We move onto Central Florida for our regional previews.
TOP FIVE “BIG” SCHOOLS (CLASS 7A thru 5A)
Orlando Dr. Phillips (Class 7A, Region 2, District 5)
Last year’s Class 7A champs return four starters, 3 of them signing high-major D-I college scholarships, and are nationally ranked in all of the credible pre-season high school polls. Ernest Udeh, a 6’10 Kansas signee, anchors the middle at both ends of the floor. A long and bouncy athlete, Udeh protects the basket, grabs rebounds out of his area, and is quick to the basket for lobs and putbacks. The backcourt of 6’4 Florida signee Denzell Aberdeen and 6’5 Mississippi State recruit Riley Kugel is lethal as both excel at dribbling, passing, and shooting the basketball. Mason Sheffield, a 6’4 senior, provides instant offense while 6’3 sophomore Jordan Tillery does a little bit of everything, all of it conducive to winning. Transfer Jonathan Caicedo, a 6’6 junior, brings needed size to the floor. DP will be facing a national schedule and a more challenging path to Lakeland out of region two, but the Panthers certainly have the talent to repeat.
Orlando Oak Ridge (Class 7A, Region 1, District 4)
Re-classification put the Pioneers in an “easier” region this time around and despite losing a good deal of talent to graduation, this club is still very talented and a consensus pick to reach Lakeland from region one. It is a young team, as it features only two seniors, both D-I prospects. Fabio Basili, a 6’4 senior guard, had a breakout summer and has gotten some high-major looks. He is a crafty and creative scorer. Lewis Jones, a 6’5 wing, will play a variety of positions each game, ranging from playing in the post to running the offense as a point forward. Sophomores Elijah Elliott (6’3) and Tyler Johnson (6’5) are both expected to take big steps in their development this season. They are the future of the program. Freshman Jalen Reese will see plenty of time at the point as he is savvy and skilled beyond his years. Amari Davis, a 6’6 freshman, provides size off the bench. Oak Ridge will play a tough slate of games, both in and out of state, to prepare for the playoffs.
Windermere (Class 7A, Region 2, District 5)
The Wolverines have been a solid program since the school opened a few short years ago. They could go far this season. The squad lost a pair of D-I guards to graduation but will definitely battle for a spot in Lakeland. The focal point this season will be Sean Stewart, a 6’8 junior combo forward that has recently taken unofficial visits to Duke, North Carolina, and Michigan. His national recruiting stature has blown up in a big way thanks to his athleticism and rapidly improving skill set. Jalen Dubose, a 6’2 junior, will step in as the primary perimeter scorer. He is known for his three point shot but will take the ball strong to the basket if given the opportunity. Chris Nurse, a 6’5 senior, may be the toughest player, inch-for-inch, in the region. He competes and wins most matchups against taller foes. The rest of the squad will fill their respective roles which will include opportunistic scoring, gang rebounding, and giving great effort on the defensive end.
Sanford Seminole (Class 7A, Region 1, District 3)
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. Senior 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.
Kissimmee Osceola (Class 7A, Region 3, District 9)
Somehow, the bi-annual FHSAA re-alignment put some Orange and Osceola County schools in a region that normally runs from Fort Pierce to Coral Springs. The Kowboys could play deep into the regional playoffs under the right circumstances. First, they have to get continued production inside from 6’6 junior Jimarion McCrimmon. Strong and agile, McCrimmon has solid footwork and scoring skills in the post. The Combs brothers, 6’0 senior Christian and 6’1 junior Sean, are dangerous scorers from anywhere on the floor. Much like Seminole, Osceola has a multitude of two-sport athletes and a successful football program. The Kowboys may struggle early until the football players hit the hardwood, but should be more than ready come playoff time.
TOP FIVE “SMALL” SCHOOLS (CLASS 4A thru 1A)
Orlando Christian Prep (Class 2A, Region 2, District 8)
OCP went undefeated last year on their way to a final national ranking of #12 in the country and currently hold a 47-game winning streak entering the season. The Warriors are nationally ranked in all of the credible pre-season polls and will take on a national schedule, so the likelihood of going undefeated once again is a remote one. Still, OCP has the weapons to be the top team in the state regardless of class when March rolls around. Senior duo Ven-Allen Lubin and A.J. Brown have been standouts since day one. Lubin, a 6’7 Notre Dame signee, is consistently productive and will be a double-double machine this season. Brown has signed with the University of Ohio and is capable of taking over games offensively. Patrolling the paint and directing defensive traffic is 6’9 junior Jayden Hastings. A top fifty recruit in the 2023 Class, Hastings has some post scoring skills, beats opposing bigs down the floor, and converts lobs and putbacks around the basket. A young core of perimeter players will need to step up and play big in big games this coming season. Sophomores Isaiah Brown (6’2), Ameer Ramadan (6’0) and freshman Mikel Brown (5’11) all of have talent but lack the experience that last year’s squad had.
Orlando Central Florida Christian Academy (Class 2A, Region 2, District 7)
It is a bit of a disappointment that the two best teams in the state in Class 2A have to fight it out for a trip to Lakeland instead in the title game in Lakeland. That is how good CFCA can be this year. Clarens Pierre, a 6’8 senior, makes the most of his opportunities inside and is a solid post defender, shot blocker and rebounder. Ta’Veon Jones, a 5’8 sophomore, does an excellent job of pushing the pace, penetrating the defense and finding teammates for open shots. Nick Rodriguez, a 6’2 senior, is a relentless rim attacker that earns a lot of three-point play opportunities. He is also a threat from behind the arc. Cam Simpson, a 6’6 sophomore, is a talented shooter with extensive perimeter shooting range. The catalyst for the Eagles is Jamar Houston, a 6’3 senior. For him, the term “explosive athlete” is a gross understatement. Offensively, he soars well above the rim to finish lobs, short drives, and offensive rebounds. Defensively, he hounds the opponent’s best player and makes them work for everything.
Orlando Lake Highland Prep (Class 4A, Region 2, District 6)
The Highlanders lost in last year’s regional final but with all the talent they have in place, a trip to Lakeland is the expectation. It starts with 6’6 senior Brice Sensabaugh. A signee for the Ohio State University, Sensabaugh had a brilliant summer once the effects of last season’s knee injury were behind him. Blessed with a big frame and a soft shooting touch, he can put up points in a hurry. Jah Quinones, a 6’2 senior, will play at Mercer collegiately. The lefty sees the floor, makes plays for others, and will surprise with his ability to get to the rim and finish in a crowd. Jared Berry, a 5’10 senior is committed to Embry-Riddle. Tough, gritty, smart, and crafty, he packs a lot into a box score. Julien Clark (6’1) and Kellan Lewis (6’0), both sophomores are the future of the program. Both can score, handle, and distribute the basketball at a high level.
Windermere Prep (Class 3A, Region 1, District 4)
Class 3A is without question the most difficult and talented classification in the state and the Lakers play in arguably the most challenging region. Still, there is plenty of optimism for a Lakeland run, thanks to quality guard play. Jayden Williams, a 6’5 senior and Dartmouth recruit, is a talented shooter from beyond the arc and continues to improve as a well-rounded scorer. Senior Drew Kousie has a chance to play on the D-I level. Another solid shooter, he is also crafty with the ball, gets it to the hot hand, and is unfazed by pressure. Newcomers Eduardo Placer and Z.Z. Clark will also contribute. Placer, a 6’4 junior, can play anywhere on the floor, has excellent shooting and passing skills, and plays with a chip on his shoulder. Clark, a 6’2 sophomore, is strong and athletic, finishes well in traffic, and has a respectable jump shot. Mason Williams, a 6’5 junior, is the lone player that can be counted on as an interior defensive presence and rebounder, so it will be all hands on deck at the opposite end of the floor.
Winter Park Trinity Prep (Class 3A, Region 1, District 3)
It feels like the Saints are starting to build something. Javon Bennett, a 5’10 senior, can score with the best of them as he averaged over 22ppg last season. He had a very productive travel season with Southeast Elite and made quite the impression. Krishen Atwal, a 6’6 senior that averaged 16ppg last year, knocks down shots from the perimeter, pounds the glass, and will attack the basket when given the opportunity. Josh Cooper, a 6’6 junior, shows flashes of potential. He will get help inside from 6’5 senior Chance Duncan and 6’4 senior Aitan Erlichman.
Top Five Players
Ernest Udeh, Orlando Dr. Phillips: It is not outrageous to say that the 6’10 Kansas signee had the best spring and summer of any high school baller. Udeh went from being ranking outside the top one hundred to a realistic McDonald’s Game candidate. His defensive and rebounding prowess, along with his size, athleticism, and high level of effort, make him a big-time producer each time he steps on the floor.
Ven-Allen Lubin, Orlando Christian Prep: Think of a smaller version of Tim Duncan; consistently productive at a high level, plays the game the right way, never gets too high or too low on the floor, and his team always seems to win. Don’t forget he was Class 2A Mr. Basketball as a sophomore. He too had a great spring and summer, making him a high major priority.
Brice Sensabaugh, Lake Highland Prep: He is simply a tough matchup now that he is fully healthy. Too strong for smaller players and too skilled for bigs, Sensabaugh scores in a lot of different ways. He is much more athletic than he looks. It isn’t a stretch to see him claiming the Mr. Basketball award come March.
Denzel Aberdeen, Orlando Dr. Phillips: Another player coming off several great performance during the spring and summer, Aberdeen can fill it up. Both dangerous from deep and skilled finisher in traffic, he is going to get his points one way or another. He also puts in work on the defensive end.
Riley Kugle, Orlando Dr. Phillips: The 6’5 senior 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. There are times where Kugel makes the game look very easy.
#1 Senior: Ernest Udeh, Orlando Dr. Phillips (see above)
#1 Junior: Sean Stewart, Windermere: The 6’8 junior came on strong late in the summer and has garnered attention not just from high major programs but “blue blood, elite of the elite” programs. A combination of size, skill, and athleticism that is hard to come by, Stewart is able to make a lot of plays that the vast majority of high school basketball players can not.
#1 Sophomore: Elijah Elliott, Orlando Oak Ridge: On a roster loaded with talent, Elliott may not always stand out but at one point in every game he seemingly makes a play that makes you go, “Okay, I see it”. 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.
#1 Freshman: Mikel Brown, Orlando Christian Prep: The 5’11 freshman made waves nationally with his play for OCP at the NCAA-certified GHSA team camp before even enrolling in high school this fall. He has a high basketball IQ, excellent instincts, and plays with a great deal of confidence.
Senior Sleeper: Jamar Houstan, Orlando Central Florida Christian Academy: As mentioned above, Houstan is an explosive athlete. He is an exciting player to watch, whether it is finishing lobs on the break or in half-court, coming up with a steal and finishing in the open floor, or getting to rebounds quicker and at a higher level than opposing bigs.