When you reach a certain level of success in high school boys basketball, scheduling becomes mighty difficult.
Many local teams just won’t play you, afraid of a 40-point blowout that would dampen morale of players and fans.
But there are only so many outstanding teams out there that are within driving distance, so to get the best competition, you have to travel a bit.
The Long Island Lutheran High School elite team has put more miles on its players this season than a cross-country Greyhound bus, but it’s because the Crusaders are very in demand and want to play the best.
Boasting perhaps its best roster ever, complete with at least eight future Division I players, Lutheran has been to the Bahamas, New Jersey, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Florida (twice), Indiana, and Maryland already this season.
The Crusaders (16-3, through games of Feb. 11) have excelled during this cross-country voyage, currently ranked No. 4 in the ESPN high school rankings and No. 8 in the USA Today poll.
“This is certainly the hardest schedule we’ve ever played, no doubt,” said LuHi coach John Buck. “It is a little intentional, as we want to give our kids a chance to play at a high level. But also, when you’re invited the City of Palms (tournament in Florida), you’re invited to the Bahamas, places like that, you want to say yes.”
For the Brookville school, this season was always going to be an exciting one, based on the talent it had returning: The only senior on the squad is guard V.J. Edgecombe, who was recruited heavily by Duke and Kentucky but ultimately chose Baylor University. Edgecombe, averaging 17.9 points per game to go along with five rebounds per game, is a dynamic 6-foot-5 slasher originally from the Bahamas, and his leadership this season has been crucial, Buck said.
“V.J. has been great, really strong in close games we’ve played and has handled all the (recruiting) hype really well,” Buck said.
Other top standouts for the Crusaders are the Mingo brothers, Kayden (a junior) and Dylan (a sophomore), both of whom are being heavily recruited by Division I schools, and Kiyan Anthony, a junior whose father is Carmelo Anthony, the legendary former NBA star for the Knicks and Nuggets, among others.
“Kayden has had a great year for us; he’s physical, talented and relentless in his work ethic,” Buck said. “He makes no excuses; I can’t ever remember telling him something and him responding ‘yeah, but …’ He’s been great.”
Buck said he also has been pleased by Anthony, and has had a great relationship with his famous father.
“Kiyan has had some games where he’s exploded, and he’s become a really holistic player,” Buck said. “And with Carmelo, he’s been great. We have some mutual acquaintances like (NBA guard) Chris Paul, and sometimes I’m talking to him and in your head you’re thinking ‘Wow, this guy is a Top 10 scorer of all-time.’”
With so much travel during the season, one imagines it would be very hard for the high school students to stay on top of their homework and classwork (LuHi players were not made available to be interviewed for this story despite multiple requests).
Buck said he and his staff are always working to make time for the players to get their work done.
“When people express they want to come to LuHi, we make sure they understand this is a legit school, and you’re going to be held to a higher standard,” Buck said. “We have study halls on the road, sometimes we’ll be in the breakfast area of the hotel, and the kids will be on their books.
“When we come home from trips I structure it so they have time and space to go to extra help sessions and whatever they need from the teachers.”
On Feb. 16 LuHi will be part of a new event held at Hofstra called the Bob McKillop Invitational, where six top teams from across the country will play over two days of games.
The marquee matchup will be Feb. 16 at 8 p.m., where the Crusaders will again get to face the No.1 high school team in the nation, Montverde Academy out of Florida.
Montverde, featuring No.1 prep recruit Cooper Flagg (committed to Duke University), defeated LuHi earlier in the season, but now the Crusaders get them at home.
Tickets for the tournament can be found at this link (Friday tickets are currently sold out, but more may go on sale, according to the tournament website). The ticket site address is: https://admitone.com/events/bob-mckillop-invitational-hempstead-9378067
“It’s going to be amazing, and a great thing for local basketball fans,” Buck said. “There will be no shortage of future pros out there.”