After a mega-event like the Hoop Exchange Fall Festival Team Showcase, there is a lot of information to digest. Teams from as far away as Tallahassee to the north and Miami to the south attended so there were several games where teams from different regions of the state played each other. In this report, we’ll look at teams from the Orlando and Tampa/St. Pete/Polk County areas.
CFC (aka Central Florida Christian Academy)
The Eagles have become one of the better programs in the state in Class 2A and more than hold their own against teams from larger classifications. The team was without 6’8 senior Clarens Pierre at the Fall Festival but that didn’t deter them. Playing at a furious pace, CFC used their speed and quickness, as well as some scorching shooting from deep, to score wins on Sunday. 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. He was 6-11 from three-point range in the game we took in. Also providing solid guard play was 6’1 senior Felipe Oliveira. 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. Houston isn’t a bad perimeter shooter either. It isn’t a stretch to consider the Eagles a top five team in Central Florida regardless of classification this season.
ORL Rebels (aka Oak Ridge)
With the bi-annual re-shuffling of teams by the FHSAA, this team is a heavy favorite to get out of Region I to the Class 7A final four in Lakeland come March. While the Rebels played without their best player in 6’5 senior Fabio Basili, the team still has plenty of talent. Lewis Jones is the only other senior on the team and at 6’6 with a solid skill set he provides a lot of different things for the team. He can grab a rebound and immediately start the break, is a good passer from the perimeter or out of the post, and finishes strong around the rim. He gets help inside from 6’5 sophomore Tyler Johnson. A very active rebounder, especially on the offensive end, Johnson is also a capable scorer from inside the arc. Emmanuel Risin (6’6 JR), Wisvensky Dabady (6’6 SR) and Amari Davis (6’8 FR) provide rebounding and shot altering on the interior. Elijah Elliott, a 6’3 senior, proved to be a very capable scorer in Basili’s absence this weekend. He is very good at creating space to get his shot off from the perimeter and can also get downhill and score at the basket in traffic. Jalen Reece may only be a 5’10 freshman but he runs the team like a seasoned vet. He knows when to push the pace and when to pull back, organizes the team into their half court sets and gets and keeps his older teammates involved. Reece is a reliable perimeter shooter when the need arises. This group is thinking “Lakeland or Bust” this season and has the size and talent to make good on it.
Road Warriors (aka Clearwater Calvary Christian)
This isn’t a group with great size but their tenacity and will to win should make them quite successful this coming season. Leading the way is 6’0 sophomore Daniel MacGregor and his toughness with the ball, vocal leadership, and ability to make and create shots for himself and teammates sets him apart. Myles Grant is listed as a 6’3 senior but he plays so much bigger on the interior. Athletic and quick off his feet, Grant was all over the place grabbing rebounds or scoring on quick cuts into the lane. Dom Sarigumba, a 5’10 junior, kept defenses honest with this three-point shooting along with some drives to the rim after being overplayed for the shot. Jordan Lanier, a 6’1 sophomore, brings length, athleticism, and a dangerous outside shot when in the game. Canaan Burnett, a 6’4 junior, adds some size and outside shooting. Trevor Parks, a 6’3 senior wasn’t in attendance but he’s one of the better perimeter shooters in the region, giving CCC another weapon for opponents to contend with.
Green D (aka St. Pete HS)
This team should be very interesting to watch this upcoming season. The intrigue begins with 6’5 senior Derrick Mitchell. He plays with great effort and energy, seemingly never taking a play off. Mitchell is a high-level athlete and excels when the pace of the game is up-tempo. He rebounds, runs the floor, scores on short drives and putbacks and disrupts the passing lanes on the defensive end. Mitchell continues to improve his perimeter skills and will keep the defense honest from playing him just for the drive. Tristan Gross, a 6’5 junior, will have the ball in his hands a lot. He shoots the ball well from the perimeter but also scores creatively at the basket. Dylan Kramer, a 6’5 junior, was very effective around the basket on Saturday, getting a lot of stick back points as wells scoring on cuts into the lane. He is an “X-Factor” for the Green D. Marquis Curry, a 5’9 junior, pushes the pace on offense and provides ball-smothering defense. The rest of the squad knows their respective roles and plays it to the best of their abilities. Don’t be surprised if this squad makes a strong run in their classification.
Team Crusade (aka Tampa Catholic)
Team Crusade had two games on Saturday and two games on Sunday at the Fall Festival. Saturday saw them take on Miami Palmetto, one of the better teams in Class 7A and potential Class 3A final four opponent Riviera Prep out of Miami. It didn’t get any easier on Sunday as the faced 2A final four contender Impact Christian out of Jacksonville and then another possible 3A Lakeland matchup in Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy. We saw their two games against the 3A schools and Team Crusade finished 1-1 in those contests. The team has an elite level one-two punch in 6’3 junior guard Eddrin Bronson and 6’6 sophomore wing Karter Knox. Bronson is a deadly outside shooter that also has crafty ball skills to get to and finish at the basket. Knox is a high-level athlete with three-level scoring ability. Both are solid on the defensive end as well. Isaiah Campbell-Finch, a 6’0 freshman, plays beyond his years at the point guard spot. He makes good decisions with the ball, sets up teammates, understands pace of play, finishes drives to the rim and is a reliable perimeter shooter. Donnie Morris (6’5 sophomore), Roderick Watson-Pearcey (6’5 senior) and Caleb Gatewood (6’5 sophomore) all provided points and rebounds in spurts at various points in the games we took in. Karmello Branch, a 6’4 junior, wasn’t in attendance but he provides TC with another dangerous scorer. The Crusaders have the look of a team that should have realistic Lakeland expectations.
Aqua Devils (aka Winter Haven)
Taking a cue from the NBA, this group is relying on a “Big Three” to take them on a championship run. Dylan James, a 6’8 junior, has all kinds of potential for the next level. With his size and skill level, he is a true inside/outside threat. James scores off drives, perimeter shots, in transition, and on frequent putback. Long and athletic, he is a versatile defender. Isaac Celiscar, a 6’6 sophomore, played as much at the point as he did off the ball. His motor always runs at a high level and he is continually in attack mode. His perimeter shot is satisfactory at this juncture (could be better) but his ability to slash to the basket and finish in a crowd is what sets him apart. He is another versatile defender. Jamie Phillips, a 6’4 sophomore, can also be found running the offense at times. He has a high hoops IQ, doesn’t force the action and will score when called upon. Tyrese Mayo, a 5’7 sophomore, and Matt Vaughn, a 6’2 junior, are the leaders of the supporting cast. It’s a young group but they have a high ceiling and a high bar for expectations.