 points in the first half as the Eagles built a 42-25 lead. With tournament MVP, LSU-bound junior forward Ben Simmons, dominating inside (24 points, 12 rebounds) and Justin Bibbs (17 points) scoring in transition, Montverde (28-0, ranked No. 1 in the country) built a 53-28 lead.
It soon eroded. "This is Oak Hill Academy. We don't go down without a fight," said Warriors point guard Terrence Phillips, who scored 15 points. Oak Hill (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) opened the fourth quarter on a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to 59-52, thrilling the crowd of 3,142 at an event that will return to the Garden next year.
But Chris Egi ended the Warriors' run with a huge tip-in and later scored on a tricky reverse followed by Simmons' putback that put Montverde back in control at 67-55 with 1:13 left.
"Simmons is an absolute beast," Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said. "And Russell is so steady. As good as he is, he's unselfish. It's hard to find a better high school player in the country than D'Angelo."
As a reward for helping his team to back-to-back national titles, Russell got to wear a game-worn net around his neck to the media session. Did he have enough energy left to climb a ladder and cut down the net himself? "No," he conceded with a laugh. "A teammate got it for me."