The Raiders made the call Friday at a team meeting to decline the invitation to play at the tournament at the end of the month in New York City.
Nathan Hale held a team meeting Friday where it was finalized that the Class 3A boys state basketball champions will not play in the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School Nationals tournament later this month.
“We appreciate the invite,” said first-year coach Brandon Roy after a school assembly to celebrate the state title. “A lot of people made a lot of it this season and we didn’t. We were just focused on winning the state championship. But I don’t want the kids to get knocked for a decision we’re making now. It just wouldn’t come together this year, but hopefully in the future, it’s maybe something we will be able to do.”
Part of the reason is senior Michael Porter Jr. being unable to practice due to the McDonald’s All-American game March 29 in Chicago. The Dick’s tournament is March 30 through April 1 in New York City.
Porter, a 6-foot-9 forward committed to play at the University of Washington, is also participating in the Nike Hoop Summit on April 7 in Portland and the Jordan Brand Classic on April 14 in Brooklyn.
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“There were a number of reasons why and that’s part of it,” Roy said. “It wouldn’t be fair to have him gone the whole week and then have to fly in and play that day. I don’t think that’s a true sign of a national champion, even if some other teams may be doing it.”
Despite the schedule, Porter and his teammates wanted to play in the national tournament. They told the coaching staff their vote Sunday, the day after winning the school’s first state basketball title.
“A lot of us wanted to go because Tre’Var (Holland) and Keegan (Crosby) are seniors and we feel like they didn’t get the recognition they deserve from colleges, so it would be another opportunity for them,” Porter said. “But we don’t have anything to prove. I feel we’re the best team in the country.”
A national title wasn’t discussed when Nathan Hale began the season, even knowing it had the top recruit in the country. Washington Interscholastic Activities Association rules prohibited teams from participating in national events.
Roy said as more national polls began to rank Nathan Hale as the No. 1 team in the country, the school district petitioned the WIAA for an exemption. The governing body opened the door for teams to play in national events at its executive board meeting Jan. 29-30.
Nathan Hale (29-0) played a challenging schedule and won the title at every tournament it participated in this season. At the assembly Friday, the Raiders laid out all of the hardware — the Metro League championship, SeaKing District title, the Class 3A state title and the Les Schwab Invitational championship.
The team also played in the Hoophall Classic in Massachusetts in January where it defeated touted Oak Hill Academy (Virginia) on ESPN.
“We feel like we’re the best team in the country,” Roy said. “Even if we would have been able to win Dick’s, we couldn’t say we proved that to every team because California (champions) can’t go. There would still be a lot of unknowns out there even if we went.”
Hale sits at No. 1 in the country in seven national polls. Those polls will crown a national champion following the Dick’s tournament in early April. Even without going to the tournament, Hale has a strong chance at remaining No. 1.
Officials with Paragon Marketing, which assembles the teams for the tournament, were not pleased when the decision was finalized Friday. But last year, Chino Hills went undefeated and topped numerous national polls but was unable to play because California Interscholastic Federation rules forbid participation.
“We respect (Nathan Hale’s) decision, but it’s the first time a team was eligible to play, with a McDonald’s All-American, that has declined the opportunity to play,” a Paragon Marketing spokesperson told USA Today. “We’ll have five other McDonald’s All-Americans there. While it’s disappointing, we have six teams in the top 10 (of the USA Today Super 25) all ready to play and a number of other teams in the top 25 that are calling us, wanting a shot to play.
“The tournament is bigger than any one player or any one team.”