We continue our regional coverage with a look at North Florida, which we consider from Tallahassee east to Jacksonville and south to Ocala.
TOP FIVE “BIG” SCHOOLS (CLASS 9A thru 5A)
St. Johns Creekside (Class 8A, Region 1, District 4)
This group has been to the regional final the past two years and each time has lost a close game to Tallahassee Lincoln. They are expected to take the next step this year as there are some starters that began as freshman and have been instrumental in building the program. They are a fun team to watch as the run some nice stuff and move the ball well in the half-court while defensively they will throw multiple looks at opponents.
Notable Players: 5’11 SR J’Michael Plummer; 6’4 SR Caleb Townsend
Gainesville Eastside (Class 6A, Region 2, District 6)
We’ve been told by knowledgeable people in the Gainesville area that Eastside should be the best team. They have been young the past couple of seasons but now all of that youth is experienced and should be better able to make a playoff run that gets them to Lakeland. The competition in the regional round of the playoffs should be challenging but not anything that should overwhelm this group.
Notable Players: 6’1 JR Anthony Wright; 6’4 SR Malik Roberson; 6’1 SR Noah Richardson
Jacksonville Englewood (Class 7A, Region 1, District 3)
The top eight players return from a team that reached the regional round of the playoffs for the first time in over a decade at Englewood. Half of that group is still underclassmen so the future looks pretty good going forward. They are in a very difficult region with the likes of P’Cola, Chocawhatchee, and Gainesville. If Englewood can reach the regional semis or beyond, it should be deemed a very successful year.
Notable Players: SR Jalen Stevens
Gainesville HS (Class 7A Region 2, District 4)
The Hurricanes lost a solid group of seniors from last year but return enough talent to be a tough out come playoff time. Gainesville POY Christian Miller-Caldwell returns for his final year and the 6’4 wing is expected to put of some solid numbers. The district isn’t easy with a solid Ocala Vanguard and young but hungry squads from Lake City Columbia and Ocala Forest looking to make an impact at Gainesville’s expense.
Notable Players: 6’4 SR Christian Miller-Caldwell; 6’1 SR Dallas Tealer, 6’9 JR Jeremiah Tisme
Jacksonville Jackson (Class 5A, Region 1, District 3)
A young group took its share of lumps last season. Now it’s payback time. Jackson may lack size but they are athletic, quick, and deep. It will be a challenge for opponents to keep up with this group. It will take a major effort on the glass to compensate for a lack of size. No doubt Jackson will use its defense to fuel the offense.
Notable Players: 5’9 SR Mike Decembre, 6’6 SO Logan West
TOP FIVE “SMALL” SCHOOLS (CLASS 4A thru 1A)
Wildwood HS (Class 1A, Region 4, District 8)
Last year’s Class 1A runner-up returns everybody back and is craving to get back to Lakeland and a shot at redemption. The Wildcats have upgraded their schedule and will be making some treks outside of their North Central Florida home base to get themselves more prepared come playoff time.
Notable Players: 6’3 SR Darion Wilson, 6’0 SO Marcus Niblack
Jacksonville Providence (Class 4A, Region 1, District 2)
Despite losing some quality seniors that led the team to Lakeland last year, Providence is still one of the better programs in the region. Some role players from last year will be counted on to do more this time around. Also, they will face greater challenges in district play from the likes of Bishop Snyder and University Christian
Notable Players: 6’5 SR Will Erickson, 6’5 JR Ahren Freeman, 6’2 SO Josh Himel
Gainesville St. Francis (Class 3A, Region 1, District 2)
This group made it to the regional final last year and based on the returning talent should take the next step to Lakeland. They have a go to scorer in senior Nick Baskin and a solid group of athletes that run the floor, chase down rebounds and loose balls, and get after it on the defensive end.
Notable Players: 6’0 SR Nick Baskin, 5’11 SR Demari Turner, 6’3 SR Calvin Freeman
Jacksonville Impact Christian (Class 2A, Region 1, District 2)
A relatively young program, Impact has a solid group of young players that seem to get better every game. As a freshman, Jordin Jackson showed a steady hand in running the team and should take on a greater offensive role this season.
Notable Players: 5’10 SO Jordin Jackson
Jacksonville University Christian (Class 4A, Region 1, District 2)
A challenger to Providence’s long-held throne, UC plays an aggressive brand of basketball not often seen at this level of competition. The press 94 feet and push the pace on offense. It is more of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” as there are no true individual standouts.
Notable Players: To Be Determined
Top Five Players
Nick Baskin, Gainesville St. Francis: A strongly built 5’11 guard that can get his own or find ways to make plays for others. He’s also a clutch free throw shooter, making 17-18 in the regional final last year. Baskin will knock down jumpers if the defense gives him too much room.
Naseem Khaalid, Jacksonville First Coast: Only a sophomore, the 6’1 Khaalid had a lot of success his first year of high school basketball, averaging close to 20 points and 5 assists per contest. He has excelled playing against older players during the spring and summer and expect his name to mentioned on a national level sooner rather than later.
Christian Miller-Caldwell, Gainesville: The reigning POY in the Gainesville area, CMC has a solid spring and summer in front of college coaches. He’s more athletic than given credit for, a respectable shooter from beyond the arc, and an under-rated passer.
J’Michael Plummer, St. Johns Creekside: A four-year starter, the 5’11 Plummer is the catalyst for all that Creekside does. The only underclassmen named Jacksonville first team all-area at the end of last season, Plummer is looking to finish off a solid high school career with a banner. He plays under control at both ends, breaks the defense down and makes good decisions with the ball, and can score when called upon.
Darion Wilson, Wildwood HS: The 6’3 Wilson will be looking to add some additional hardware to his trophy case. He wants the gold medal that goes along with a state title and would certainly take another Class 1A Mr. Basketball trophy to go with the one he received last season. A good one-on-one player with deep range, Wilson has been known to blow games wide open with his hot streaks.
#1 Senior – Nick Baskin (see above)
#1 Junior – Byron Smith, Gainesville P.K. Yonge: Already a two-year starter for the Blue Wave, Smith is confident with the ball in his hands. He is a creative scorer but also gets his teammates involved.
#1 Sophomore – Naseem Khaalid (see above)
#1 Freshman – To Be Determined: Try as we might, whether watching players this fall or talking with people in the region, no player in the 2021 Class has made the impact to warrant earning this label.
Senior Sleeper: Xavier Hutchinson, St. Augustine Bartram Trail: A big guard, he can see over the top of the defense when playing point or shoot over smaller defenders when not running the offense.