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 7A thru 5A)
Jacksonville Robert E. Lee (Class 5A, Region 1, District 3)
The Generals return all the important pieces from last year’s squad that reached the regions finals before being upended. Alex Fudge, a 6’7 senior and LSU commit, will lead the way until the new year. At that time, he will be taking his talents to Baton Rouge. However, Lee’s cupboard will not be bare. The senior backcourt of 5’9 Teron Haywood and 6’2 Terrance Guinyard is quite potent and will challenge opponents at both ends of the floor. Sophomores Tahj McClain (6’5), Antonio Harrison (6’4), and Domnick Scott (6’3), may be young but should provide enough frontcourt athleticism to battle on the boards.
Lake City Columbia (Class 6A, Region 1, District 2)
One of the bigger surprises of last season, Columbia rode a dynamic senior backcourt to the state semis. While the team returns just two of its top five scorers, there appears to be enough left in the tank to make another run. Marcus Peterson, a 6’3 junior, is the leading returning scorer. Charleston Ponds, a 6’4 senior was impressive at a couple of events this summer and certainly looks capable of being a player that can score points in bunches. The rest of the club should provide enough athleticism and scoring support to put Columbia in the mix for a return to Lakeland.
Jacksonville First Coast (Class 6A, Region 1, District 3)
First Coast failed to make it out of the district playoffs last year. However, the squad returns all but three seniors from a 15-11 team and should challenge the likes of Fleming Island and Fletcher to make it into the regional round. While no returning player averaged double-digits, expect senior Dekembay Carn and junior Jalen Caneus to lead the charge.
Jacksonville Fletcher (Class 6A, Region 1, District 3)
Another group that was unable to reach the regional round last year, Fletcher returns four of its top five scorers and hope that returning experience will take the club to the next level. The leading the charge is 6’3 senior Zyhir Sims who averaged 20ppg last season. Lajae Jones, a 6’3 junior contributed another thirteen points a contest. In a challenging district where there is no singularly dominant team, Fletcher has a good chance to make a move.
St. Augustine HS (Class 5A, Region 1, District 4)
St. Augustine reached the region semis last year. With the return of four of its top five scorers, one would feel good about the team getting that far (or farther) this season. Brakhel Burch, a 5’10 senior, averaged twelve points a contest last year. Bradley Persson, a 6’0 junior and Daquan Stanley, a 5’10 senior, will also be expected to contribute heavily to the cause.
TOP FIVE “SMALL” SCHOOLS (CLASS 4A thru 1A)
Jacksonville Andrew Jackson (Class 3A, Region 1, District 2)
Jackson reached the state finals in Class 3A last year and certainly has the squad capable of returning and winning the title in 2021. The roster is one of the more unique in the state, featuring five players 6’6 or taller while the rest of the squad is 6’0 or smaller. What opponents end facing is a team that can pressure full court and protect the basket on defense while being able to control the boards and unleash a blitzkrieg in transition. Marquez Ray, a 6’10 senior and 6’6 junior Bryce Turner will be the cornerstones for Jackson this coming season.
Jacksonville Bishop Kenny (Class 4A, Region 1, District 4)
BK reached the region finals last year, finishing the season with a sterling 24-5 record and a #52 state ranking overall per the FHSAA. Three of the team’s top five scorers return from last season and the team should once again be in the hunt for a trip to Lakeland. Ross Candelino, a 6’4 junior, averaged fourteen points a game last year while 5’10 senior Daniel Buckley contributed twelve points an outing. If the returnees can step up their games as expected, it should be another solid season for Bishop Kenny.
Jacksonville Bishop Snyder (Class 3A, Region 1, District 2)
The Cardinals have “re-tooled” to make a run in an extremely challenging district and region. Justin Hicks, a 6’2 senior, has moved over from West Nassau, and will be option #1 on offense. He has proven to be a capable scorer from just about anywhere on the floor. The junior class should have Snyder supporters excited. Jalen Gilmore, a 6’3 point guard, proved very adept at both facilitating and scoring at various events this summer and fall. Manok Lual, at 6’9, can play inside or out. The Wolfson transfer is long, shoots the ball well from the perimeter, and is a competent shot blocker. Moise Balungu, a 6’4 wing, is tough to keep from the basket. Snyder will have to get by district foes Jackson and Providence to make a playoff run, not an easy task.
Jacksonville Bolles (Class 4A, Region 1, District 4)
The Bolles School reached the regional round of the playoffs last year, winning a game on the road in the first round before falling to eventual region champ Paxon in the semis. The squad returns the high scoring tandem of 6’0 senior Bobby Crouch (18ppg) and 6’2 junior Ben McGraw (15 ppg). Another senior, 5’9 Richie Rosenblum, scored twelve points per game last season, so Bolles is expecting a combined 45 points per game from that trio. If other contributions come in as expected, the team could bowl over its competition.
Jacksonville Impact Christian Academy (Class 2A, Region 1, District 4)
It was a tough choice between Impact and North Florida Educational Institute for this spot, and it simply came down to we got to see Impact earlier in the fall while NFEI is a bit of an unknown commodity at this time. The trio of 6’5 senior Calvin Johnson, 6’6 senior Ivan Lawson, and 6’6 junior Kelvin Johnson proved at various events in the fall that they could be a handful to defend. Each attacks the basket of offense and when rebounding on the defensive end. Guard play will be key, but it looked more than adequate. Impact was able to get past NFEI last year by a mere two points on the road on its way to the Final Four. The two will most likely meet up again.
TOP FIVE PLAYERS
Dallan Coleman, Callahan West Nassau: Coleman has a national reputation and recently committed to Georgia Tech. A scoring wonder, the 6’4 senior can fill it up from all three levels. While his role is to score at the high school level, don’t be surprised if Coleman becomes a scoring point guard when he reaches Atlanta to play for the Yellow Jackets.
Alex Fudge, Jacksonville Lee: A long athlete whose perimeter skills have vastly improved, the 6’8 senior is going to have a short season as he plans to graduate in December and move on to play for Louisiana State. Always a dangerous driver and finisher at the basket, Fudge’s ability to knock down perimeter shots off the catch as well as the dribble has made him a nightmare to defend. With him, Lee would have been the clear favorite to capture the Class 5A title.
Jarvey Gainey, Gainesville Eastside: The 6’4 senior was the co-player of the year last year in Gainesville. His jumper is poetry in motion and that shot always looks like it is going in. Gainey is long and active defensively, quickly turning steals into scores.
James Repass, Jacksonville Providence: The 6’10 senior has been the anchor in the middle for Providence since he first set foot on campus. A throwback to the days when “bigs” played like it, Repass has a variety of scoring tools around the rim, challenges any intruder into the lane, and controls his rebounding area. He has developed the capability to step out and make perimeter shots, but it is his ability to score down low that makes Providence a playoff contender.
Ernest Ross, Alachua Santa Fe: The 6’9 senior has been seldom seen since the end of last season. Lauded for what he can be down the road, Ross has a generous wing span, a lot of bounce, and finishes above the rim quickly in transition, lobs, and put-backs. He actually has pretty good handles and play-making ability for a guy his size. Ross committed to North Carolina State back in the spring.
#1 Senior: Alex Fudge (see above)
#1 Junior: Jalen Gilmore, Bishop Snyder: Gilmore has a very good combination of size (6’3), scoring ability, and court vision. He gets teammates involved first but when the chips are down he generally come through in the clutch.
#1 Sophomore: Dontrell Jackson, Alachua Santa Fe: The 5’9 Jackson earned a starting spot early on last season and proved that good things come in small packages. He has a high basketball IQ, sees the floor and gets the ball quickly to open teammates for easy baskets. As Jackson gets stronger and (hopefully) taller, he will be better able to handle the more physical aspects of the game.
#1 Freshman: Jaylen Robinson, Jacksonville Providence: It is rare for Providence to play freshmen on varsity, but the 6’5 Robinson may just be what the doctor ordered to help the Stallions compete come playoff time. When viewed this summer, Robinson showed a solid frame, good athleticism, and a motor that doesn’t stop.
Senior Sleeper: Charleston Ponds, Lake City Columbia: The 6’4 rising senior is a solid wing. He scores well on drives to the basket and knocks down open shots from beyond the arc. Ponds rebounds the ball at both ends and routinely pushes the ball up the floor after grabbing a defensive rebound. He also is an active defender that covers a lot of ground quickly.