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)
Ocala Trinity Catholic (Class 5A, Region 2, District 5)
Trinity came out of a very tough district and region last year to make to the Class 5A final. Returning all five starters, including 6’1 senior Dominic Pugh, the Marion County POY last season, suggests that this group should experience similar success in 2018-2019. Senior Montez Leath and sophomore Jarvey Gainey combine with Pugh to make a potent scoring trio while 6’9senior Kyler Rodman anchors the interior inside and has the ability to produce a double-double game in and game out. Challenges will no doubt come from district foe The Villages while programs such as Orlando Jones and Melbourne Central Catholic have the capability of making a run to Lakeland in that region.
Palatka (Class 6A, Region 2, District 5)
Palatka has reached the final four in this classification the past two season. The first trip in 2017 was one to forget but last year’s four point loss to Tally Rickards gives hope that they can compete to reach the title game in 2019. Junior Wesley Roberts and senior Mitchell McKinnon both averaged double figures last season and along with junior Malik Beauford earned all-area mention from the Jacksonville Times-Union. All three scored in double figures in last year’s semi-final and there is a feeling of unfinished business in Palatka. Their greatest challenge in reaching Lakeland will come from Eastside out of Gainesville.
Gainesville Eastside (Class 6A, Region 2, District 6)
No doubt that last season’s three point loss on the road at Palatka in the regional semi-final will give Eastside some serious motivation this coming season. While some important pieces need to be replaced, there is still enough talent for Eastside to contend for regional honors. Anthony Richardson, a 6’4 senior and 5’8 senior James Pope will lead a group that continuously attacks on both ends of the floor. The record may not be as sterling as 22-5 heading into the playoffs but no doubt Eastside will be ready to do battle.
Jacksonville Bishop Kenny (Class 6A, Region 1, District 3)
Despite winning the district title last season, BK suffered a three point loss to district foe Ribault in the regional semis. Noah Semple and Brennen Solomon, now both seniors, earned all-area honors last season and believe BK can take the next step in the regional playoffs. Fellow Jacksonville schools Ribault and Paxon will be tough outs and to get to Lakeland, BK will have to get past a tough team out of Tallahassee. The challenge is daunting but Bishop Kenney is ready to take it on.
Starke Bradford (Class 5A, Region 1 District 4)
An underclassmen-led Bradford team won their district last season but lost in the opening round of regionals at home to a more experienced and tested Bolles team out of Jacksonville. Now older and wiser, Bradford feels its time is now. 6’2 senior Chris Cummings averaged 15ppg last season while a pair of 6’3 seniors, Jimtaz Curry and Daren Mackey, were at or near double figure averages. Senior guard Jordan Lee will also provide support. The road to Lakeland is a tough one in this region but Bradford seems to have the talent and experience to be considered one of the favorites.
TOP FIVE “SMALL” SCHOOLS (CLASS 4A thru 1A)
Jacksonville Providence (Class 4A, Region 1, District 2)
This year’s group hopes to erase the memory of a one-point loss on the road to P.K. Yonge of Gainesville in last year’s regional final. Providence will most likely start five seniors, the most important being 6’5 Ahren Freeman. Senior guard Noah Mitchell should provide plenty of scoring out on the perimeter. Norman Haynes, a 5’11 senior will run the point while 6’0 sophomore Jack Dillard is a three point specialist. James Repass, a 6’9 sophomore, may come off the bench but he has the ability and skills to dominate the lane area. Providence is in a tough district and once again P.K. Yonge will be a challenging road block to Lakeland.
Gainesville P.K. Yonge (Class 4A, Region 1, District 1)
Yonge made it to the final four last year, dropping a tough one in the semis by just four points. Jalen Speer, a 6’2 junior returns after averaging 16ppg last season as does 5’8 senior Israel Wilcox. However, the return of 6’4 senior Byron Smith puts Yonge at a higher level. Smith played well over the spring and summer for various high profile travel teams and he should provide more than just points and rebounds for the Blue Wave. As usual, Yonge will play a challenging schedule against larger schools to prepare for the playoffs.
Jacksonville Bishop Snyder (Class 4A, Region 1, District 2)
Snyder will battle with both Providence and University Christian to get out of a tough district and into regional play. Corey Walker, a 6’7 junior, is arguably the best player on the First Coast and considered a national top forty player in the Class of 2020. By himself he gives Snyder a legit shot come playoff time.
Madison County (Class 1A, Region 3, District 5)
Madison County had an eleven point lead heading into the final quarter against eventual state champ Wildwood in the semis and failed to complete the job. While having a state football title to fall back on is comforting, it was still a bitter pill to swallow. Madison County will be led by 6’4 senior Travis Jay, who nearly put together a triple double (15 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists) in that semi-final game. Madison County looks to have upgraded their schedule this coming season to be better prepared come playoff time.
Hawthorne (Class 1A, Region 3, District 6)
It’s disappointing that arguably the top two teams in Class 1A have to battle it out for the opportunity to reach the final four. Last year, Madison County won big over Hawthorne at home. This season, Hawthorne hopes to return the favor on their court. Kahleil Jackson, a 6’3 senior, returns after scoring nearly fifteen points a contest last season. He’ll have plenty of help from four classmates that earned all-area honorable mention status in 2018.
TOP FIVE PLAYERS
Ahren Freeman, Jacksonville Providence: A 6’5 senior, Freeman is a tough matchup on the high school level. He’s quite strong and simply overpowers smaller opponents inside or when driving to the basket. Freeman is also a good athlete and gets by bigger foes with a burst. He’s an improved perimeter shooter and must be respected out to the three point line but is also a solid passer and much if not all of the Providence offense will flow through him.
Corey Walker, Jacksonville Bishop Snyder: A 6’7 junior, Walker was a first team all-area selection and averaged a double-double last season. He gained quite a following on the Adidas travel circuit this past spring and summer as his versatility became his calling card. He can score in a variety of ways, has good ball-handling and passing skills and is capable of defending both bigger and smaller opponents.
Byron Smith, Gainesville P.K. Yonge: The 6’3 senior played his first two seasons with the Blue Wave before spending a year at the Villages last season. He decided to “come home” for his senior year and he showed this past travel season that he can be effective both running an offense as well as being a primary scorer. He’s a good shooter from beyond the arc, finishes well with either hand in traffic at the rim, and is a good rebounder from the guard position.
Isaiah Adams, Jacksonville Paxon: Jacksonville has a talented group of 2020 players and Adams is near the top along with Walker. Though thin, he’s very long, quite athletic and highly skilled. He led the team in points (19.2), rebounds (10.4) and assists (7.3) last season. Adams can play and defend multiple positions on the court and is getting a lot of interest from D-I schools.
Travis Jay, Madison County: Also a talented football player, Jay will most likely pursue that sport on the collegiate level. On the hardwood, the senior is a jumbo point guard that can score as well as set up his teammates. He’s the leading contender for Mr. Basketball in Class 1A this upcoming season.
#1 Senior: Ahren Freeman (see above)
#1 Junior: Corey Walker (see above)
#1 Sophomore: Dallan Coleman, Callahan West Nassau: Coleman led last year’s Florida freshman in scoring at nearly twenty points a contest. Playing up on the 16U level this spring and summer, the 6’3 wing proved to be fearless in challenging older and stronger players at both ends of the court. Strong and quick for his age, he gets to the basket with ease and has a soft touch on his jumper from the perimeter.
#1 Freshman: Kelvin Johnson, Jacksonville Impact Christian Academy: Johnson got some run with the varsity squad at Impact that made the title game in Class 2A last season. Right now he is productive because he is bouncy and long at 6’5. As he gets stronger and gains skill, he will make more of an impact on the game.
Senior Sleeper: Xavier Christie, Ocala Forest: The 5’10 senior is a blur with the basketball. He pushes the pace and does a nice job of reading the court and making the right decision with the basketball. Christie shoots the ball well off the catch and doesn’t usually hunt his own shot. He’s also a solid free throw shooter.