Cade Cunningham is among the high-profile attendees of Florida's Montverde Academy
Cade Cunnigham’s alma mater, Montverde Academy, is co-founding the NIBC. (Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
STUDENT ATHLETES

Powerhouse High School Basketball Programs Just Formed a Super League

The first-of-its-kind National Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC) is coming this fall.

European soccer’s Super League may have crumbled almost as quickly as it was announced, but there is a new kind of super league coming to our side of the pond very, very soon.

Perhaps inspired by college football’s recent tradition of gerrymandering powerhouse conferences, the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC) is arriving this fall to shake up the high school basketball world.

Eight dominant high school basketball programs from across the country will serve as charter members of the NIBC: IMG Academy (Florida), Oak Hill Academy (Virginia), Montverde (Florida), La Lumiere School (Indiana), Wasatch Academy (Utah), Sunrise Christian Academy (Kansas), and two schools yet to be announced.

Combined, these six teams have won the past eight high school national championships in boys’ basketball, with Montverde taking home five titles.

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Montverde Academy Head of School Kasey Kesselring will be the chair of the Board of Governors and Rashid Ghazi, Partner at Paragon Marketing Group, will serve as commissioner of the league. The inaugural campaign includes a 10-game regular season and a postseason.

And while the journey has barely begun, the fledgling league is already planning to expand.

All told, NIBC schools have churned out some of the greatest stars of both the college and professional game. There are currently 24 of their alums in the NBA, and the 2021 edition of March Madness featured 44 players from NIBC schools.

Cade Cunningham, the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, is a graduate of Montverde, as are NBA standouts Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell, and RJ Barrett.

Inspiration to form the NIBC began last year during the height of the pandemic. Some of the elite schools partnered up to play, giving the high school stars an outlet to play in one of the most devastating years in history. The NIBC Invitational, held in January, developed from those talks.

“With games being canceled last season due to COVID, the NIBC schools created a series of contests among themselves and brought us in to help manage the events, secure sponsorship revenue, and place the games on the ESPN networks,” Rashid Ghazi told the Worldwide Leader. “During the course of the season, the schools realized the power of building their brands together and we worked with them over the past several months to put a formal conference together. We believe the tradition and history of the six schools combined with the expertise of Paragon creates a winning formula that will make the NIBC truly unique in the world of high school sports.”

Notably, the NIBC is not meant to compete with the G League Ignite program or the upcoming Overtime Elite league, both of which provide a paid, alternative path toward the NBA. Rather, it is a fully amateur, fully scholastic complement to thouse leagues, allowing elite high school talent to continue to keep their options open with regards to playing in college one day.

“For student-athletes who want to remain in high school and keep their options open for college or the G League post-graduation, the NIBC represents a tremendous platform that combines elite-level basketball with excellent academics in a real campus setting. These six schools have outstanding histories and helped develop countless young men to achieve their dreams of excelling in both college and professional basketball,” Ghazi said.

Kesselring echoed these sentiments. He told ESPN, “The impetus for it really started with, how do we try and compete and have meaningful competition in a pandemic? That was really the birth of the idea.”

As the first league of its kind, the NIBC figures to serve as an asset to college coaches and pro scouts. The high school super league will book games purpose-built for national television, putting elite talent on display more consistently than before. For scouts, it will be easier to evaluate players by having more high-level prospects in one place, with the added bonus of a heightened atmosphere for fans.

“The games will be intense because of the talent level, the national platform, as well as the scouting and preparation that goes into each game,” Sunrise Christian coach Luke Barnwell said. “The standings keep everything competitive and having a postseason championship will make it even more competitive. The NIBC will help every player have a chance at playing at the next level. There is no choice but to be ready to compete because we are playing each other multiple times with something at stake.”

As the options available to these players after high school continue to diversify beyond the NCAA, it’s only natural that the high school ranks are adjusting accordingly. By this time next year, don’t be surprised if the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference is a lot bigger than just eight teams — or if competing leagues emerge hoping to do things even bigger.

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