Photo courtesy of Nicole Sweet Photos.
By David Cordova
Every year, there is a high school program that rises nationally from out of nowhere. And that team has players that have either transferred in or are home-grown, but what’s important is the team has jelled together and is working towards one common goal: to win a title.
This season, that was the goal of the NSU University School Sharks, and it came to fruition, at least in-state, it did. NSU, which stands for Nova Southeastern University, started its secondary school in 1971, and the campus is located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The school holds an enrollment of 1,890 students on 28 acres of land, which gives them a chance to get acclimated to what it will be like when they go to college.
One of the main things that brings the school attention in the present day, is the school’s basketball team, which recently finished the season at 36-2 on the season, with a No. 2 ranking in the USA Today national poll, and the FHSAA Class 5A state championship.
The Sharks roster consists of players such as 6-foot-10 junior forward Vernon Carey, Jr., who is rated the No. 2 player in the Class of 2019 by ESPN, then there is 6-foot-3 senior guard and West Virginia commit Trey Doomes, 6-foot senior guard and New Mexico commit Drue Drinnon, 6-foot-8 sophomore guard/forward Scottie Barnes, who is rated the No. 5 player in the Class of 2020. The supporting cast are two junior guards in 6-foot-2 Joshua Sanguinetti and 5-foot-10 Xavien Flowers.
A couple of weeks ago, they came out to New York for the GEICO Nationals event at Christ the King and made a huge statement in three big games.
In the first game, they executed their game plan and held Shadow Mountain to 13.3% from three-point range and out rebounded them, 41-28, which all led to the Sharks running away with a 12-point victory, 75-63. Carey had a monster effort with 20 points and seven rebounds & Barnes had a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds.
When asked about being able to participate in a prestigious event such as the GEICO Nationals, Barnes replied, “I think our goal, our standards from the beginning of the season was, we always had high expectations. So, we didn’t feed into none of the other stuff, we just focused on what we needed to do. We came into these tournaments, playing the way we play, playing hard, playing together.”
Coming into the tournament, the U-School may have felt they were underdogs. “People would sleep on us, and we came up, and started beating every other highly-ranked team, and that’s how it started.” said Barnes.
Added head coach Adrian Sosa, “From the coaching staff’s perspective, we knew we had a good team. We’re getting better 1% every day, we always say, ‘stronger together, 1% better every day,’ and their goals early in the season were to make it here, and not just make it here, but win. We tried to focus on the daily grind. Guys like Zavien. That second group in practice, they battle with our first group in practice. Every single day. You have athletes on the team with speed, and there’s days, that second team beats the first team. That’s part of just that daily grind, one percent, 1% better. But we knew going into City of Palms, we weren’t ranked and all that stuff, we were just looking forward to that opportunity to play those teams.”
The next day, they played against a perennial powerhouse in Oak Hill Academy, a team that they played previously on January 15th at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts, in which they lost to them, 83-69. In the rematch, the Sharks dominated the rebounding battle, 32-22, and ended up winning the game by a 15-point margin, 80-65. In this game, Carey scored 29 points and had six rebounds, Barnes added 22 points and six rebounds and Doomes had a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
“Defensively, our effort, attention to detail, over the last month or so, just has been on another level,” said Sosa, “Really taking pride in guarding guys and making them work.”
When asked about beating a powerhouse such as Oak Hill, he replied, “It’s very satisfying. It’s something that we were looking forward to all year. We had an opportunity to play them in January, and it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to. And the way that we played today, having the chance to play them again, was the perfect storm.”
When asked if they felt they had a point to prove after playing Oak Hill for a second time that season, Doomes replied, “I feel like it was more like revenge, they came to get us the first time. We just played with a chip on our shoulder, we played harder [today] and came out with the win.”
The next day, would be Championship Saturday, as the U-School would make it to the finals to face off against another powerhouse from the state of Florida, Montverde Academy, who was also ranked ahead them, as the No. 1 team in the USA Today national poll.
In the first half, both teams kept it very close, as the Eagles would lead the Sharks going into halftime with a nine-point lead, 35-26. Then the second half would, the U-School would struggle and Montverde would take advantage of their inability to score and would runaway with the win, 78-56, and would win their fourth GEICO Nationals title.
For the Sharks, it would prove to be a heartbreaking loss and a cruel end to what was a spectacular season. “We had a great season,” said Sosa. “From unranked to City of Palms, to John Wall [Invitational] champions, to state champions and then coming here and knocking off two powerhouse programs and these guys, they left it all on the floor today.”
On the whole experience at GEICO Nationals, Sosa added: “Being here, first-class event, this is something you don’t take for granted. There’s a good amount of teams that wish they were in our position right now, we definitely enjoyed it. It didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, but as a whole, to the University School community, to these guys, it was a huge success.”
As for the players’ take on it, Drinnon replied, “It feels good. In the beginning of the year, I called it. I said we were going to make it here. I mean, it feels good.”
Despite the loss, the performance of the Sharks this season will bode well for next year, as the only significant contributors that they will be losing will be Doomed and Drinnon, as they are both set to play Division I basketball at their respective colleges. Next season, Carey and Barnes will be the elder statesmen on the Sharks’ squad.
One thing is for certain: a new powerhouse has arrived in the state of Florida. And it resides in Fort Lauderdale. The Sharks of the NSU University School will be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.