Favorite: Graceville Poplar Springs
Poplar Springs in Graceville made the regional finals last season and return four of the team’s top six scorers. While it will be very hard to replace graduated Zaimes Hall and his 24ppg average, the Atomics will do so by committee with an experienced group. Junior McCade Hall (6’3), senior Shane James (6’2) and junior Maison Ealum (6’2) were significant contributors to last year’s run. While James averaged nearly nine rebounds a contest, the team will need every player to help out on the glass. Getting to Lakeland won’t be an easy task, as district rival Holmes County is always a threat and both Paxton and Jay are potential roadblocks in the region.
Regional Favorites: Altha (Region 2); Taylor County (Region 3); Trenton (Region 4)
This year looks to be either an anomaly or a changing of the guard in Class 1A. Stalwarts like Madison County, Hawthorne, and Wildwood are very young and unproven at this point. In region two, Altha brings back its top two scorers in 6’3 senior Trace Mears and 6’3 junior Jacob Cauley. The two combined for 32+ppg last year, leading Altha into the playoffs as a district runner-up. Taylor County returns its top six scorers from last season, led by 6’2 junior Jaydan Florence. The team was only 10-7 last season but ranked 17th overall in Class 1A by Max Preps. Hamilton County and Madison County will both be tough district rivals for Taylor County and Bell in District Six is never an easy out. Trenton was a region finalist last year and returns all but one player. Xavier Jones, a 6’0 junior and Tyler Perry, a 6’0 senior, each averaged 14 points a contest last season. It will be a tough region to win as Newberry returns some key players within the district while most likely Hawthorne and Wildwood will duke it out for supremacy in District Eight.
Best Player: Tristan Watson, Jay
The 6’5 junior is the top returning scorer in Class 1A at 18.7 ppg last season. He also the top returning rebounder at 10.5 each time out. Watson has been playing varsity ball since middle school and each year Jay has gotten progressively better but each time has run into “teams of destiny” in the playoffs. Jay most likely will have to get by Poplar Springs and Paxton to get to Lakeland, but with a very productive Watson, the possibility is real.
Pre-Season All-State: Watson; Jayden Florence (Taylor County); Latrell Sanders (Paxton); Trace Mears (Altha); Perrion Sylvester (Newberry)
Taylor was one of only eight players in the entire state last season to shoot over 50% from the field overall, over 40% from behind the arc, and over 80% from the charity stripe. It will be impressive if he can replicate those numbers this season. Sanders of Paxton has been on the radar since his freshman year when the team went to the final four. The team returns all but one player from last season but will still rely heavily on Sanders to get them into the playoffs. In addition to averaging just over 17 ppg last season, Mears grabbed six boards a contest. Sylvester is unknown to many but the 6’2 senior had nine double-doubles last season, the most of any returning player in Class 1A.
Better Than Advertised: Hawthorne
Hawthorne must have upset someone in the FHSAA as they are now in the same district as perennial challenger Wildwood. While they return only one of their top five scorers, and he was in eighth grade last season, Hawthorne will always be dangerous due to tradition and a fan base that doesn’t accept mediocrity. Always tenacious on the defensive end, the Hornets will turn up the pressure and hope to score easy baskets.
Don’t Sleep On: Kaleb Wilson, Malone
Wilson, a 6’0 senior, put up solid numbers across the board last season for a team that reached the regional finals. Not only did he average 14 points and 5 rebounds a contest, Wilson contributed three assists, 2 steals, and a surprising two blocks each night. At a listed 205 pounds, he has the strength to overpower opponents to get to the basket and finish in a crowd.
PRE-SEASON GREAT EIGHT