We continue our coverage of the Hoop Exchange Fall Festival with a look at the teams in the BIG TEN and SEC brackets that we were able to observe.
St. Johns Creekside (winner of bracket)
This team has reached the regional final each of the last two seasons and on Saturday they looked ready to take the next step. Their offensive execution looked in mid-season form and the team defense was solid. They got a stern challenge from Apopka in the final, winning by a single point in OT. Senior 6’5 wing Caleb Townsend got in the flow early in the game we watched against Edgewater and pretty much stayed there. His jump shot wasn’t falling but he made a lot of plays at the rim in transition and in half-court sets. J’Michael Plummer, a 5’11 senior point guard, was solid in handling defensive pressure and getting the team into its offense. He made good decisions with the ball on the move, finding teammates for easy looks. 6’4 senior D.J. Dumas is an athletic player that does a little bit of everything. He is a big help on the board, is active defensively and scores well on the move at the basket. 6’1 senior Noah Lippy is the glue guy for the team. He makes subtle plays at both ends that don’t tend to show up in box scores.
While we weren’t able to focus on their games this past weekend, we reached out to Apopka Head Coach Scott Williams for an overall assessment of his team’s play. He was kind enough to respond.
“We lost to a very good Creekside team by a single point in OT in our final game of the event. Two of our contributors, 6’4 junior Nathan Louis and 6’5 sophomore Zach Anderson, sat out the game with injuries. Seniors Cody Griffin (6’0), Rodney Lubin (6’2), and Travis Henderson (6’1) played well in the final as each took on an additional workload with Louis and Anderson out. Other players that were solid for us this past weekend were 6’2 senior Maleik Jackson and 6’4 senior Jai Clarke.”
The Eagles lost a tough one to Creekside in the opener but took care of business the rest of event. Robert Allen, a 6’8 senior, played with his usual energy; running the floor, getting rebounds out of his area, and challenging shots in the lane. He is effective as a high post/short corner driver and has a quick spin move to the basket in the low post. Only a sophomore, 6’3 Michael Eads is a perimeter shooting threat. He also rebounds well for his size and anticipates well at the defensive end. Juniors Terrence McClain (6’1) and Eddie Foster (6’3) both shot the ball well from beyond the arc and finished in transition when given the opportunity.
Oldsmar Christian (winner of bracket)
The Eagles got thru a tough bracket by defeating Pompano Beach Ely, Orlando Christian Prep, and then a Montverde team playing its sixth game in less than 48 hours. Oldsmar’s standout senior guard, 6’4 Elijah Weaver, got better each game. While he can sometimes be high risk/high reward, his talent can’t be denied. His shot is streaky but still must be respected. Weaver finishes at the rim with flair, is quick with the ball, and seemingly finds teammates for easy looks when it seems the passing window is closed. Senior guards Akeil Shakoor (6’0) and Tionne Rollins (6’2) are both solid shooters from the perimeter and complement Weaver well on the perimeter. 6’4 senior Ricardo Clouden brings an added dose of athleticism at both ends of the floor when he enters the game. Inside, 6’11 senior Michael Durr may not have much girth but he is long, a quick leaper for rebounds and blocks, runs the floor well, and can score quickly on post ups.
Orlando Christian Prep
Playing without North Carolina commit Nassir Little, who was at USA Basketball in Colorado this past weekend, OCP still showcased enough talent to ensure a run to another state title. 6’0 senior Renaldo Segu made sure teammates got involved on the offensive end. He scored when necessary, usually on floaters in the lane and mid-range jumpers. Dajuan Lockett, a 6’5 senior, plays bigger than his size as he routinely out-battles taller foes and teammates for rebounds, scores around the basket, and defends multiple positions. 6’8 junior C.J. Walker continues to impress with his athleticism and skill level. Despite being a bit on the thin side, Walker does a great job of battling stronger players for rebounds, often winning those battles. He finishes with ferocity in transition and is improving his offensive game in the half-court. 6’8 junior newcomer Kai Jones is starting to figure out how to make the most of his abilities with this crew. He is a near carbon copy of Walker, just without the game experience. Sophomore Jonthy Candelario (6’4) and senior Jordan Goodsin (6’0) contribute offensive firepower on the wings.
Pompano Beach Ely
Like going to your favorite steak house and knowing your will get a tasty meal, you know what you will get when watching a Melvin Randall-coached team: solid, swarming defense and a group of guys that will run through a wall for the name on the front on the jersey. It may not always be pretty but six championship rings and a real chance for a seventh proves that it is an effective winning formula. Michael Forrest, a 5’11 senior, didn’t shoot well from the perimeter in the game we watched but he sets the tone at both ends with his play. 6’8 senior Wilkenson Isnord is an athletic rebounder, rim protector, and a guy that makes himself available for lobs and shots in close when teammates attack the basket. Josh Scott, a 6’4 junior, makes a wide variety of plays at both ends of the court. If it’s a loose ball, long rebound, or erstwhile pass, Scott is the one who will most likely come up with the ball.
Oakland Park Northeast
It’s fun to watch Northeast play. Loaded with interchangeable players, the team plays up-tempo on offense and a frenzied pressure defense. Angel Smith, a 6’5 senior who plans to re-class to 2019, is a key cog. An explosive driver and finisher, Smith is also a dynamic rebounder and active defender. Elie Cadet, another 6’5 senior, can match Smith’s athleticism, giving Northeast a pair of wings that will be tough to contain in transition and on the offensive glass. Richard Jackson and Brandon Swaby, both 6’2 seniors provide ball-handling, outside shooting, and an ability to push the pace and get easy baskets. 6’3 senior Jeremiah Sanders is the best outside shooter of the group and will get plenty of open looks off of teammates’ penetrating drives. Be on the lookout for 6’5 freshman Wesley Cardet. Already blessed with a nice combination of size, athleticism and skills, Cardet will a major contributor for this Northeast squad.
St. Petersburg HS
While the team may not have much in the way of size, its guard play should carry it into the post-season. It starts with two of the better guards in the state in 6’3 Serrel Smith and 6’1 Tai Strickland, both seniors. Smith has already committed to Ole Miss of the SEC. He got off to a slow start Saturday night but eventually got rolling with his perimeter shot, connecting a four shots in a row from beyond the arc to give the Green Devils a boost to win. Smith also proved to by money from the free throw line. Strickland has the ball on a string and gets wherever he needs to go on the court. He’s an adequate shooter from distance but is at his best when he can break down the defense with the dribble and make plays heading to the basket. D.J. Anderson, a 6’5 senior, helps out with toughness, rebounding, and making the most of his opportunities on the offensive end.
There were a couple of “stand alone” games in the Team Division of the Fall Festival. We took in an entertaining Jacksonville Providence/St. Petersburg Lakewood game, which Providence won with a free throw with seven seconds left to win by a single point.
While the team may not have the star power than it has had the past couple of season, it should still be a solid contender to reach Lakeland. Ahren Freeman, a 6’6 junior, has become a jack-of-all-trades on the floor. He’s just as likely to grab a defensive rebounds, push the ball up the floor, and find a teammate for an easy layup as he is to post up inside and score over bigger defenders. Freeman shoots the ball ok from the perimeter and will posterize defenders at the rim if given an opportunity. Senior Will Erickson, 6’6, shoots the ball well from the perimeter and is a savvy swingman that will see time anywhere from the one to the four spot depending on the matchup. Just a sophomore, 6’3 Josh Himel is one of the better shooters on the First Coast. The rest of his offensive repertoire is a work in progress.
St. Pete Lakewood
A program with a proud tradition, the Spartans will feature a young squad this season but they have more than enough talent to make some noise. 6’6 junior Jalen White is a solid passer and ball-handler out on the perimeter. His shot needs to get more consistent but he makes a lot of plays for others with his ability to see the floor and deliver passes at the right time. Adrian White, a 6’3 senior, is a glue guy that gets a lot done to impact the game but maybe not the scorebook. Jamile Reynolds, a 6’8 sophomore, provides an inside presence at both ends of the floor. As he gets in basketball condition and gathers more game experience, his stock will surge. A pair of freshmen, 6’4 Otteman Delancy and 5’11 Cortez McKenzie, have bright futures ahead of them and should see considerable playing time this upcoming season.