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2017-18 Preview: Panhandle Region

By Rick Staudt, 11/11/17, 8:45AM CST


Before getting into our annual pre-season preview of each classification, we thought it would be beneficial to take an overall look at the different geographic regions of the state.  We’ve broken the regions down into the Panhandle, North Florida, Central Florida, Southwest Florida, and South Florida.  We kick off our regional coverage with a look at the Panhandle, which we consider to be Tallahassee to Pensacola.

Top Teams

Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee (Class 7A, Region 1, District 2)

Choctaw reached the regional finals last year as a district runner-up, defeating favored Pensacola in the process.  Four starters return but the core is still young.  Choctaw will get challenged in its three team district by Fort Walton Beach and Crestview but should certainly have every chance for a deep playoff run. 

Notable Players: Diante Smith (6’6 JR), Josh Williams (5’11 JR)

Pensacola (Class 7A, Region 1, District 1)

Appearing in the state final four in 2016 in Class 6A with nearly all underclassmen, the Tigers still appear to be a clear choice as one of the top teams in the Panhandle regardless of classification.  They play up-tempo, have some size, and their taste of success two seasons ago and the bitterness of not getting back to Lakeland last year should help them.  It’s now or never for this group.

Notable Players: Shawndarius Cowert (6’3 SR), Devonchae Bryant (6’7 SR)

Gadsden County (Class 5A, Region 1, District 2)

The merging of the two high schools in Gadsden County into one should propel this program into a perennial contender.  West Gadsden closed its doors with a Class 1A state title last year and East Gadsden was no slouch.  Former Florida Gator standout Andrew Moten is still the coach so there will be experience at the top. 

Notable Players: To Be Determined

Tallahassee Rickards (Class 6A, Region 1, District 2)

After a two-year run to Lakeland by neighboring Lincoln and a long run by Godby before that, it appears that it is Rickards turn to take on the challenge of being the top team in the state capital.  Vincent McCray and Alic Troutman averaged double-figures last year on their way to earning all-area honors.  Troutman in particular was impressive this past spring and summer and may be the top interior player in that area of the Panhandle.

Notable Players: Vincent McCray (5’11 SR), Alic Troutman (6’6 JR)

Tallahassee Maclay (Class 4A, Region 1, District 1)

One of only three teams in District 1, Maclay and Gainesville P.K. Yonge will slug it out to determine who gets to open regionals at home.  Maclay has one of the better juniors in the country in 6’8 Zimife Nwokeje.  He averaged double-figures last year in both points and rebounds.  The returning cast is pretty solid as well.  Maclay is gearing up for a playoff run this season as their schedule includes some challenging games outside of district and local competition.

Notable Players: Zimife Nwokeje (6’8 JR), Robert Parker Crawford (6’2 SO)

Tallahassee FAMU DRS (Class 3A, Region 1, District 1)

A young team last year, the Baby Rattlers look to take the next step and make a playoff run.  Last year as a junior, Mekhi Yant earned all-area honors and should provide stability when it comes to getting points.  Ray Robinson was just an 8th grader last year on the varsity but his play this summer for Showtime Ballers indicates he is ready for a bigger role.

Notable Players: Mekhi Yant (5’11 SR), Ray Robinson (5’11 FR)

Blountstown (Class 1A, Region 1, District 2)

It’s a challenge to get solid information out of the Panhandle when it comes to Class 1A.  In the past, one could rely on naming Chipley or Malone as the top team and come out correct more times than not.  This time around we are casting our lot with Blountstown.  They have the top player in Class 1A in Kevon Godwin and barring injury he is good enough to get his team into the playoffs.

Tallahassee Lincoln (Class 8A, Region 1, District 2)

Lincoln has been to the state tournament the past two years but will be a much different team this time around.  The past two teams relied on the inside presence of Dwight Wilson.  Now, it will a perimeter-oriented squad.  The team will still be solid and it won’t surprise if they reach the regional final again.  However, they no longer enjoy the distinct advantage they had each of the last two seasons.

Notable Players: Trinton Bryant (6’1 SR), Tionne Rollins (6’2 SR), Phillip Small (6’4 JR)

Top Five Players

Kevon Godwin, Blountstown: The 5’11 speedster averaged well over 20ppg last season but few know about him.  He is a one-man press break, makes good decisions with ball while moving at top speed and displays an ability to score from all three levels.  Goodwin is also quite the gridiron star.

Diante Smith, Choctawhatchee: At 6’6 with very good perimeter skills, Smith is one of the more difficult matchups in the Panhandle.  He’ll be called upon to do what he did last season in guiding the team to the regional final:  lead the team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals.

Zimife Nwokeje, Tallahassee Maclay: An inside/outside threat at 6’8 with ball skills, “Zimi” is getting looks from various high-major schools.  He can handle the ball on the perimeter, score off pick-and-pops as well as rolling to the rim, and is solid rebounder at both ends of the court.

Shawndarius Cowert, Pensacola HS: The 6’3 combo guard has been solid every time we’ve seen him since he made a splash at the final four at the end of his sophomore year.  An excellent athlete that is best in an up-tempo setting, Cowert finishes well above the rim when given the opportunity.  He is also a very good defender.

Michael Randolph III, Pensacola Washington: Randolph has the size and versatility to play multiple positions.  A good enough ball-handler and passer to have the offense run thru him, Randolph is also a reliable scorer that will post up smaller guards or get by bigger ones off the dribble. 

#1 Senior - Kevon Godwin (see above)

#1 Junior - Zimife Nwokeje (see above)

#1 Sophomore - Ray Crawford-Parker, Tallahassee Maclay: A multi-sport athlete, Crawford-Parker averaged double-figures as a freshman last season.  At 6’2, he’s got a solid body and good athleticism.  He and Nwokeje will be a tough tandem to stop.

#1 Freshman - Ray Robinson, Tallahassee FAMU: After watching his play this summer, it is clear that the speedy 5’11 Robinson is ready to make things happen at the varsity level.  He appears to have all the tools necessary to develop into a college-level point guard.

Senior Sleeper – Chris Beverly, Wakulla: One of the select few underclassmen to earn all-area honors in Tallahassee, he put up solid numbers last season.  The 6’0 wing averaged 11ppg/5rpg/4apg while shooting over 50% from the field.  Not much of an outside shooter, his damage comes from getting to the basket in both half-court and full-court situations.