DAYTONA BEACH — Amiya Evans and Sydney Shaw arrived in Daytona Beach as high school seniors from different corners of the state, but they did so with the exact same goals in mind.
They sought to focus exclusively on basketball and capture a national championship for a program that played its first game just five seasons ago — DME Sports Academy.
“When people are too close to you, it won’t always be a good thing,” said Shaw, a point guard who competed for FHSAA and national titles during her tenure at Miami Country Day. “A lot of people want to have a hand in your success. I wanted to be somewhere to prepare for college and somewhere that would push me.
“A lot of people called me crazy for it, but at the end of the day, my team’s going to nationals.”
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DME’s team, ranked 14th in the nation by MaxPreps with a 26-3 record, will travel to Fort Myers and face Montverde Academy at 10:30 a.m. Friday on ESPNU. This is the first time the program has qualified for the invitation-only tournament, pitting the nation’s elite basketball teams head-to-head.
DME packed its schedule with heavy hitters, defeating five schools that competed for FHSAA state championships (Miami High, St. Thomas Aquinas, Plantation American Heritage, Lake Highland Prep and Cardinal Mooney). It previously defeated Montverde 67-59 at the Tampa Bay Christmas Invitational on New Year’s Day.
It’s the culmination of a meteoric rise for DME Sports, whose multimillion-dollar, multi-sport complex was once a vacant warehouse behind Daytona Beach International Airport on Bellevue Extension Avenue.
DME, which still does not have a nickname for its athletic teams, does not currently field any natives of the Daytona Beach area on its girls’ basketball roster. Head coach Michael Panaggio hopes that changes again, but attributes the past additions of Lexi Duckett (Father Lopez) and Isys Grady (Mainland) as catalysts for the project.
“That first-year team and second-year team were both extremely important to getting us off the ground and starting a tradition,” Panaggio said. “It’s hard to sell when you’ve never been there, never played in big games, never had kids come out of your school.
“Our first kid (Duckett) that came out of the school signed with North Carolina, and it’s a Volusia County kid.”
Several of DME’s current crop of stars — including the aforementioned Shaw, Evans and star junior wing Chloe Kitts — hail from other parts of Florida, while several other girls transferred in from various states.
Kitts, a five-star prospect ranked 16th in ESPN’s 2023 HoopGurlz Super 60, chose to attend DME Sports Academy in 2020. The Oviedo resident commutes nearly an hour to the training facility just about every day. She completes her classwork through the Florida Virtual School during mornings and evenings.
“I like getting ahead,” Kitts said. “I have the rest of the day to do what I want.
“I came here because it was a better opportunity. I can get in the gym all day. I’m able to get in here, get a lot of work in and just grow as a person and as a player, and I’ve got good people around me.”
Kitts expressed desire to play alongside both Shaw and Evans, two of espnW’s top-100 senior recruits. Shaw signed a letter of intent to continue her basketball career at Auburn, while Evans — the daughter of 13-year NBA veteran Reggie Evans — will head to UCF.
Evans resisted previous advances, opting instead to attend Tampa Bay Tech. For her senior year, though, she decided her primary goal was playing in the GEICO Nationals and felt her best chance was to cross the width of I-4.
“I needed to play around likeminded people,” said Evans, a 6-foot-1, rim-protecting forward. “I practice more than I play, and I wasn’t going to truly get better because of the level of competition, compared to somewhere like (DME). Here, I can compete against people that are the top of my class, the best in the class below me. I’m actually getting better.”
It’s one thing to model a program after Montverde and IMG Academy, and quite another to rub elbows with them in the paint in competitive games. With two more victories, DME could accomplish something truly groundbreaking.
No matter the result, Shaw believes DME Sports Academy’s performance on the court this year validated the program’s standing as a perennial basketball force.
“No one really knew if it was a school or just a travel-ball thing, but this year we’ve established ourselves,” Shaw said. “People around the country know our name.”