The High School season is fast approaching. COVID and the cancellation of many events, both team and individual, during the off-season makes it a challenge to be as confident as we normally are in our region and classification previews. With that caveat in mind, we will be presenting are annual previews over the next couple of weeks. As is tradition, we’ve broken the regions down into the Panhandle, North Florida, Central Florida, Southwest Florida, and South Florida. We kick off our regional coverage with a look at the Panhandle, which we consider to be Tallahassee to Pensacola.
Top Five “Big” Schools (Class 7A-5A)
Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee (Class 5A, Region 1, District 1)
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.
Tallahassee Lincoln (Class 6A, Region 1, District 2)
Matt Anderson’s club lost by a single point on the road in last year’s region semis, a bitter pill to swallow. With three of the team’s top six scorer’s back, Lincoln will look to advance further in 20-21. We were impressed with the play of 6’3 senior David Ganious at our Academic Elite event. He plays bigger than his size and will no doubt lead by example. Rajahun Sancho, a 5’9 senior nearly averaged 10 points a contest last year while Jordan Wilford, a 6’3 senior brings in additional experience. Lincoln will be a club that will look to take advantage of its speed and athleticism, use its defense to disrupt opponents and get easy baskets by speeding up the pace of the game.
Lynn Haven Mosley (Class 5A, Region 1, District 2)
Mosley was a bit of a surprise last season, earning a #5 seed and losing by just two points on the road in the first round of the regionals. They finished with a record of 21-6 and ranked #108 among all schools in the state per the FHSAA. Mosley brings back three of its top six scorers, so the squad should have an opportunity to go farther in the playoffs. Seniors Christian McCarter and Jake Piorkowski will provide points and leadership. Randy Pittman, a 6’3 sophomore, represents the future of the program.
Tallahassee Rickards (Class 5A, Region 1, District 2)
Rickards is the reigning Class 5A champion. However, the squad only returns one starter from last season. Fortunately, 6’8 senior Khamari McGriff, is one of the better players in the region, and Rickards should be able to feed off him. He’s active rebounder and rim protector on the defensive end while a developing post presence when on offense. Rickards is a tradition-rich program, so it is unwise to count them. The team may get off to a slow start as the players develop chemistry, but come playoff time Rickards should be a tough out.
Tallahassee Chiles (Class 6A, Region 2, District 2)
Another surprise team from last season, Childs got into the playoffs as the final at-large team in the region and nearly pulled off the upset, falling by just two on the road at Columbia. While the team returns its top two scorers, there are still graduation losses that need to be offset. Tajden Davis, a 6’3 junior, averaged a little over thirteen points a game last year while 6’5 senior Marvin Thornton contributed ten a contes. Look for 6’2 sophomore Jake Easterling to provide a punch on offense. He was quite impressive this summer.
Top Five “Small” Schools (Class 4A thru 1A)
Tallahassee Florida High (Class 3A, Region 1, District 1)
The Florida State lab school may be the best regardless of classification in the Panhandle region, but this region in Class 3A, which extends from Pensacola to Jacksonville and then down to Orlando, is very tough. Seniors Makai Willis and Kai Farlin provide a presence on the interior while juniors Tre Donaldson and Jaylen Martin drive the backcourt. Sophomore guard Anthony Robinson will most likely fill the final starting spot. The team is playing an upgraded schedule in hopes of being prepared for what should be a challenging road to Lakeland.
Marianna (Class 4A, Region 1, District 2)
Marianna made it into last year’s playoffs as a sixth seed but return five of its top six scorers from last season, giving reason to believe that advancing in the playoffs is likely this time around. Hopefully, that experience will offset a lack of size for Marianna. Ahmad Johnson, a 5’11 senior, averaged sixteen points a game last year while 5’10 junior Nykeem Gainer contributed thirteen points per contest. This region has always been quite competitive and Marianna will have to fend off talented programs out of Jacksonville, Pensacola, as well its district rivals to go deep in the playoffs.
Pensacola High School (Class 4A, Region 1, District 1)
“P’Cola” made it into last year’s playoffs as the last “at-large” team, but threw a score into top-seeded Jacksonville Paxon on the road before losing by eight points. The program returns its for top scorers. Isaiah Gaines, a 6’7 senior, averaged twelve points a contest last year while 6’3 junior Caleb Young added another eleven points a contest. Emanuel McDuffie, a 5’11 senior, also averaged in double-figures at just over ten points a game. Pensacola will need to earn its district title to avoid a long trip in the first round of the playoffs.
Tallahassee Maclay (Class 3A, Region 1, District 1)
Maclay reached last year’s playoffs as the #8 seed in the region. While that could happen again this year, Maclay should be improved. Returning five of its top six scorers from last season, Maclay hopes to challenge district foe Florida High. Blaise Wallace, a 6’7 sophomore has been solid at various events this fall. He and 6’6 senior Dozie Okoroji provide size and athleticism on the interior. O’rell Brooks, a 6’0 senior, is the team’s leading returning scorer at twelve points a contest.
Quincy Munroe (Class 2A, Region 1, District 1)
It was a tough choice between Munroe and Tallahassee FAMU for this spot. We chose Munroe because (A) they return five of last season’s scorers and (B) Munroe beat FAMU during the regular season while losing to them in the playoffs. It is a logical assumption to believe with that many returning scorers that Munroe can take the next step. Marco Atkins, a 6’0 senior and Cameron Stinson, a 5’10 junior both averaged twelve points a contest last year. Deon Conyers, a 5’10 junior, added eleven points a game in 2019-2020.
TOP FIVE PLAYERS
Tre Donaldson, Tallahassee Florida High: The 6’1 junior point guard plays with both poise and flare. His jump shot is consistent out to the arc, blows by defenders to finish in traffic at the rim, and has both excellent vision and a high basketball IQ. Donaldson is a two-sport athlete (football) and already sports an offer from Louisville.
Jaylin Martin, Tallahassee Florida High: The 6’6 junior is both smooth and strong when attacking the basket and he usually finishes above the rim. His jump shot continues to become more consistent and he just seems to have a knack for getting the ball in the basket. Martin shined in a variety of events this summer and fall and several high major offers, most notably St John’s and Virginia Tec, have come his way.
Khamari McGriff, Tallahassee Rickards: The 6’8 senior hasn’t been playing basketball long but he has learned a lot and developed quite rapidly. Long and athletic, he makes his greatest impact on the defensive end. In last season’s state semi-final contest, he nearly produced a triple double (7 points, 11 rebounds, 9 blocks). An opportunistic scorer, McGriff’s best basketball lay ahead of him.
Makai Willis, Tallahassee Florida High: A 6’8 post player with a developing perimeter shot, Willis scores well around the basket, gathers rebounds in large quantities at both ends, and is a solid rim protector at this level. He has already committed to Fairfield
Caleb Young, Pensacola High: The 6’4 junior is thin, long, and possesses a picture-perfect stroke on his jumper. He connects on shots out to the arc but also has the ability to drive and score if over-played. Young generally makes good decisions with the ball and is a versatile defender.
#1 Senior: Makai Willis (see above)
#1 Junior: Jaylin Martin (see above)
#1 Sophomore: Kris Parker, Quincy Crossroad Academy: The 6’6 wing is highly athletic and highly skilled. Parker can put the ball on the floor and score from just about anywhere. A solid rebounder at both ends and a defender that covers a lot of ground quickly, Parker may just be the best player in Class 1A this coming season.
#1 Freshman: Asa Newell, Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee: At 6’6, Newell has excellent size he is surprisingly agile for his age and height. Newell has a solid stroke out the to arc and is a decent ball-handler on the perimeter. While a bit on the thin side, he doesn’t shy away from playing physical when battling for rebounds and playing defense.
Senior Sleeper: Trenton Moye, Milton Central: A double-figurer scorer every year in high school, Moye hopes that his final season at Central will be the one that gets them into the playoffs. He has elevated his game every year. As a freshman he averaged 10.1 ppg, raised that to 14.3 ppg as a sophomore and last year finished with a 19.7 ppg average.