Favorite: Pembroke Pines Charter
This classification is as wide open as any this coming season. There were a lot of teams to choose from but we feel like Pines Charter has the pieces to being the one standing on the podium in Lakeland come March. Josh Harris, a 6’7 senior and University of North Florida commit, showed a lot of versatility this past spring and summer. He has the skills to play on the perimeter and the strength to do damage on the interior. Harris is a nightly matchup nightmare for opponents. Jeremy Elyzee, another 6’7 senior, is long, active, and athletic. He has good ball-handling and passing skills to make plays by himself or create for others. Elyzee is a versatile defender that covers a lot of ground quickly and disrupts the passing lanes. Ramez Zayed transfers in and the 6’1 senior will be given the keys to the offense. He is an effective set-up man for teammates but has enough creativity to score off the bounce and a reliable perimeter shot. Running alongside Zayed should be 6’2 junior David Nealy. He will provide speed, quickness and an attack mentality at both ends of the court. It is a tough road to Lakeland out of Region 4 with the likes defending champ Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer, traditional programs such as Boyd Anderson, Dillard, and St. Thomas Aquinas, to go along with South Plantation and Miami Southridge. Whoever comes out of that competitive group will be the favorite to capture the crown.
Regional Favorites: Ponte Vedra (Region One); Orlando Edgewater (Region Two); Punta Gorda Charlotte (Region Three)
Ponte Vedra has reached the title game the last two seasons and each time has come up short. Though its graduation losses are great, the team still has enough returning talent and welcomes some new players that should make them once again tournament ready. The trio of 6’2 senior Sam Ritchie, 6’8 sophomore Trace Westercamp and 6’4 sophomore Maddox Palmer will be tough to match up with. Milton and Oakleaf look to be the most likely challengers in Region 1. The Eagles of Orlando Edgewater brings in a pair of proven scorers to go along with 6’7 junior Myles Mayfield to make them a favorite in that region. Donovan Williams, a 6’4 sophomore is one of the better players in Central Florida regardless of class while 6’2 senior Zion Mitchell will be a significant addition after football season. The likes of Bartow, Lakeland Kathleen, and Stuart Martin County will pose challenges in that region. In the Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida region, Charlotte will once again take on a tough schedule to prepare them for the playoffs. The overall record by not be awe-inspiring but everyone starts 0-0 come district playoff time. Chris Cornish, a 6’5 senior, will be the offensive focal point for the Tarpons this season. Leto and Wharton out of Tampa along with Palmetto Ridge of Naples are likely to be in their path.
Best Player: Josh Harris, Pembroke Pines Charter
It is difficult to pick between Harris and Elyzee of Pines Charter as the top player in the classification. Elyzee may have more “upside” thanks to his overall athleticism, but we are going with Harris and his ability to score in a variety of ways from a variety of levels.
Pre-Season All-State: Harris; Jeremy Elyzee (Pembroke Pines Charter); Sam Ritchie (Ponte Vedra); Zion Mitchell (Orlando Edgewater); Chris Cornish (Punta Gorda Charlotte)
Elyzee length, athleticism, and ball-skills make him a difficult matchup. Ritchie is not only a dangerous perimeter shooter but has proven he can create and make his own shot under duress. Mitchell is an athletic point guard that can score as well as distribute. Cornish may be the most difficult player to guard within fifteen feet of the basket as he has a quick first step, great body control, and soft touch around the basket.
Better Than Advertised: Bartow
Bartow doesn’t have any “name” players. That is quite fine with Coach Terrence McGriff. Come playoff time, he will have his group ready for whatever comes their way.
Don’t Sleep On: Jack Sullivan, St. Augustine Nease
Sullivan is a 6’9 stretch four that can step out and knock down threes with regularity as well as battle inside for point, rebounds, and blocks. He handled himself well against some quality competition this spring and summer.
PRE-SEASON TOP TEN
1.Pembroke Pines Charter
2.Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas
5.Punta Gorda Charlotte
6.Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer
7.Orange Park Oakleaf