Geico Nationals high school basketball tournament tips Fort Myers
A national high school championship basketball tournament that has been held for three years in New York’s Madison Square Garden has now called Southwest Florida home.
The Geico Nationals will have an eight-team men’s tournament and a five-team women’s tournament. Games will be played Thursday through Saturday at Suncoast Credit Union Arena at Florida SouthWestern State College with tickets on sale for $10 at geicohoops.com. The girls’ championship match begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by the boys’ title match at noon.
ESPN channels will broadcast the entire tournament, but Paragon Sports chairman Rashid Ghazi is also hoping to have fans in the stands after hosting the tournament last year without them due to the COVID-19 pandemic. .
The tournament began in 2009 at Georgetown Prep in Washington, DC when it was known as the National High School Invitational. Dick’s Sporting Goods became title sponsor and the event moved to Madison Square Garden in 2014 before moving to Christ the King High School in 2019.
“At the end of the day, COVID was a lot worse than any of us expected it to be,” Ghazi said of the canceled 2020 tournament, which would have taken place in South Carolina. “So we canceled the event because COVID was so fluid and fast. We realized we couldn’t hold it safely anywhere in the country.
“We decided to look for a new home in 2021. With COVID still in flux and New York under many restrictions, we wanted to move it to Florida or Georgia. We looked at Atlanta and various sites in Florida. Because FSW was already hosting the City of Palms Classic basketball tournament, a premier high school event nationwide, in mid-December, it was easy to pick the same venue.
IMG Academy in Bradenton, Oak Hill Academy in Mouth-of-Wilson, Virginia, and Montverde Academy near Orlando all played FSW in the 2021 City of Palms Classic.
“There are several reasons for that,” Ghazi said of FSW’s choice. “We thought the venue was big. The place was available. We love the connections with City of Palms. This venue is well used to high end basketball. We knew there would be strong recognition with IMG, Montverde and Oak Hill, as they have all played in the City of Palms before. And Fort Myers is a beautiful place.
“We always want to host it where the destination is a place where people can go. For children, for customers and for schools. Fort Myers is a beautiful place with beautiful beaches.
Paragon Sports also secured hotel rooms for visiting teams a year ago, when bookings were much cheaper than they are now, during the height of the tourist season. “A year ago it wasn’t so much typical tourist season because of COVID,” Ghazi said. “We were able to lock down hotels for 2021 because people were still not travelling. We locked ourselves in hotels months ago. If you look now, there is a shortage of rooms in the neighborhood. But we had planned well in advance. We enjoyed the place so much. FSW rolled out the red carpet for us.
The national tournament could continue and evolve into a Fort Myers game, he said, depending on how this year goes, but “for now, our plan would be to come back.”