In this report, we look at some of the better teams from North Florida that caught our attention.
Trojans (aka Tallahassee Lincoln)
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.
Tally Thunder (aka Tallahassee Maclay)
The Thunder 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.
Jax Eagles (aka Episcopal School of Jacksonville)
The team plays up-tempo and is not afraid of launching shots from well past the three-point line. Mark Flakus, a 6’2 senior, is already committed to hometown UNF. He’s a heady player that finds ways to collapse the defense and either get up a good shot for himself or find a teammate that has a better opportunity. Beza Miller, a 6’0 junior, provides speed and quickness on the perimeter. He is quick to move the ball to open, spot-up shooters but also gets to the basket quickly when given the opportunity. Kent “K.J.” Jackson, a 5’11 sophomore, has deep range well past the arc. His quick release allows him to get off shots even when tightly contested. Parker Chappell is a 6’3 senior that provides more firepower from the perimeter. Grady Schwartz, a 6’6 sophomore, and Matthew Hendrickson, a 6’5 senior, provide the necessary inside component to balance out this three-point happy group. Both are physically strong, play a rugged style, and pursue rebounds with a vengeance.
Deep Impact (aka Jacksonville Impact Christian)
In this day and age of firing up threes at the first opportunity, it is somewhat refreshing to watch this team pound the ball inside and take advantage of their size. Isaac Edwards (6’6 junior), Jordan Mikell (6’5 junior), Kelvin Johnson (6’5 senior) and Jeremaih Pierce (6’8 junior) all take turns posting up and either scoring around the basket or getting to the foul line. The first three are capable of driving the ball from inside the three-point line while Edwards was willing and capable of connecting on perimeter shots. Perimeter support comes from 5’8 junior Jeff Lavender, 5’10 senior Devean Knowles, and 6’1 sophomore Taylor Thompson. Each contributed to last season’s Class 2A runner-up finish.
Main Street (aka Jacksonville Jackson)
This group comes at opponents in waves of quick guards backed up by a pair of rim protectors. A duo of seniors, 6’9 Stephon Payne and 6’8 James Morrow, are effective together on the interior but will also rotate in and out should this team want to play their version of “small ball”. Morrow was injured earlier in the day and didn’t play in the nightcap game we took in. Still, we’ve seen him enough to know that his length, athleticism, and aggression makes him a terror around the basket at both ends of the floor. Payne offers much the same but he is not yet as polished offensively. That will come in time. The rest of the crew are all athletic and fast guys that want to play up-tempo and turn opponents’ mistakes into easy basket. Kevin Odom, a 5’7 senior, is the leader of that group. He is expected to be the point of attack on both offense and defense. Jackson moved up to Class 4A from 3A this last FHSAA re-classification cycle, but that doesn’t change the high expectations from within and outside the program.
NFEIS (aka Jacksonville North Florida Educational Institute)
This team is annually a playoff contender and this coming season should be no exception based on what we saw this weekend. Scouts and spectators alike were wildly impressed with the play of 6’6 junior Issac Taplia. He routinely got to the basket, whether in transition or half-court drives, and scored with a variety of shots. Whether right-handed or left-handed, twisting his body or straight up, Taplia found ways to add to his point total. Tommie Hall, a 6’2 junior, complemented Taplia with his ability to create space by knocking down perimeter shots. Malachi Smith, a 6’3 senior, found a variety of ways to put points on the board, whether scoring in transition or connecting from the perimeter. Interior scoring, rebounding, and rim protection were provided by 6’10 senior Melian Martinez. Additional size off the bench comes in the form of 6’9 senior Maduk Deng and 6’8 freshman Joeseph Yaguara.
Jax Stallions (aka Jacksonville Providence)
If opponents don’t’ get this perennial contender now, its going to be a long time before they get another chance. The roster had 1 senior, 2 juniors, and 7 sophomores at the Fall Festival. But while they may be young, the Stallions have quite a bit of talent. Raheem Taplin, 6’4 and the lone senior, is a great leader and role model for the youngsters to follow. He’s athletic, plays hard, and finds ways to score from a variety of areas on the floor. Mason Lee, a 6’6 junior, didn’t play due to a foot injury. When he returns to the floor, he’ll provide a little bit everything, most notably outside shooting. The sophomores are led by 6’6 Jaylen Robinson who was a starter for the program last season. Long, bouncy and very active inside, he contributes a bunch when it comes to rebounds, points in the paint, and challenging opponents on the inside. Chris Arias, a 6’5 sophomore, spent much of the game we watched running the point guard position. He is not out of place there as he has good ball skills and court vision. B.J. Boykin, a 6’4 sophomore may have the highest ceiling of the sophomore group. He’s athletic, a terror in transition, and difficult to keep off the glass, especially at the offensive end. Another sophomore, 6’1 Josh Stallings is versatile and can play any position the coaching staff needs him to fill. David Fonville, a 6’3 sophomore, and Brady Patterson, a 5’10 sophomore, provide offensive punch off the bench.
Jax Cards (aka Jacksonville Bishop Snyder)
The Cards have been pointing to this upcoming season for a while. With several experienced seniors, the expectations are high for a deep playoff run. Jalen Gilmore, a 6’3 senior, is poised at the point guard spot. The lefty scores easily and is also a crafty distributor of the basketball. Moise Balungu, a 6’4 senior, produces at a high rate in a lot of different areas. He excels at getting to the basket and scoring in traffic, has become a more-than-capable perimeter shooter, rebounds effectively at both ends and can often be found guarding the opposing team’s best player. Nick Lowery, a 6’1 senior, is that all-important “glue guy” that makes plays that don’t often show in the scorebook. A reliable ball-handler and shooter, he will be the guy Gilmore and Snyder look for when the defense clogs their path to the basket. Trenton Walker, a 6’4 senior, is another Cardinal that knocks down three-point shots but will also take the ball strong to the basket if overplayed by the defense. Though Manok Lual is listed at 6’9, he is another perimeter performer. He scores mostly from deep. Lual does provide rim protection and rebounding at the defensive end. That is a solid group that can put up points with anybody.
Flying Eagles (aka Fleming Island)
Tucked away in Clay County, Fleming Island has become a solid program that gets little recognition. After watching them play this weekend, don’t be surprised by any post-season success they might achieve. It starts with 5’6 senior Bennie McDuffie. He is very quick with the ball, gets the team to play at a fast tempo, and excels at penetrating the defense and either scoring or getting the ball to teammates for good shots. Ahman Greenidge, a 6’5 senior, is a strong-bodied player that dominates the glass, powers his way to points, and makes a lot of hustle plays. Demarion Valmyr, a 6’7 senior, doesn’t look to score much but he controls the backboards and challenges anyone that dares to enter the lane. Antoine Sandy, a 6’4 senior, does a little bit of everything for the team. By the time the game is over, he has made his impact all over the box score. Lukas Miles (6’3 senior), Colton Zapp (6’5 senior) and Gavin Goldblatt (5’9 senior) all found ways to contribute in Saturday’s game.