Paxton rolled into last season’s Class 1A semi-finals last year with only a single defeat and put up a heck of a challenge to eventual champion Madison County. Five of the top six scorers return and that combination of experience and firepower gives the Bobcats the edge heading into the season. Latrell Sanders led the team in scoring last season as a freshman and should only be better in his sophomore campaign. Seniors Connor Varnum, Alonzo Wright and Zach Williams can be counted on to put up points, grab rebounds, and do all the necessary things to win.
Regional Favorites: Quincy Crossroad Academy (Region Two), Madison County (Region Three), Wildwood (Region Four)
The FHSAA’s shrinkage down to seven classifications (yes!) had little effect on Class 1A. However, nineteen of last season’s 44 Class 1A schools (43%) moved into a different district. Of those 19, 15 are in a different region altogether. Crossroad Academy out of Quincy is a newcomer to Class 1A. The charter school was in 2A last year and reached the final four. The backcourt of Deonta Jones and Jalan Black is dynamic and should be able to carry the team back to Lakeland. Madison County may have lost the core of its championship team, but the Cowboys should have enough athletic talent and experience to have a chance to defend their title. Wildwood came close to repeating last season. Marcus Niblack may be the best player in 1A and will get help from juniors Nate Mikell and Alfred Corbin. Kyler Rodman, a 6’9 senior transfer from Ocala Trinity Catholic, will make Wildwood that much tougher to beat.
Best Player: Marcus Niblack, Wildwood
The 6’0 senior has arguably been the most talented player in the Wildcat program since his freshman year. He’s a crafty ball-handler with the ability to score from all three levels. Niblack is also a better passer than given credit for but for Wildwood to reach the lofty heights expected of it, he will need to score first then set up teammates later. He’s got more than a few Division One schools showing significant interest.
Pre-Season All-State: Niblack, Latrell Sanders (Paxton), Alonzo Wright (Paxton), Jacob Crews (Hilliard), Rudy Blackshear (Laurel Hill)
Sanders, only a sophomore, tallied a team-high seventeen points a contest as a freshman in leading Paxton to the final four. He has the talent to do even more this season. At 6’6, Wright is a matchup problem on the 1A level. He can score over smaller people inside or take bigger foes away from the hoop and then beat them to the basket. Crews is a lights-out shooter and a solid athlete that rebounds well. Blackshear averaged over twenty points a contest last season and hopes to lead Laurel Hill to a significant playoff run.
Better Than Advertised Laurel Hill
Last season, Blackshear and Trey Williams combined to average thirty-six points a game. While the classification shuffle put them in the same district as Paxton, it might just give Laurel Hill an opportunity to make the playoffs as a runner-up.
Don’t Sleep On: Deonta Jones, Crossroad Academy
Jones may only be 5’9 but he showed at our Tallahassee team event in July that he can score in a lot of different ways from a variety of angles and distances. It wouldn’t surprise if he led 1A in scoring this year.
PRE-SEASON TOP FIVE