Favorite: Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee
The Indians fell in the region semis to eventual champ Rickards last year. The team returns a trio of double-figure scorers and will have as much size as any team in the classification. Jamil Bowles, a 6’5 senior, leads the returnees after averaging nearly thirteen points a contest. Ezra McKeena, a 6’7 senior who is committed to Air Force and 6’3 senior Amarion Pettis both averaged ten points a contest last year. Add in a pair of 6’8 juniors in Elijah Johnson and Brian Grant and Choctaw can trot out both size and athleticism. Easton Davis, a 6’6 senior, as well as the Newell brothers, 6’8 senior Jaden and 6’6 freshman Asa, add to Choctaws wealth of depth and talent. To be honest, Jacksonville Lee had this spot until it was revealed that 6’8 senior Alex Fudge will graduate early and head to LSU in January. Lee will still be very good. It is just that Fudge elevated them to a championship level.
Regional Favorites: Rockledge (Region Two); Naples (Region Three); Pines Charter (Region Four)
This classification can be absolutely baffling to predict because so few teams have any kind of sustained history of basketball success. Rockledge has had some success in the recent past but should get challenged by the likes of Auburndale, Leesburg and Orlando Jones. Naples took a young team to Lakeland last year, plays a high octane style, and returns everyone of consequence back. Their likely regional challengers should include Port Charlotte, Bradenton Southeast, and Clearwater. Down in South Florida, Pines Charter looks to have the personnel to return to Lakeland. Regional roadblocks could include Boyd Anderson, Miami Norland, Belen Jesuit and a young Riviera Beach Suncoast team.
Best Player: Alex Fudge, Jacksonville Lee/Tony Green, Naples
Fudge is the clear pick. The 6’8 senior has greatly improved his shooting range and consistency and now must be respected out to the arc. A grab-and-go rebounder, Fudge gets from end to end, with or without the ball, very quickly. He is also a great finisher around the basket and active rebounder and defender. After he leaves for LSU at mid-season, Green is the most likely player to fill his shoes. The 6’6 senior shoots the ball with great range, scores with great body control at the basket, and is a high level athlete.
Pre-Season All-State: Fudge; Green; Jamar Franklin (Rockledge); Alex Perry (Port Charlotte); Javen Flowers-Smith (Pembroke Pines Charter); Khamari McGriff (Tallahassee Rickards)
Franklin, a 6’3 junior, is a solid combo guard that scores and distributes equally well. Perry is a 6’4 junior with great athleticism and the ability to score inside of fifteen feet. Flowers-Smith is very fast with the ball, pushes the pace, and collapses defenses with his ability to get to the basket. McGriff is more defense than offense right now. A long and athletic rim protector, the 6’8 senior has already signed with UNC-Wilmington.
Better Than Advertised: Riviera Beach Suncoast
As mentioned earlier, Suncoast will be a very young team. However, that is some very talented youth. Sophomore wing Nate Sasser (6’5) and freshman guard Stone Bureau (5’11) have on-court chemistry from playing together in middle school while 6’8 freshman Ivan Smikle teamed with Bureau during summer events. They will take some lumps early, but no doubt the Chargers will be a formidable foe come playoff time.
Don’t Sleep On: Diego Platas, Auburndale
Platas, a 6’8 senior, grew a few inches over the summer. He is now a viable inside/out threat. Platas has very good range on his shot, is dangerous in pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop situations, and rebounds the ball well.
PRE-SEASON GREAT EIGHT
1.Fort Walton Choctawhatchee
3.Pembroke Pines Charter