Every year there are players that raise their reputation with their play. This year was certainly no different. These are just some of the performers that had us sit up and take notice.
Travis Jay, Madison County: Playing in relative anonymity in a stretch of the state between Jacksonville and Tallahassee, the 6’3 junior put up some serious numbers in leading his team to the state semis. He averaged a near triple-double, going for 15.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game. That darn near mirrors his numbers in a tough semi-final loss: 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists. For his efforts, he finished third in the Class 1A Mr. Basketball voting. A football standout with offers already from the likes of FSU, Florida and Miami, his future appears to be in that area.
Mike Cole, Jacksonville Impact Christian: Truthfully, we weren’t aware of the 6’6 senior until watching him play a pair of games in the state tournament in Lakeland. With 16 points and 6 rebounds in a semi-final win and 17 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks in the finals, Cole impressed as both a consistent and proficient performer. He should get a chance to play on some collegiate level as his best basketball days are likely ahead of him.
Joseph Martz, Mount Dora Christian Academy: No telling how far Martz and MDC would have made it in the playoffs if they did not have to face Orlando Christian Prep. A key cog in the Bulldogs run to the region final, the 5’10 senior contributed 14.6 points, 7.2 assists and 3.4 steals on a nightly basis. Lost in those stats is his penchant for knocking down key shots from deep as well as his ability to push the pace and handle a variety of defensive pressures that Mount Dora Christian faced throughout the season.
Malcolm Whitlow, Tampa Carrollwood Day School: The state leader in scoring at 31.8 points a game, the 6’0 junior led CDS from obscurity to a regional final. A newcomer from Kansas, Whitlow displayed a canny ability to operate coming off ball screens and taking advantage of the defense. He is more strong than speedy and draws a lot of free throw opportunities. He’s not just a scorer as he averaged nearly nine rebounds and seven assists per game.
Lamont Woods, Key West: It has been a long time since the Keys has produced a baller of notoriety. The 6’3 junior averaged just over 24 points and 7 rebounds a game down in the southern most point of the continental United States. He led the Conchs to a runner-up finish in Class 5A, District 16 and took a favored Gulliver Prep to the limit in the first round of the regional playoffs. Hopefully, we will get to see him sometime this spring or summer.
Vincent McCray, Tallahassee Rickards: This may be a bit of a cheat. We knew McCray was a double-figure scorer last season for Rickards and we guessed that the Raiders would be one of the better one’s in the Panhandle, partly because of McCray. However, we must admit to being surprised in the 5’10 senior’s performance in Lakeland. While he averaged a respectable but modest 13 points a game during the season, he erupted for 25 points in Rickards’ semi-final win over Palatka and for another 24 in the final.
Richard Nunez, North Miami Beach: We were unaware of the 6’8 senior until he appeared on the Florida Dairy Farmer’s Mr. Basketball ballot. Playing in an extremely tough district against the likes of Miami Norland, Carol City, and Miami Central, Nunez put up nightly averages of 24 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocks. For his efforts, he placed third in the voting for Class 7A Player of the Year out of a total of nine candidates.
Phillip Lyttle, West Palm Beach Forest Hill: It’s been a long time since Forest Hill has made any kind of mark on the basketball landscape in Florida. This season, the team finished 24-5 in a heavily competitive district and was runner-up to perennial power Dwyer. The 6’3 senior’s stats are a somewhat understated at 14 points and 8 rebounds a contest, but he landed on the Mr. Basketball ballot. His impact on the game was always made but sometimes seldom seen in the score book.
K.J. Simon, Winter Garden West Orange: Heading into his senior season, we knew the 6’2 Simon was a D-I caliber player (eventually signing with Troy State) but he went from being just an athletic slasher to a fine all-around player this year. Simon scored well from the perimeter with both mid-range pull-ups and shots from beyond the three point line. Maybe most impressive was his improvement as a passer and his ability find open teammates for easy scores. He averaged over 16 points and nearly 6 rebounds and 5 assists per contest, finishing third in the Mr. Basketball voting for Class 9A.
Tyrell Jones, Orlando West Oaks Academy: Jones spent his first two years in Tallahassee and the 6’3 guard developed a reputation as a fine athlete with a bright future. It was a tad surprising when he made the move to West Oaks to play in the highly competitive SIAA. We expected him to fare well but Jones far exceeded those expectations. Not only did he lead the Flames to a share of the SIAA regular season title, but he was named Player of the Year for his efforts by the SIAA.