We finalize our regional previews with a look into South Florida.
TOP FIVE “BIG” SCHOOLS (CLASS 9A thru 5A)
Fort Lauderdale NSU University School (Class 5A, Region 4, District 13)
The Sharks will have extremely high expectations after last season’s success. A 5A state title, City of Palms championship, second place finish at the Dick’s Nationals, and a final #2 national ranking at the end of the season was quite a feat. The squad returns three starters, most notably 6’9 SR Vernon Carey, Jr. and 6’8 JR Scottie Barnes. Carey is generally considered the top player nationally in the Class of 2019 while Barnes is a top five player nationally in the 2020 Class. “U-School” will miss departed seniors Dru Dinnon and Trey Doomes (both high D-I signees) but looked to have solid replacements for them in 6’4 junior Roger McFarlane and 6’6 junior Jace Howard. The schedule is brutal, including a trip to the City of Palms to attempt to retain their title. The Sharks will be more than ready come playoff time.
Pompano Beach Ely (Class 8A, Region 4, District 14)
Ely is Ely. Until proven otherwise, Melvin Randall’s teams should always be considered in the hunt for state honors. While sometimes it isn’t pretty on the offensive end, defensively the Tigers are stifling and use turnovers to get easy points. There are certainly teams with more physical talent, but it is difficult to name one with more determination and will to win. Look for senior 6’4 wing Josh Scott to be a statistical leader as well as a vocal leader for the Tigers.
South Miami (Class 9A, Region 4 District 15)
The Cobras got bounced in the regional finals last year and believe they can make that next step this coming season. First Team All-Dade selection Toru Dean returns as does Second Teamer Lee Flenor. The 6’1 Dean will score and set up teammates while Flenor plays bigger than his listed 6’6 size. Both seniors will need solid contributions from their teammates to get past the likes of Miami Palmetto, Killian, Coral Gables, and North Miami.
Pembroke Pines Somerset Academy (Class 5A, Region 4, District 13)
Despite playing in arguably the toughest district in the state regardless of classification, Somerset has the firepower to make a run at U-School. Juniors Tyson Civil and Nathan Montaque, along with sophomore Jonathan Renois, combined to average nearly 45 points a game last season. This year they will be joined by juniors Dudley Blackwell and Brandon Garcia, both of whom have multiple D-I offers. While the question of will there be enough shots to go around is valid, all indications are that the newcomers are fitting in well. Getting out of the district will be challenging enough with not just U-School but also Chaminade, Calvary Christian, and Gibbons looking to challenge.
Fort Lauderdale Stranahan (Class 6A, Region 4, District 16)
Last year’s group of sophomore starters reached the regional final until Leesburg sauntered in and gave them a dose of reality. A year older and wiser, Stranahan believes they can take the next step and reach Lakeland. Junior guards Brian Dugazon, Chayse Culpepper, and David Herrard are a potent trio, whether getting out in transition, shooting from the perimeter, or attacking the basket with the dribble. Rugged 6’6 junior Inady Legiste provides an interior option as well as a defensive presence in the paint.
TOP FIVE “SMALL” SCHOOLS (CLASS 4A thru 1A)
Miami Christian (Class 2A, Region 4, District 8)
After securing consecutive Class 2A state titles, the Victors have reloaded for a run at number three. Though 6’1 senior Diego Rivera is the lone returning starter, a plethora of newcomers will look to offset the production from last season. By all accounts, this group has size (six players over 6’5) and skills. Senior guard Algenis Quintana is arguably the next D-I guard that the Victors will produce but a pair of juniors, 6’7 Nick Silva and 6’9 Miguel Santos, will be key to Miami Christian’s on-court fortunes this season.
Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy (Class 4A, Region 3, District 5)
It seems strange to write about Westminster without mentioning Zach Scott, who played on the varsity since the eighth grade. While he’s moved on to Florida Gulf Coast, senior guards Sam Griffin and Chase Johnston are back for another run at a state title. While they will miss Dudley Blackwell, they did bring in 6’10 senior Goran Milokovich. His size and skill is something that no other team in the classification can match. That talented trio will need some help from the supporting cast, but the talent and experience is there to make a serious run at title number three.
Palm Beach Gardens Benjamin (Class 4A, Region 3, District 5)
Benjamin will have to get past district foe Westminster Academy at some point if they want to contend for a state title. Benjamin’s main weapon will be 6’5 senior Ben Lubarsky, a burly forward that can stroke it from deep. He’s also wiley enough to know how to be a decoy and set up teammates for easy buckets.
Hialeah Champagnat (Class 3A, Region 4, District 8)
Champagnat made the final four last year and is a known commodity among the small schools in South Florida. Thus, they get a nod as one of the better teams in this section. While previous results certainly don’t guarantee future success, Champagnat provides a comfort level no other school does.
Boca Raton Grandview Prep (Class 2A, Region 4, District 7)
A fixture in the state tournament in recent years under Joe Dawson, Grandview will once again challenge Miami Christian for supremacy in Class 2A in South Florida. The balanced and experienced squad will face a challenging schedule outside of its district to prepare for the playoffs. Year to year the roster turns over and year to year Dawson churns out winners. This season should be no different.
Top Five Players
Vernon Carey, Jr., University School: As mentioned earlier, the 6’9 Carey is considered the top prospect in the 2019 Class and has offers from every elite program in the country. The lefty can dominate down low when the mood strikes but he is also an effective perimeter player. Named Mr. Basketball last season as a junior, Carey may just follow in the steps of Ben Simmons and become the top draft pick overall when his time comes.
Scottie Barnes, University School: While considered a top five player in the national 2020 Class, no other peer has accomplished what Barnes has. He was the first sophomore to be named the MVP of the City of Palms, was an impact performer for USA Basketball this past summer, and is considered one of, if not the, most versatile players in high school basketball. Concerns about his perimeter shooting consistency exist but Barnes has time to change that.
Toumani Camara, Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna: A native of Belgium, Camara exploded on the national scene in the summer and turned his performance into a commit to the University of Georgia. Lithe and athletic, the 6’6 senior lefty gets to the basket quickly off the bounce, has a pull-up game, and has a quick leap and long reach to snag missed shots.
Dudley Blackwell, Pembroke Pines Somerset Academy: The 6’5 junior has a diverse game and sometimes it seems he has to be coerced into scoring. He delights in setting up teammates and is a threat to grab rebounds and go coast-to-coast for transition finishes. Blackwell’s jumper isn’t always pretty or consistent but he has been known to get streaky hot and bury several in succession.
Ben Lubarsky, Palm Beach Gardens Benjamin: The 6’5 lefty can really stroke the ball, both off the catch and the dribble. He’s got a wide frame and knows how to use it to carve out space inside to score and pursue rebounds.
#1 SR: Vernon Carey, Jr. (see above)
#1 JR: Scottie Barnes (see above)
#1 SO: Wesley Cardet, Oakland Park Northeast: The 6’5 Cardet played up on the 17U level with Team Breakdown and acquitted himself well. He can play positions 1-3, get to the rim and score thru contact in traffic, and make enough jumpers to keep defenders on their toes.
#1 FR: Greg Glenn, Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian: Glenn was a man among boys this past summer in leading the Nightrydas Elite to the 8th Grade AAU National Championship. The 6’5 wing has the frame and strength to play inside but also has the skills level to be productive on the perimeter.
Senior Sleeper: Isaad Solano, Miami Sports Leadership And Management (SLAM) Academy: SLAM reached the final four in Class 4A last season. In the semi-final loss to ultimate champion Westminster Academy, Solano tallied 28 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists. We watched him this summer and consider him to be a multi-level scorer, crafty offensive rebounder, and a guy that plays with supreme confidence.