Arguably the top event in all of Florida High School Basketball due to the enormous number of quality teams playing in one location, the 2022 Fall Festival took place this past weekend at The Big House in Tavares. While Hurricane Ian put a damper on the number of teams that participated, there was still a large contingent of teams from all over the state. While it wasn’t possible to see every team, we saw as much as we possibly could over the course of two day event. We tried to focus on teams that we normally wouldn’t get to see play due to geographic distance.
Miami Mater Lakes Academy
Arguably one of the more impressive teams in attendance, Mater Lakes plays a no brakes/all gas style that presses from the opening tip, relentlessly pushes the pace, and isn’t shy about launching threes. Anthony Knowles, a 6’0 sophomore point guard ignites the attack with his ability to penetrate, make good reads and great decisions with the ball, and either knock down shots if the defense plays off or get to the rim and finish in a crowd. Michael Bradley, a 6’1 senior (finally!) benefits greatly from the system of play. He is an excellent catch-and-shoot artist but that is not his sole forte. Bradley is quick to rotate, trap, and recover on the defensive end. Gabriel Fajardo, a 6’3 senior, is another dangerous scorer for Mater Lakes. He is tough with the ball, strong to the basket, and gets a lot of “and one” opportunities. Fajardo will also make the defense pay from deep if they don’t get to him and close out in time. Clarence Burts, a 6’3 junior, is another player that will put points up quickly. Aside from his scoring ability, he is valuable on the defensive end with his ability to steer the opposing ball-handler and disrupt the passing lanes. Christian Reid, a 6’5 junior, may be under-sized in the traditional since but he is actually quite overpowering. Using strength, aggression, and relentless energy, he scores well in a crowd around the basket, chases down rebounds and loose balls at both ends of the floor, and more than holds his own when defending bigger players inside. Ian Pascal, a 6’4 junior, impressed with his ability to finish on the break, rebound the ball at both ends, and cover a lot of ground quickly on defense.
A lot is expected of the Blue Devils this coming season. They will take on a challenging schedule which includes a City of Palms Classic invite. A move up in classification to 7A will also toughen them up. Judging from the team’s performance at the Fall Festival, they should be just fine. Dylan James, a 6’8 senior, fresh off a commitment to the University of Georgia, certainly looked like a national top hundred player in a Saturday night contest. He knocked down threes, crushed lobs both in transition and in the half-court, put back several offensive rebounds and was solid in protecting the paint. Kjei Parker, a 6’2 senior who committed to Florida A&M last week, keeps the defense on its heels with his ability to make shots on both sides of the arc. Jamie Phillips, a 6’5 junior, is unique in his ability to play a “point forward” role. He has good size and a strong frame, is adept at posting up his defender, and either scoring inside or getting the ball to cutters or jump shooters for easy looks. Isaac Celistan, a 6’6 junior, does a bit a everything for the Blue Devils. Long and athletic, he covers a lot of ground quickly and disrupts on defense, is an active offensive rebounder, and a surprisingly good passer. Celistan scores mostly on short drives or on opportunity baskets, but he will connect from the perimeter if not respected by the defense.
We didn’t get to see Westminster Academy until their last game of the event on Sunday. Unfortunately, by that time, 6’10 senior Jaylen Carey had to head back south and 6’7 sophomore D.J. Wimbley sat out the game with an injury sustained earlier in the day. Regardless of those two issues, Westminster has a bunch of talent, albeit very young, and should definitely be considered one of the top contenders for the 3A state title next March. In our opinion, 6’4 sophomore Alex Lloyd doesn’t get enough “love” from our peers in the national media. Lithe and explosive, Lloyd is quick to the hoop and is a creative finisher. He is also a dangerous perimeter shooter and when asked does a good job of running the offense. Alexander Constanza, a 6’8 freshman, is already becoming a household name among Power Five programs. He plays with great confidence, is a solid athlete, rebounds, runs the floor, and can drive the ball and score or connect from the perimeter. Another freshman, 6’0 Randy Livingston, is speedy with the ball, pushes the pace, and is always on the lookout to get into the paint and make a play. Enrico Borio, a 6’7 junior, filled in well on the interior in Carey’s absence. He scores well around the rim, controls his rebounding area, and isn’t shy about playing physical inside at either end of the floor.
The Buffalo were without Alabama commit Sam Waters this past weekend, making them a squad that will rely on youth this coming season. Still, that youth is very talented and led the team to a tough win on Saturday evening against a very good Coral Glades team. The Villages didn’t provide a roster but we were sure to take note of two prized freshman: 6’7 Khamani Weathers and 6’7 Chris Washington. Weathers was a force inside. The lefty showed remarkable touch and excellent footwork when he got the ball in the post. He also showed that he can step out and make shots on the perimeter. Weathers isn’t ready to be a full-time perimeter player yet but his reliability as a scoring option down low will certainly be of benefit this coming season. Washington stood out in a lot of ways. Long and 100% quick twitch, he gets to spots on the floor very quickly to make plays at both ends. He has a good three-point shot but will also attack the rim with furry if given the chance. If Washington had completed the dunk he attempted late in the game on Saturday (he took off about a half-step too far out), that particular court may have been shut down the rest of the weekend. It is really impressive how well he moves his feet on the defensive end, anticipates the passing lanes, and helps inside to challenge shots.
North Florida Educational Institute (NFEI)
Out of Jacksonville, NFEI will once again be a contender for the Class 2A crown come March of 2023. While 6’6 senior Issac Tevares didn’t play this weekend, NFEI has a bunch of guys and have the potential to overwhelm teams due to sheer numbers. Tommie Hall, a 6’2 senior guard, picked up much of the slack in Tevares’ absence. He continuously broke down the defense off the dribble to either score at the basket or from the foul line. Hall was also very active in defending opposing ball-handlers. Juan Babista, a 6’2 junior, was another active wing with versatile scoring tools. Leano Rolle, a 6’6 junior, and Ordaine Clahas, a 6’9 junior, provided a tough one-two combination on the interior.