We move onto Southwest Florida for our regional previews.
TOP FIVE “BIG” SCHOOLS (CLASS 7A thru 5A)
Tampa Blake (Class 5A, Region 2, District 8): A tall, talented, and versatile front-line makes this a season of great expectations for Blake. Joshua Lewis, a 6’7 junior, played very well on the EYBL 16U circuit and has picked up several D-I offers because of it. He is very skilled, has the ability to play and defend multiple positions and will be the focus of opposing defenses. Joe Philon, a 6’7 sophomore, is a high-level athlete whose skills and basketball IQ have developed significantly since the spring. There has been talk of him playing some point guard. He is another Blake player that can matchup up with just about any opponent at either end of the court. Kentrell Martin, a 6’6 junior, transfers in and may be the best passer on the team. He has an innate feel for the game, elevates those around him, and can score when a bucket is needed. If a complimentary component on the perimeter can be found for all of this size, Blake should have a stellar season.
Punta Gorda Charlotte (Class 6A, Region 3, District 11): Last season the Tarpons took on an uber-challenging schedule. While it resulted in double-digit losses, it also toughened the team up to make a run to Lakeland, just falling short in a regional final. It would not surprise if this season they took the next step. The big gun for the Tarpons will be 6’5 senior Chris Cornish. A four year letterman, Cornish has proven to be a capable score in transition, on short drives, and around the basket. He is just very quick to the basket. Cornish also rebounds well at both ends of the floor. Jordan Taylor, a 6’7 junior, seemed to be coming out of his shell as the club circuit was drawing to a close. He has great physical gifts and if he plays with confidence, Taylor can be very productive. Dior Evans, a 5’10 junior, will be handed the ball to run the offense. He is very quick, pushes the pace, and makes things happen on the defensive end. If the rest of the squad sticks to their roles, play hard, and a couple of supplemental scorers come through, the Tarpons will be on the hook for a run to Lakeland
Tampa Jesuit (Class 5A, Region 2, District 8): We were quite enthralled with Jesuit when watching them at the FABC Team Camp in June. We came away with a great appreciation for the play of their two senior guards, 6’1 Chris Moliere and 6’2 Nate Boayke. Moliare has a ton of speed and quickness with the ball, gets excellent elevation on his jumper on either side of the arc, and plays with great energy. Boayke doesn’t have to score to take control of a game. He is a disruptive defender, creating havoc on that end of the floor. Boayke makes good pass vs. shot decisions on the move, and is almost unselfish to a fault. At 6’7, junior Carter Reins is expected to provide an interior presence. Jesuit has always been a tough team to beat under the direction of long-time coach Neal Goldman. This year should not be any different.
Cape Coral Mariner (Class 5A, Region 3, District 11): We are stepping out in faith with our choice of Mariner in this spot. Call it “The City of Palms Classic Effect”. They are representing Lee County in the City of Palms Classic, the venerated tournament’s 50th edition. The Tritons return a dozen players from last year’s team. Marcus Kelly, a 6’1 senior, Justin Lewis, a 6’0 senior, and Kelvin Jimenez, a 6’2 senior, each averaged double-figures last season. Aher Hercek, a 6’7 senior has size to help inside but can also step out and knock down perimeter shots. In all the team made nearly 200 three-pointers last season. Facing stern tests throughout the season such as the City of Palms and the Wally Keller Classic, Mariner should be well-tested and ready to go come tournament time.
Winter Haven (Class 7A, Region 3, District 9): Despite some graduation losses, Winter Haven still looks to be the class of Region 3 in 7A this coming season. Jamie Phillips, a 6’5 guard and Stetson commit, runs the show from the point. He is a tough matchup with his size and physical make-up. He knows how to create space and make shots come crunch time. Issac Celiscar, a 6’6 senior that recently committed to Yale, isn’t much of a shot creator but finds a myriad of ways to score in transition, via offensive rebounds, cuts to the basket, or simply by being in the right place at the right time. Cezanne Mosley, a 6’7 junior, is strong, athletic, and controls the glass at both ends of the floor. He is an excellent post scorer, has an improving perimeter shot, and runs the floor well. A pleasant surprise is the play 6’1 junior Eric Dailey. He makes timely outside shots, taking some pressure off “the big three”.
TOP FIVE “SMALL” SCHOOLS (CLASS 4A thru 1A)
Riverview Bell Creek Academy (Class 3A, Region 2, District 7): This team can punish opponents in a variety of ways. In 6’6 senior Elijah Payne and 6’5 senior Tahir Bibbs, BCA can pound the ball inside and get teams in foul trouble quickly. Both Payne and Bibbs have big bodies but are light on their feet, have a good touch from fifteen feet and in, and are couple passers out of the high and low post areas. Should the game plan be to speed BCA up, they are more than happy to comply. Caleb Sanders, a 6’5 junior is a proven scorer while 6’2 sophomore Isaiah Gilyard is dangerous as both a slasher and perimeter shooter. The presence of transfer Lyrique Sartin, a 6’0 junior, gives the team a legit point guard that can create for others and get good shots for everyone. At this time, there is still some question as to whether or not highly regarded sophomore Jermail Jones, 6’5 is still with the program. If he is, that makes BCA that much more potent.
St. Petersburg Gibbs (Class 4A, Region 3, District 10): For the second year in a row, the Gladiators reached Lakeland with a young squad. It is still a young group, but it is now much more experienced. Jacob Daniels, a 6’0 junior, runs the team on the offensive end. He creates scoring opportunities for others but when a bucket is needed, his number is called. Mathis Roberts, a 6’2 junior, is another double-figure scorer for Gibbs. He is tough to contain on drives and is active on the defensive end. While only a freshman, 6’3 O’Neal Delancey looked very much like one of the better players on the team this summer. He has a basketball pedigree, is an excellent athlete, and can light up a scoreboard when he gets going. Gibbs has three players standing 6’7, but the most active and accomplished one is junior Bobby Crawford. Slim but very quick off the floor, he gets several putbacks a game and does a good job of protecting the basket on the defensive end. This year’s group of Gladiators hopes third time is a charm.
North Tampa Christian (Class 2A, Region 2, District 5): The buzz surrounding this team has grown steadily louder since the end of last season. We’ve seen individual pieces of the puzzle but not yet the whole picture. Toni Bryant, a 6’9 sophomore, already has a half-dozen or so D-I offers. He is an excellent athlete and very skilled for a player his size and age. Jordan Bryant, a 6’5 sophomore and Archie McFadden, a 6’2 sophomore, were impressive in individual events in the spring. Brody Cuffle, a 6’4 junior was impressive at different events this summer. This group will be intriguing to watch as they most likely battle Orlando Christian Prep and Lakeland Victory Christian to get to Lakeland.
Tampa Sports Leadership And Management (Class 2A, Region 3, District 9): Better known by its acronym SLAM, this program reached Lakeland last year and looks primed to do so again. Ramone Seals, a 6’5 senior wing committed to Kennesaw State, is a strong-bodied slasher and finisher that finds creative ways to score. His perimeter shot has developed to the point that it must be respected. Willie Piggiott, a 6’4 sophomore, is another active athlete that can play both inside and outside. Things got even better for the team when Daniel MacGregor, a 6’0 senior and Stetson commit, transferred over. He is considered by some to be the best senior in the region and his presence will make things that much easier for the likes of Seals and Piggiott. Class 2A has gotten much tougher this season with no less than six squads that can claim legitimate title hopes. SLAM is one of them.
Lakeland Victory Christian (Class 2A, Region 2, District 8)
When you have a player like 6’2 senior Lorenzo Cason, a team’s expectations and opportunity for success greatly increase. Cason averaged 27 ppg last season but it wasn’t a selfish twenty-seven. He’ll give up the ball to a teammate with a better scoring opportunity. Jordan Lanier, a 6’3 senior, gives Victory Christian a potent perimeter scoring threat as he tallied twelve points a contest last season. Mike Andino, a 6’0 senior, averaged sixteen points a game last year and should take some of the scoring pressure off Cason.
Top Five Players
Lorenzo Cason, Lakeland Victory Christian: The 6’2 senior is a marvelous scorer and he can do it from every level. He creates and makes his own shot on either side of the arc, finishes in a crowd through contact at the rim, and connects on floaters and mid-range jumpers in the lane. Not just a scorer, Cason is quick to get the ball to his teammates when they have a better opportunity than he does. While he plays with maximum effort, the game looks very easy for him.
Isaac Celicar, Winter Haven: The 6’6 senior and Yale commit is a jack-of-all-trades on the floor. He doesn’t look for his shot but routinely puts up mid-teen points every game. Celiscar is an excellent rebounder at both ends and has great versatility as a defender. He is a “glue” guy that can also step up and get buckets in pressure situations.
Daniel MacGregor, Tampa SLAM: The 6’1 senior has great control of the basketball and subsequently great control of the game. He keeps his head up, consistently searching for the best shot, either for his teammates or himself. MacGregor has no fear on either end of the court and relishes a challenge. He is committed to Stetson.
Jamie Phillips, Winter Haven: The 6’4 senior and Stetson commit is a big point guard that can also score. He has excellent court vision, overpowers opponents on drives and is a consistent shot-maker on either side of the arc. Phillips is too big and strong for most opponents and commands a lot of double-teams. His passing ability makes him all the more dangerous when that happens.
Ramon Seals, Tampa SLAM: The 6’4 senior is strong and knows how to use his strength and frame to overpower defenders, get to the basket and often to the foul line. His jump shot continues to improve, making him that much more difficult to guard. He rebounds well, will push the ball up the floor on the break, and generally makes good decisions with it.
#1 Senior: Lorenzo Cason, Lakeland Victory Christian (see above)
#1 Junior: Joshua Lewis, Tampa Blake: The 6’7 wing had an impressive sophomore season at Blake and built on that with solid performances this spring and summer with the 16U Florida Rebels. Athletic, long, and skilled, Lewis is very versatile, plays inside and out, and has a very high ceiling.
#1 Sophomore: Toni Bryant, North Tampa Christian: A long 6’9 athlete, Bryant has some skills to him as well. He shoots the ball respectably from the perimeter, is fast up the floor in transition, and is a dynamic shot blocker.
#1 Freshman: O’Neal Delancey, St. Petersburg Gibbs: A 6’3 high-level athlete with skills from a basketball family, Delancey is no ordinary freshman. He attacks the rim, has a respectable jumper from the perimeter and puts in work on the defensive end.
Senior Sleeper: Sevastian Rosado, Lake Wales: Though just 5’9, Rosado routinely puts up big numbers against defenses designed to stop him. He has deep range on his shot, no fear in attacking the rim against larger foes, and is a frequent visitor to the foul line.