We move onto Central Florida for our regional previews.
TOP FIVE “BIG” SCHOOLS (CLASS 7A thru 5A)
Orlando Dr. Phillips (Class 7A, Region 1, District 3)
The Panthers will be a young squad but certainly not without talent. Ernest Udeh, a 6’9 junior, seemingly improves each time he steps on the court. An athletic big man with length, his defense is ahead of his offense right now but he makes the most of his scoring opportunities. Perimeter fire power will come from 6’2 junior Denzel Aberdeen and 6’5 junior Riley Kugel. Aberdeen is a marksman with deep range while also possessing slick handles and an ability to get to the basket and finish. Kugel is one of the better players in the 2022 class. At 6’5 he can play multiple positions, is an effective distributor, and will get his teammates easy shots. Others such as 6’2 senior Eathen Williams and 6’4 sophomore Joe Poventud, will give DP a boost.
Orlando Oak Ridge (Class 7A, Region 2, District 5)
The Pioneers lose only one player of significance from last year’s final four team. Now, this group of seniors realize that there is no next year and have their sights aimed squarely at a state title. Michael James, a 6’5 senior, has committed to Louisville. He is a tremendous two-way player with the ability to score in bunches as well as disrupt on the defensive end. Jalen Smith, now a 6’4 senior after growing three inches since last season, is committed to Southern Methodist. The point guard sees the floor well, makes good decisions, and has a consistently accurate outside shot. Senior Roddrick Henry, a 6’5, will be called upon to defend the interior, something he is used to doing. He will be too quick for most bigs to guard on the other end. While there isn’t a lot of size, there is a lot of skill, talent, and versatility that should push this group of Pioneers forward.
Sanford Seminole (Class 7A, Region 1, District 2)
Seminole usually gets off to a slow start as many of the top players are dual-sport athletes and usually make a long run into the football playoffs. Once the “football guys” get their basketball legs, Seminole starts to take off. Junior twins Demari and Jacari Henderson, excelled last season and will be considered team leaders. The roster is full of athletes that like to pressure on defense and push the pace on the offensive end.
Winter Garden West Orange (Class 7A, Region 1, District 3)
In watching the Warriors play at a couple of fall events, its clear that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is a gritty group of guys that get after opponents on defense and use it to fuel the offense. E.J. Yorke, a 6’0 senior, transfers in from Windemere where he led the team in scoring. Mike McCallister, a 6’5 senior, plays bigger than his size and gets a lot done in the paint. Marcus Allen, a 6’4 senior and Kyle Behrle, a 6’5 sophomore, should also shine at various times. While Warriors’ games may not be a thing of beauty, they should be competitive and intense.
Windermere (Class 7A, Region 1, District 5)
The Wolverines have been a solid program since the school opened a few short years ago. They could go far this season. It starts with the D-I backcourt of 6’3 seniors Trey Moss (South Florida) and Kanye Jones (College of Charleston). Moss distributes and scores at a high rate of success and doesn’t shy away from playing hard-nosed “D”. Jones has a reliable three-point shot and drives just enough to keep the defense off balance. The addition of 6’8 sophomore Sean Stewart give the Wolverines not only size but an interior scoring option. Stewart can step away from the basket and make plays. Jalen Debose, a 6’1 sophomore, averaged just over ten points a game as a freshman at West Orange and is expected to contribute as much if not more. The rest of the group make for a solid supporting cast.
TOP FIVE “SMALL” SCHOOLS (CLASS 4A thru 1A)
Orlando Christian Prep (Class 2A, Region 3, District 11)
OCP has been a dominant small school program for over a decade. This season won’t be any different. In the front court, the team can bring plenty of size in the form of 6’8 senior Camden Easley, 6’7 junior Ven Allen-Lubin and 6’9 sophomore Jayden Hastings. Each had their moments this past spring and summer in front of college coaches and are playing with great confidence. Newcomer Ocyper Owens, a 6’6 wing can play either in the frontcourt or on the wing. In the backcourt, 6’0 senior Omar Figueroa, 5’10 senior Josh Blazquez and 6’5 junior A.J. Brown can all score in bunches and play tough on both ends of the court. It would be a shocker if OCP didn’t make it to Lakeland once again come March.
Orlando Lake Highland Prep (Class 4A, Region 2, District 7)
Last year, Lake Highland Prep made its way to Lakeland despite a rash of injuries. This year, despite a couple of unexpected losses, the Highlanders look to take the next step. To do so, the backcourt trio of Jared Berry (5’10 junior), Jah Quinones (6’0 junior) and Brice Sensabaugh (6’6 junior) will have to continue the stellar play each has individually shown this past off-season. Both Berry and Quinones are smart players that can dribble, pass and shoot. Each plays with a high IQ and knows when to score and when to give the ball up. Sensabaugh is a high-level scorer. He is a deep threat but also quite skilled at driving and scoring at the basket. Senior Miles Stewart, 6’7 and a Howard commit, can step out and score but will be needed to use his size inside at the defensive end.
Oviedo The Master’s Academy (Class 3A, Region 1, District 4)
TMA is a program that continues to win and make playoff runs regardless of its talent level. Eduardo Placer, a 6’4 sophomore, has shown this fall that he can be next in a line of perimeter players that have gone on from The Master’s Academy to play at the next level. The supporting cast will have to take a step up to get TMA deep in the playoffs but past history says that is a likely scenario.
The Villages Charter (Class 4A, Region 2, District 6)
The Villages continues to be a program that succeeds as players come and go. This year’s team looks to have enough pieces to make a run back to Lakeland. Nasir Mann, a 6’4 senior, is an athletic wing that can fill it up from deep as well as make highlight plays in transition. Derek McCray, a 6’0 sophomore, provides a steady hand at the point as well as an accurate three-ball. Antonio Rizzo, a 6’6 senior, has the athleticism and tenacity to be a breakout player in 20-21. It isn’t a big team, but The Villages should have enough depth and firepower to make life difficult for opponents.
Windermere Prep (Class 3A, Region 1, District 4)
Even if high-major prospect Fanbo Zeng is unable to return from his home country of China for this season, the Lakers should have enough talent to make a deep run. Senior center Elijah Hulsewe, 6’10, is a commanding presence inside. He scores well down low, controls his rebounding area, and provides rim protection. Gabe Ferguson, a 6’7 senior that came over from Lake Highland, is just the kind of athletic forward to provide a great compliment on the interior. On the perimeter, 6’0 junior Zavion Williams and 6’4 junior Jayden Williams area dynamic pair. Zavion is the driver/slasher while Jayden is a marksman from deep. Hopefully, the bench will find a reliable rotation to help out during the season.
Top Five Players
Michael James, Oak Ridge: The 6’5 senior gets his points in a variety of ways. He is adept and turning defense into offense, filling the lanes and finishing in transition, and scoring creatively on drives to the hoops. James is more of a slasher than a shooter, but his shot has improved to the point that he must be defended out to the three-point line. Defensively, he is active, gets a lot of tips and deflections, and plays with great energy.
Riley Kugel, Dr. Phillips: The 6’5 junior has proven he can play most any spot on the floor. He excels at the point guard spot as he has good vision, court sense, and a knack for getting the ball to the right place at the right time. Kugel is also an accomplished scorer as last year he hit over 50% from the field, over 40% from behind the arc, and over 70% from the free throw line. There are times where Kugel makes the game look very easy.
Ven-Allen Lubin, Orlando Christian Prep: The 6’7 junior was named Class 2A Player of the Year last season. He rebounds, runs the floor, and effectively challenges shots around the basket. Lubin’s perimeter game is greatly improved as he reliably connects on open threes and will score when attacking the basket with the dribble.
Trey Moss, Windermere: The 6’3 senior guard plays at a great pace and knows when to speed up or slow down. While his perimeter shot is a bit flat and lacks rotation, it goes in at a reliable rate. Moss has speed and quickness with the ball and finds it easy to get into the lane and break down the defense. He is a solid on-ball defender and alert to pick off any errant passes or sloppy ball-handling in his presence.
Fanbo Zeng, Windermere Prep: We are going to be optimistic that the 6’9 junior will return from China as COVID has all but shut down that country. If available, Zeng has the skills to play on the perimeter as the lefty is a good ball-handler, passer, and shooter. He has the ability to grab rebounds and push the ball up the floor on his own. Zeng plays with a bit more aggression and physicality than most foreign-born players.
#1 Senior: Michael James, Oak Ridge (see above)
#1 Junior: Fanbo Zeng, Windermere Prep (see above)
#1 Sophomore: Jayden Hastings, Orlando Christian Prep: The 6’9 sophomore was impressive this summer playing up at the 17U level. He has a very good combination of size, athleticism, and skills for such a young player. He has a soft touch on a jump hook in the lane, rebounds and runs the floor, and does a solid job of protecting the rim.
#1 Freshman: Elijah Elliott, Oak Ridge: On a senior-laden roster loaded with talent, Elliott may not get much of an opportunity this season to show what he can do. However, when viewed with travel team A2, Elliott was quite impressive. With a quick first step, he gets to the basket before the defense can adjust. Elliott also has the length and lateral quickness to be an effective defender.
Senior Sleeper: Jaden Battle, Orlando The First Academy: The 6’4 senior lives up to his surname. He plays hard from end to end, start to finish. Battle combines a solid jumper with a quick first step when heading to the basket. He will be key to The First Academy’s success this year.