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.
It is always a challenge to accurately gauge this part of the state. This year it is even more difficult as Hurricane Michael left much of this section of the state in pieces. We hope that the playing and spectating of high school basketball will quicken the healing process in the Panhandle.
Top Five “Big” Schools (Class 9A-5A)
Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee (Class 7A, Region 1, District 2)
“Choctaw” reached the championship game last season, only to fall to a strong Doral team out of South Florida. Expect them to get to Lakeland again as most of the contributing players return, especially 6’6 Auburn commit Diante Smith and 5’11 senior point guard Josh Williams.
Pensacola Catholic (Class 5A, Region 1, District 1)
“PC” reached the Class 5A final four last season, losing by just a single point in the semis. Dexter McKenzie, a 6’2 senior who had 28 points and 5 rebounds in the semi-final returns, as do senior Nitrell Bledsoe and junior Kobe Jackson. There will certainly be challenges to get back to Lakeland, especially from Jacksonville-area schools, but P’Cola Catholic has the experience and fire power to meet those challenges.
Tallahassee Rickards (Class 6A, Region 1, District 2)
Rickards is a perennial challenger in the Capital City. The program was bolstered with the addition of a pair of transfers in 6’5 sophomore wing Roddrick Henry from Orlando and 6’4 senior guard Phillip Small from rival Lincoln. Tally schools have owned this region the past few years and that isn’t expected to change this time around.
Tallahassee Godby (Class 6A, Region 1, District 2)
Godby and Rickards seemingly swap labels as the favorites in this district and region every couple of years. When looking at the schools in the Panama City, Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola areas of the region, none have the pedigree of Godby. While little is known about individual players in the program, rest assured that collectively they will get after opponents on the defensive end and do their best to push the pace on offense.
Tallahassee Lincoln (Class 8A, Region 1, District 2)
Last season Lincoln reached its third straight regional final. It wouldn’t surprise if they make it four. While much of the group that got to those regional finals have moved on, they and coach Matt Anderson have created a winning culture that will no doubt carry over regardless of whose name is on the back of the jersey.
Top Five “Small” Schools (Class 4A thru 1A)
Tallahassee St. John Paul II (Class 3A, Region 1, District 1)
As an underclassmen-dominated group, SJP didn’t get out of district play last season. This year should be different. Chosen Levarity, a 6’5 senior and Logan Roberts, a 6’1 SR, earned all-area honors from the Tallahassee Democrat last season. Add to those returnees the multi-dimensional play of 6’6 senior Alan Jean-Rose and SJP could represent the region in Class 3A this season.
Tallahassee Maclay (Class 4A, Region 1, District 1)
Maclay took a hard hit when 6’9 Florida State recruit Zmife Nwokeji transferred to The Rock School in Gainesville. That being said, they return 6’2 senior guard Jack Murrah and 6’2 junior guard Robert Parker-Crawford, both of whom earned all-area honors by the local media at the end of last season. There are few small schools in this region that can match that 1-2 punch.
Chipley (Class 1A, Region 2, District 3)
As mentioned earlier, it is difficult to assess at this point how basketball programs in this part of the state will bounce back from the impact of Hurricane Michael. Chipley is a proud program and was a bit of a surprise final four participant last season in Lakeland. Kelvin Dean, a 6’1 senior, earned a nomination for Class 1A player of the year last season as a junior and he should be a catalyst for a group hungry to return the program to the top of the state’s smallest classification.
Tallahassee Crossroad Academy (Class 2A, Region 1, District 1)
This young program made it to the regional final last season and hopes to take the next step this time around. To do so, senior wings Dedric Streeter and Jamaal Dixon will need to continue to elevate their game.
Tallahassee North Florida Christian (Class 3A, Region 1, District 1)
It was a toss-up between NFC and FAMU for this spot. FAMU lost too much from a final four team while NFC returns a pair of all-area honorees in senior Major Posey and junior Victor Clark. NFC tasted the playoffs last year and despite an early exit, are eager to take the next step.
TOP FIVE PLAYERS
Diante Smith, Fort Walton Choctawhatchee: The senior 6’6 Smith is a do-everything performer that has committed to Auburn for college. 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 Class 7A final: lead the team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals.
D’Marcus Purcell, Crestview: Though his future may be on the football field, Purcell is a high-level hoopster. The 6’2 senior lefty is strong, fearlessly attacks the basket, and has a solid touch from deep.
D.J. McKenzie, Pensacola Catholic: McKenzie woke up the state to what he could do in last year’s Class 5A final four. He’s a quick 6’2 senior guard that can go off for a ton of points at any time.
Alan Jean-Rose, Tallahassee St. John Paull II: The 6’6 senior wing showed last year at Rickards that he is a tough matchup. He has perimeter skills, is an active rebounder, and quickly covers a lot of ground on the defensive end.
Josh Williams, Fort Walton Choctawhatchee: While teammate Smith gets most of the recognition, Williams is a significant contributor to Choctaw’s success. He pushes the pace, breaks down the defense with the dribble, and harasses opposing point guards.
#1 Senior: Diante Smith (see above)
#1 Junior: Robert Parker-Crawford, Tallahassee Maclay: A multi-sport athlete, Crawford-Parker averaged double-figures as a sophomore last season. At 6’3, he’s got a solid body and good athleticism.
#1 Sophomore: Roddrick Henry, Tallahassee Rickards: The 6’5 Henry is plenty athletic and his basketball skills continue to improve at a rapid rate. His jump shot has become more consistent and he’s much more confident in attacking the defense off the dribble.
#1 Freshman: Jaylin Martin, Tallahassee Florida High: At 6’2 and highly skilled, Martin is no ordinary freshman. At different events this past spring and summer, who often looked more like a college-ready senior than someone that has yet to play a high school game.
Senior Sleeper: Chance Napier, Pensacola Gulf Breeze: The 6’3 wing averaged just over eighteen points a contest last season, shooting 53% overall from the field and 42% from beyond the arc. He’s a confident scorer, not just a shooter, and plays with a chip on his shoulder that allows him to outperform more athletic foes.