Dick’s Nationals Expansion? Not Yet

Dick's Nationals

Dick’s Nationals has been through a lot of changes in the past several years. It changed its name from National High School Invitational, moved its location from Maryland to New York in 2014, welcomed new state associations (Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Utah, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Maryland), and saw elite prep schools become eligible for the tournament (Huntington Prep and Advanced Prep).

Now, it seems logical that the next move for the Dick’s Nationals tournament would be expanding to 16 teams for the men and 8 teams for the women. Every game is already broadcasted across ESPN’s family of networks, and with more and more attention being brought to the tournament every year, it begs the question: why not expand the field to 16 teams?

Rashid Ghazi, executive director of the tournament, believes Dick’s Nationals is better than ever and does not need expansion. “We have a unique, significant place in high school basketball now. Teams from across the country want to play in this event and want to win,” Ghazi said. “Every year, you can see the passion these teams play with. For example, La Lumiere had their first Dick’s Nationals win this year. The excitement of that one win was incredible.” He certainly knew how to capture the passion in an image as he talked about then-senior Nigel Williams-Goss collapsing on the court after Findlay Prep’s loss to St. Benedict’s in 2013, a memory that will never be forgotten.

“I think the one thing about the tournament, it’s a standalone property regardless if a national champion will be crowned at the event. I believe six out of the eight years, the event has determined the country’s number one team, but even when it doesn’t, the meaning of the event doesn’t change for these teams.” When asked about expanding the field to 16 teams, Ghazi was clear about his thoughts: “We’ve thought about the possibility, but we are happy with eight boys teams and four girls teams. We really like an eight-team field because it makes the regular season important. These teams face off in the regular season and knock each other out of contention; we don’t want to water down these teams’ regular season schedules.” Another aspect that Ghazi mentioned was the difficulty the event officials would face if the event were to expand: “From a practicality standpoint, it would be very difficult. The McDonald’s All-American game is on Wednesday, and our event starts on Thursday, so we can’t really move it up, and a lot of states do not allow Sunday play, so we wouldn’t be able to move it back, either.”

Although Ghazi wasn’t opposed to the idea of expanding the tournament, it was clear that it’s not something that they are considering in the near future. “Our goal right now is to get more states on board and create the strongest eight-team field possible. The seven and eight seeds usually don’t upset the top two seeds, so we don’t really see any need to expand. We don’t want to water the field down by expanding it to 16 teams, and we also want to reward teams for a strong regular season.”

This year’s fictitious 16-team bracket:

#1 Oak Hill Academy (VA)
#16 Grandview Prep (FL)

#8 Wasatch Academy (UT)
#9 H. D. Woodson (DC)

#4 St. Benedict’s Prep (NJ)
#13 Westlake (GA)

#5 La Lumiere (IN)
#12 Advanced Prep International (TX)

#3 Findlay Prep (NV)
#14 Lone Peak (UT)

#6 Providence Day (NC)
#11 Hamilton Heights Christian (TN)

#7 Miller Grove (GA)
#10 Greenforest Christian (GA)

#2 Montverde Academy (FL)
#15 Hammond (SC)

Why is expansion the right move for Dick’s Nationals?

It increases the presence of both NBA and NCAA scouts.
Dick’s Nationals is always the weekend of the NCAA tournament, and that limits scouts from coming, but what if it wasn’t? What if the tournament was moved to the week before the McDonald’s All-American game? Talk about a scouting hot bed — every team eliminated from the NCAA tournament would have coaches at Dick’s Nationals because 16 of the top teams in the country will have a lot of Division I prospects. NBA scouts may be intrigued as well if another Ben Simmons shows up at the event.

It increases the number of elite prospects participating in the event.
If the field expanded, it would allow teams such as Advanced Prep International, who feature three elite prospects (2017 PF Billy Preston, 2017 PG Trevon Duval, and 2016 SG Terrance Ferguson), to participate in the event. Or Connecticut commit Alterique Gilbert of Miller Grove (GA), 2017 Florida commit Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and 2016 Mississippi State commit Abdul Ado of Hamilton Heights Christian (TN), to name a few. The added star power would certainly add a bit of kick to an already great event and help with the aforementioned scout presence at the event.

Increasing the number of teams may entice more states to allow their affiliates to participate in the national event.
If the number of teams for the Dick’s Nationals event were increased to 16 teams this would allow the opportunity for teams who never before thought they had a shot at Dick’s Nationals to begin to campaign to earn a spot. Many of these teams may be in new state associations and may make an impact on their state association such as Wheeler did with Georgia and Rainier Beach did with Washington. As more state associations come on board, exposure will increase from coast to coast.

It could create more attention for high school basketball across the country.
Any event streamed on ESPN can pick up traction very quickly, and this event is no different. Every team in the country wants that exposure for their players and for their program. Teams thrive on it, and if eight teams were added, this would bring in viewers from new regions of the country. Although the event is relatively small on a national stage, it has progressively gotten bigger each year of its existence. As the event approaches 10 years, doubling the field could lead to further expansion in the distant future that could turn into something like the NCAA tournament of high school hoops.

The tournament has evolved over the years — why not keep the evolution going?The first National High School Invitational (NHSI) was contested in 2009 at Georgetown Prep in Bethesda, Maryland. The inaugural field featured Oak Hill Academy (VA), Findlay Prep (NV), Montrose Christian (MD), St. Benedict’s Prep (NJ), St. Francis Academy (MD), Friends Central (PA), Mountain State (WV), and Pinewood Prep (SC). Over the years, the event has changed. In 2010, the NHSI added Florida schools Montverde Academy (FL) and Winter Park (FL), along with North Carolina schools Christ School (NC) and Charlotte Christian (NC). In 2012, perennial power La Lumiere (IN) joined the mix; in 2013, Prime Prep (TX); and in 2014, Huntington Prep (WV).

In 2014, the NHSI changed its name to Dick’s Nationals, and relocated to the Big Apple with first- and second-round games played at Christ the King High School and the championship showdown at the famed Madison Square Garden. This change was the most drastic in the event’s history, but nothing changed in the format or quality of competition. After moving to New York, the event expanded to more states as Rainier Beach successfully petitioned Washington state to allow their affiliates to participate in 2014. The following year, Wheeler successfully petitioned Georgia to allow their affiliates to participate as well.

Will Expansion happen?
It doesn’t seem likely that Dick’s Nationals will expand in the next 10-15 years, but it should happen eventually because the event continues to grow in popularity along with the list of teams that are able to participate. If 15-20 state associations agree to allow their teams to participate, it would force the event to  consider expanding due to the high number of quality teams. But slow movement from states could be a roadblock. Teams from each state will need to put pressure on their associations, start petitions, threaten legal action and unite in this matter.

The current field is eight boys teams and four girls teams. The criteria to be invited to the event include each team’s national ranking, overall record, strength of schedule, quality of talent on their roster, and whether or not the team won their state championship. A committee consisting of Dick’s Nationals employees and Paul Biancardi has the opportunity to decide who is invited each year, and their decision will continue to get harder each year as more states allow their affiliated schools to participate.