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Six of the biggest high school basketball powerhouses are forming an elite national league set to begin in the 2021-22 season.
The National Interscholastic Basketball Conference will feature traditional powers including Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy, Florida’s Montverde Academy and IMG Academy, Indiana’s La Lumiere School, Kansas’ Sunrise Christian Academy and Utah’s Wasatch Academy, along with two other schools yet to be announced, ESPN reports.
The eight teams will play a 10-game regular season, play in special NIBC events, hold a postseason tournament, and potentially include plans to expand the league in coming years.
Rashid Ghazi, partner at Paragon Marketing Group, will serve as commissioner of the league with Montverde Academy headmaster Kasey Kesselring serving as the chair of the board of governors.
“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,” Ghazi said, per ESPN. “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.”
Ghazi said they believe the tradition and history of the six schools, combined with the expertise of his marketing group, creates a winning formula that will make the NIBC unique in the world of high school sports.
“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,” he said.
Conversations began during the pandemic when the schools needed to find competitive games for their programs, which led to the NIBC Invitational. The invitational took place in early January in the Washington area, and after seeing the success of that one-off event, the schools explored ways to continue it next season, ESPN reports.
“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,” Kesselring said. “Why wouldn’t we continue this? … Why not keep it going? We decided that moving forward, it would be very difficult to maintain that momentum by coordinating it ourselves. So we reached out to Paragon, who we all know from participating in the Geico Nationals, and started having some conversations with them to gauge their interest. That’s kind of what led us to this point of having the schools on board to create this league and sustain it.”
In the first of its kind in terms of a national high school league, ESPN reports the NIBC should also benefit college coaches and NBA scouts because it will showcase some of the country’s top prospects consistently playing head-to-head on a national stage.
“The NIBC is a great thing for the players and schools involved,” longtime Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said. “The best players compete against the best players, teams play the best teams nationally, and I love coaching against the best coaches in the nation. It’s a win-win for every school in the NIBC.”
The league’s six teams have combined to win the past eight national championships, with Montverde winning five times. ESPN reports the 2021 NCAA tournament featured 44 players from NIBC member schools, while 24 alums currently play in the NBA.
Cade Cunningham, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA draft, played at Montverde before heading to Oklahoma State. Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft and point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers, and RJ Barrett, New York Knicks’ third overall pick in the 2019 draft, both went to Montverde.
ESPN reports four top-10 rising seniors currently attend member schools, led by No. 2 prospect Jalen Duren of Montverde.
“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, per ESPN. “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.”