On the high school boys basketball scene, Baltimore’s loss is Montverde Academy’s gain.
Poly sophomore forward Kwame Evans Jr., a five-star recruit ranked No. 9 in the Class of 2023 by ESPN, announced he is transferring to the Florida-based national power for the upcoming school year.
The 6-foot-8 small forward earned a starting spot as a freshman last year for the Engineers, who were primed to win a fourth straight Class 3A state title before COVID-19 halted the 2019-20 season the day of the state tournament semifinals.
On a senior laden team led by current Division I players Justin Lewis (Marquette) and Rahim Ali (Howard), Evans averaged 9.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.0 blocked shots per game during his freshman year.
But with Baltimore City public schools canceling the 2020-21 basketball season due to the pandemic, the Engineers haven’t been in their gym since March of last year.
With the uncertainty leading into the upcoming school year — in addition to Maryland public schools being ineligible to participate in two upcoming summer weekend showcases in front of NCAA college coaches — Evans said going to Montverde gives him the best chance to develop as a student-athlete while showcasing and further polishing his basketball skills. He’s set to leave for Florida on Aug. 14 and looks forward to the new challenge.
“It was hard to leave Poly because I always been around it for so long — it was a hard decision — but going down there I think I can develop at a faster rate and school will be the same or even better,” said Evans, who has 21 Division I college offers at this point.
At Montverde Academy, which went 24-1 this season and was ranked No. 1 nationally by MaxPreps, Evans will play a national schedule with several games broadcast on national television.
The Eagles are joining seven other national powerhouses, including Oak Hill Academy (Virginia) and IMG Academy (Florida), to form the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference.
“Unfortunately, this year he didn’t get a chance to play high school ball in Baltimore and it was tough because this was a learning year for him. But we made the best of the situation we could,” said his father, Kwame Evans Sr., who was a star player at George Washington. “Going down to Montverde, it’ll be a great situation for him just playing with and against the elite talent.
“We got to do want we can do and, unfortunately, we had to leave just because his development is most important for him right because he’s so young and we just don’t know where we’re going next year with the pandemic. We know they’re playing down there, so we had to get out of town. He’ll get a lot of exposure, be in the national spotlight down there, so we’re just looking forward to new beginnings and trying to get better.”
While losing one of the country’s brightest prospects is difficult, Poly coach Sam Brand is understanding. But he’s been frustrated by the situation as he watched the Baltimore-area private schools recently complete a season that included the Baltimore Catholic League playoffs.
In addition, Brand has voiced his disappointment that the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association does not permit its student-athletes to be eligible to participate in scholastic live periods.
The out-of-season showcases, created by the NCAA and approved by the National Federation of State High School Associations, consist of tournament or showcases in which high school teams can play in front of college coaches for recruiting purposes.
First established in 2019, this year’s live period showcases will take place around the country on the weekends of June 18-20 and 25-27 with the Maryland event taking place at DeMatha.
“We have not been allowed in our gym for 14 weeks, while the private schools have had an entire season and playoffs. Nobody seems to care at all about that,” Brand said.
“And not only did we not have that, but our state athletic association is keeping us out of the NCAA live period events, which would have been the first time our student-athletes can participate and play in front of college coaches for the first time in 14 months. Our public schools are not able to participate, but the private schools are. It’s unreal that it doesn’t matter to people.”
The MPSSAA did not immediately reply to a request for comment.