Favorite: Orlando Oakridge
The Pioneers lost in last year’s regional final to eventual state champ Kissimmee Osceola. They return all but one of the significant contributors and have added a major pierce to the puzzle. Emmitt Williams, a 6’6 senior, transferred in from IMG Academy and becomes the big guy the team needs to get over the hump (assuming some off-court issues are resolved). Perimeter play won’t be a problem with the likes of Texas A&M signee Antwaan Jones, Damon Harge, Rob Perry, and others. Oakridge will be challenged by a strong national schedule to get them prepared for a state championship run. They will most likely have to get past Osceola again to get to Lakeland, but on paper no team has the firepower and depth of the Pioneers in the state’s largest classification.
Regional Favorites: Apopka HS (Region 1); Delray Beach Atlantic (Region 3); Miramar HS (Region 4)
Region 1 is truly a toss-up. Though they play in a tough district, Apopka has some strong senior leadership and one of the better coaches in the area. Deland and Sanford Seminole seem to be the most likely challengers in the region but they would play each other before facing Apopka. The Delray Beach version of Atlantic returns a number of talented performers, most notably first team all-county guard Rodwens Albert. The team has a solid combination of guard play, interior size, and overall athleticism. Wellington had been the dominant program in the region for the last three years and while their graduation losses were heavy, they will still challenge. Boca Raton, Coral Springs, and Cypress Bay should also be considered threats. In South Florida, Miramar looks to have the talent to get past some young squads to get to Lakeland. Emmanuel West, a 6’7 senior, will give them an athletic presence inside while 6’5 seniors Jamir Moore and Damon Miller are proven scorers. North Miami made the regional finals last year with a predominantly underclassmen squad and both South Miami and Miami Palmetto have young talent as well. They should be considered potential road blocks for Miramar.
Best Player: Emmitt Williams, Orlando Oakridge
While undersized at 6’6, Williams may be the best inch-for-inch rebounder in high school basketball. He plays with incredible energy and opponents simply cannot keep up with him. Williams has the wing span and explosiveness off the floor to be an effective rim protector on the defensive end. While most of his points come in transition or lobs to the rim, he is improving as a medium-range shooter. Should his off-court issues be resolved favorably, Williams is most likely a McDonald’s All-American Game participant come March 2018.
Pre-Season All-State: Williams, Antwaan Jones (Orlando Oakridge), Omar Payne (Kissimmee Osceola), Rodwens Albert (Delray Beach Atlantic), Cade Long (Boca Raton)
Jones, a 6’5 senior, is talented and has a great feel for the game. He can play any position along the perimeter, score in a variety of ways and has a knack for passing the basketball. Payne, a 6’9 junior, continues his rapid progress. A good shot blocker and rebounder on the defensive end, he has become an effective face-up shooter out to fifteen feet. Albert is simply a tough-minded combo guard that has a take-no-prisoners attitude on both ends of the court. The 6’1 senior lives to attack the basket and challenge big players at the rim and usually either scores or earns a trip to the free throw line. Long, a 6’2 guard that has already signed with Rollins College in Orlando, is one of the better shooters in the state.
Better than Advertised: North Miami
Last year’s young squad made the regional final. While it looks like other teams in region four have stepped things up considerably, North Miami’s performance can’t be dismissed as a fluke. Richard Charles, a 6’2 junior, and Donte Innocent, a 6’2 senior, both were All-Miami-Dade selections last year. The bulk of the team returns and should be considered more than a one-year wonder.
Don’t Sleep On: Brian Williams, Wellington
After three years of Trent Frazier, one might think Wellington will take a step back. Not if Brian Williams has anything to say about it. The 6’1 senior was impressive for the team when we saw him at the UCF Team Camp in June. He is both an effective scorer and passer and gets points from all three levels. Williams also puts in work at the defensive end, showing good lateral quickness and a nose for the ball.