Some have called Montverde Academy the most talented high school basketball team of all time and have dubbed their top player a generational talent.

A WPIAL team will be able to offer its two cents on those assessments after it gets a first-hand look at Cooper Flagg and the Eagles on Thursday.

Imani Christian, the defending WPIAL and PIAA Class 1A champion, will face Florida heavyweight Montverde Academy (19-0), the nation’s No. 1-ranked team, in its opening game of the Montverde Academy Invitational Tournament (MAIT). Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game, along with all others in the three-day tournament, will be broadcast live on the NBA App.

“How could you not be looking forward to this?” Imani Christian coach Khayree Wilson questioned after his team arrived in Orlando on Wednesday night. “This is one of the top priorities this season to be in something like this and to get the kids the exposure. It’s going to be a fun experience.”

As a perennial national power (it’s won a record six GEICO national titles), Montverde always boasts a stacked roster, but that is especially true this season as the Eagles feature three seniors — Flagg, a 6-9 forward; 6-8 guard Liam McNeeley; and 6-10 forward Derik Queen — who this week were selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game, and a total of five who are ranked by Rivals as being among the top 25 players in the country. Flagg is No. 1, McNeely 13, Queen 15, 6-9 guard Asa Newell 16 and 5-11 guard Robert Wright III 24. All five are five-star prospects.

“It’s a spectacular team,” said Wilson, who doesn’t have a player taller than 6-5. “They play hard, are well-coached and are going to be very disciplined. But at the end of the day, they’re 16- and 17-year-olds. Kids are going to make mistakes. We can’t get caught up in the numbers. We just have to play. As long as we come out confident, I think we can play with anybody in the country.”

Flagg is the headliner. A Duke recruit, Flagg is widely considered to be a shoe-in to be the No. 1 pick in the 2025 NBA Draft. After dominating on the AAU circuit in the Nike EYBL last summer, the Maine native has produced an outstanding senior season that has him averaging 16.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots per game, all of which are team highs. His brother, Ace, is a 6-6 junior with Division I offers.

“You can’t let him pull out all the tools. You have to pick your poison, and that’s the plan we’re going to have,” Wilson said. “When you face a great player like that who has the potential to be a lottery pick, it’s really hard. You just have to try to frustrate him and keep him as one-dimensional as you can. We just want to slow him down.”

McNeeley signed with Indiana, Newell with Georgia, and Wright (he previously played at Philadelphia power Neumann-Goretti) with Baylor. Another senior, 6-3 guard Curtis Givens III, signed with LSU. Queen is undecided, but his list of top schools includes Kansas and Indiana. 

After going 23-6 a season ago, Imani is just 6-7 this season, but don’t let that record fool you — the Saints are again very talented and favored to repeat as state champions, even after all-state picks Alier Maluk and Dame Givner transferred out following last season. They have been led by senior guards Nate Brazil and Avery Wesley and junior guard RJ Sledge.

RJ Sledge is a junior guard at Imani Christian who hopes to lead his team to a major upset Thursday against Montverde Academy, the nation’s No. 1-ranked team. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Imani, which will move up to Class 6A next season, has played only five games (all section contests) against WPIAL teams, and has won them all by an average of 42 points. But in non-section games the Saints are just 1-7. That has to do with an extremely challenging schedule that has already seen the Saints play top teams from Ohio, Georgia, South Carolina, Washington, D.C., and Ohio. They have also played Neumann-Goretti twice. And Imani has been competitive in the majority of those games. Against Grayson, Ga., then ranked No. 3 in the country, Imani trailed by only four points after three quarters before falling, 86-69.

Wilson, who is in his first season as Imani’s head coach after previously serving as an assistant there, said his team’s appearance in this tournament is another step in the Saints becoming a “national program.” Other teams playing in the MAIT include Prolific Prep, Calif., Brewster Academy, N.H., Calvary Christian, Fla., Oak Ridge, Fla., Riviera Prep, Fla. and The Rock School, Fla.

“This is how we take those steps, just being able to come to a place like this,” said Wilson, who spent seven seasons as the coach of First Love. “People see who we are and what we’re doing, and it gives us a place on the national scene.”

This isn’t the first time a WPIAL team has faced the nation’s top-ranked team. Thirty-three years ago, Dante Calabria and Blackhawk took on No. 1 Dunbar High School of Baltimore in the Cambria War Memorial Tournament in Johnstown. Playing in its season opener, Blackhawk was within four points of mighty Dunbar early in the fourth quarter before eventually losing, 92-71. It turned out to be the only loss of the season for the Cougars, who went on to win WPIAL and PIAA titles.

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at