The High School season is fast approaching. 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)
“Choctaw” reached the state title game last season and despite the graduation of all-stater Jamil Bowles, the Indians are a favorite to reach Lakeland again out of this region. The team features great size with 6’8 seniors Brian Grant, Elijah Johnson, and Jaden Newell as well as 6’7 sophomore Asa Newell. Tariq Pitts, a 6’5 junior, will be a key component on the perimeter. Jayce Brown, a 6’0 junior, will be given the keys to the offense. Choctaw should be able to control the backboards and pound the ball inside on a regular basis to make a deep and possibly championship playoff run.
Tallahassee Lincoln (Class 6A, Region 1, District 2)
Matt Anderson’s clubs are known for their aggressiveness and defensive intensity. The team lost in the regional finals last season after being bounced in the region semis in 2020. While this group doesn’t have anyone on the roster listed over 6’3, they play so hard, especially on the defensive end, that their size doesn’t matter. As the saying goes, “it’s not the dog in the fight but the fight in the dog.” A trio of seniors will be counted on heavily to lead the squad. 5’10 Josh Robertson is speedy with the ball, attacks the basket, and has a respectable shot from behind the three-point line. 6’3 Jaylen Auston is another rim attacker and competes well on the offensive glass for his size. Bryce Cummings, another 6’3 wing, is at his best when getting downhill and overpowering opponents. Gabe Graham, a 5’8 senior, and Isaiah Jackson, a 6’1 junior, provide perimeter shooting for the Trojans. Jaden Bates, a 5’11 junior, also finds ways to contribute. Expect this group to use pressure defense to fuel its offense and make life difficult for the opposition from start to finish.
Pensacola Pine Forest (Class 5A, Region 1, District 1)
Last year’s district runner-up team only had two seniors on the roster, and while their challenge will be getting by district foe Choctaw, the Eagles could still make a significant playoff run if they get a favorable seeding. Robert Ward (6’1 senior) and Ozell Purifoy (5’11 junior) both averaged double-figures and Joshua Whithurst (5’10 junior) just missed that mark. Seniors Omarayon Turner and Kieantae Hill, both 6’5, provide power on the interior. What was a young team last season is now a roster full of experienced seniors looking to make the most of their final high school season.
Milton (Class 6A, Region 1, District 1)
Another young team that made the playoffs last season, Milton lost only three seniors to graduation and should challenge for a district title in 21-22. Last year’s leading scorer, 6’0 Christian Valarezo returns for his final season. He will get support from 6’0 senior Cody Faulk and 5’11 senior Dre’von Hollis. It isn’t a big group as only senior Brandon Thrasher stands at 6’4, so expect Milton to use a lot of bodies to wear down opponents.
Lynn Haven Mosley (Class 5A, Region 1, District 1)
The third team from this district, Mosley reached the region semis last season before falling to Choctaw. Now, after the FHSAA’s bi-annual re-alignment, Mosley finds itself in the same district as Choctaw and Pine Forest. One of those three teams will have to count on the Max Preps power rankings to get into the regional tournament. Randy Pittman, a 6’3 junior, was the area player of the year last season, and looks to up his 12ppg scoring average. Joe Carpenter and Chris Culver, a pair of 6’3 seniors, will need to bump up their scoring averages into double-figures if the Dolphins hope to contend as desired. Size could be an issue down the road, but Mosely is usually pretty solid when it comes to defense and execution of the fundamentals, which will make them competitive every night.
Top Five “Small” Schools (Class 4A thru 1A)
Tallahassee Florida High (Class 3A, Region 1, District 1)
Florida High lost a key piece when 6’5 senior Jaylin Martin decided to take the Overtime Elite money and turn professional. While that knocks Florida High down a peg, there is still a lot left in the cupboard. Tre Donaldson, a 6’3 senior, is an Auburn signee that excels in both basketball and football. He is a talented scoring point guard that creates plays for himself and others. Junior Anthony Robinson, 6’2, is a D-I talent in his own right. He can play either guard position very effectively. Christian Johnson, a 6’8 junior, showed promise at various team camps and fall exposure events. Incoming freshman Tre Card, 6’5, is expected to make an impact.
Pensacola High School (Class 4A, Region 1, District 1)
“P’Cola” won the district last year and made the region semis before falling to Marianna. The thinking here is that 6’4 senior Caleb Young will be able to carry an inexperienced squad until they get some experience and then be ready for the playoffs. Young is a jack-of-all-trades that can score, rebound, and pass at a high level. Last year’s Tigers team was senior-heavy, so the hope is that varsity returnees Brian Harris (6’4 junior), Javeon Jones (5’10 senior), Jason Peoples (6’0 senior) and Shunderies Washington (5’11 senior) will step up their games given more court time.
Tallahassee Maclay (Class 3A, Region 1, District 1)
Maclay will make rumblings in Class 3A come tournament time. They have a nice mix of size, outside shooting, and athleticism to make them a nightly problem for opponents. Colin McAlister, a 5’10 junior, provides plenty of speed and poise at the point guard spot. He pushes the pace at every opportunity. Sawyer Stone, a 6’6 senior, may be as thin as some Halloween Skeleton decorations but he’s tough, a good athlete, not afraid to play physical, and has a respectable perimeter shot. Blaise Wallace, a 6’6 junior, will be the focal point of the offense. He has become a very good shooter from distance while not sacrificing his ability to score inside. Wallace is a grab-and-go rebounder that can ignite the transition game on his own. The X-Factor for the Thunder may well be 6’8 senior Jaquay Randolph. He has good length and leaping ability, rebounds in and out of his area, alters shots, and has a decent touch around the basket. Randolph could well be one of those guys that coaches will regret not recruiting harder. The rest of the team has their respective roles to fill and do so to the best of their ability.
Quincy Crossroad Academy (Class 2A, Region 1, District 1)
After two seasons in Class 1A, re-classification put Crossroad Academy back up to 2A this time around. The key piece is 6’6 junior Kris Parker, a high-major recruit that will see time at every position for the team. Newcomer Michael Smith, a 6’7 senior, not only brings size and athleticism but also needed energy at both ends of the floor. Markel Bradwell, a 6’4 junior, contributed double-figures in points last season and should have a chance to score in the mid-teens per game this coming season. Crossroad will find getting to Lakeland to be a bit tougher in 2A, put they certainly have the pieces to do so this coming season.
Graceville Poplar Springs (Class 1A, Region 1, District 2)
Spoiler alert: Poplar Springs is our pick for Class 1A champ this coming season. The team reached the regional finals last season and return three of their top five starters. That is good enough for us.
TOP FIVE PLAYERS
Tre Donaldson, Tallahassee Florida High: The 6’3 senior 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 is an Auburn signee.
Caleb Young, Pensacola High: The 6’4 senior 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.
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 already has several mid-major and above college offers.
Anthony Robinson, Tallahassee Florida High: The 6’3 junior seemingly always plays under control. His jumper is reliable out to the three-point line. Robinson has the speed, quickness, and ball-handling skills to slice thru defenses, get into the lane, and make plays for himself or teammates.
Blaise Wallace, Tallahassee Maclay: The 6’5 junior has been on the radar since prior to his freshman season but his improvement was very noticeable this summer and fall at various events. Wallace has become a match-up problem with his ability to knock down shots from deep, drive the ball and score in traffic, and take advantage of mismatches in size down low.
#1 Senior: Tre Donaldson (see above)
#1 Junior: Kris Parker (see above)
#1 Sophomore: Asa Newell, Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee: At 6’8, Newell has excellent size he is surprisingly agile for his age and height. Newell has a solid stroke out to the 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.
#1 Freshman: Tre Card, Tallahassee Florida High: The 6’5 Card was a member of the varsity last season and is considered the top freshman in the capital city. He has a good foundation of size and athleticism.
Senior Sleeper: Alex Steen, Panama City Arnold: The 6’7 senior is a combo forward with athleticism and skills. He scores inside and out, controls his rebounding area, quickly outlets the ball and sprints the floor.