Claude Nembhard enjoyed a day on Saturday that exceeds the wildest dream any father could imagine for his children.
It involved watching two sons play two basketball games with national championship implications in two states, with a lot of travel in between for dad.
“Oh, 100 percent [the travel was worth it], come on, man. It was a great day [Saturday],” Nembhard said by phone Sunday from Indianapolis. “It was heaven yesterday.”
When it was over, his younger son, Ryan, had helped lead Montverde (FL) Academy to the GEICO High School National championship in Fort Myers, Fla., while his older son, Andrew, played a key role in leading undefeated Gonzaga into Monday night’s NCAA championship game against Baylor.
“As a dad who loves basketball and coached his kids all the way through and doesn’t get a chance to see them very much, I couldn’t resist the opportunity,” Claude said of all the travel. “I was saying I wanted them to see me in the stands.”
Claude is a longtime coach with the UPlay Canada AAU program for which both boys played, as did Knicks guard R.J. Barrett. The Nembhards lives in Aurora, Ontario but Claude has spent the better part of the last two weeks watching Gonzaga pursue perfection in Indianapolis.
The Bulldogs are seeking to become the first undefeated national champion since Bob Knight coached Indiana to a perfect 32-0 mark in 1976.
After watching Gonzaga knock off Southern Cal in the Elite Eight on Tuesday night, Claude flew to Fort Myers on Wednesday to watch Ryan and Montverde play in the GEICO Nationals. His wife, Mary, stayed behind to anchor the ship in Indianapolis.
After checking into his hotel, he watched Montverde play three games in three days, culminating in Saturday’s 62-52 victory over Sunrise Christian (KS) in which Ryan went for 12 points, seven assists and two steals.
With the win, Montverde won the GEICO Nationals title for the fifth time in nine years under coach Kevin Boyle (2013-15, ‘18). Boyle, 58, has coached six top-3 NBA Draft picks since 2011, and if Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham is selected No. 1 in July, it will be seven with three No. 1 picks in Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons and Cunningham.
Boyle had 17 former players in the NCAA Tournament and will have former Montverde players on both teams Monday in Nembhard and MaCio Teague of Baylor.
“I think coach Boyle just does a great job of having confidence in everybody and showing everybody that it’s a process,” Ryan Nembhard, who is committed to Creighton for next season and plans to play this summer with the Canadian U19 team, told reporters. “We all believe that if we do what he says, we can win games and move on the next level and be successful.”
Claude wanted to be in the stands for both of his sons so they could see him, but he originally wasn’t supposed to be there for Montverde’s championship game because he couldn’t find a flight back to Indianapolis in time on Saturday.
But as he was leaving the gym in Fort Myers on Friday, someone mentioned to him that there was a later flight from a different airport that would enable him to attend both games.
“As soon as the [Montverde] game was over, I gave Ryan a big hug and told him I was proud of him,” Claude said. “I think I might’ve hugged coach Boyle.”
He hurried to take an Uber
“I changed my Montverde gear to Gonzaga gear and then I went to Lucas Oil,” he said. “I got there at about 8 o’clock, got a little quick hot dog and a drink. And I watched the game and had a heart attack, like everybody else.”
By now, everyone knows how it went.
Jalen Suggs, who shares the Gonzaga backcourt with Andrew Nembhard, drained a 33-foot 3-pointer off the window as time expired to give the Bulldogs a 93-90 victory over UCLA and propel them to a 31-0 record.
“I knew when he shot it, it was going in,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said afterward.
Andrew Nembhard finished with 11 points and 8 assists, including a huge 3-pointer in overtime that put the Bulldogs up 90-85.
Before the UCLA game, Andrew was already anticipating a potential showdown with Baylor, which has been the No. 2 team in the nation for much of the season.
“We’ve definitely been watching their games and just seeing how great they’re doing,” Andrew Nembhard said Friday. “I would love to play them in the finals and it would be a great matchup.”
Ryan Nembhard flew out to Indianapolis on Sunday morning to see his big brother in the championship game, where he will sit with his parents.
Due to Covid restrictions, Claude said he hadn’t hugged both boys together since late December when they visited with Andrew in Spokane.
After the championship game, he’s looking forward to hugging his older boy again, ideally as a national champion.
“It would be awesome, I’m not sure it happens very often,” Claude said of the prospect of having two sons as national champions. “And the biggest thing is, we could actually have some contact legally because they’ve both been in bubbles.
“I couldn’t give Ryan a hug until after the game [Saturday], and the same for Andrew.”