Time to close out our HS End of Season Awards with some team categories.
For this category, we are only going to consider teams that participated in the FHSAA playoffs. Both Montverde Academy and IMG Academy are members of the FHSAA but do not participate in the playoffs.
Miami Christopher Columbus stunned Florida basketball with their state title win last season. Because of their young roster, that put the proverbial bullseye on their back. To their credit, the Explorers never wavered. They took on a very challenging national schedule and finished with a record of 26-4 and winning a second state championship in the state’s largest classification. However, the road to the title was no easy stroll. Columbus lost in overtime to Miami Palmetto in the district final, then after steamrolling thru four opponents to reach the title game, found a way to come up with a late basket to defeat a very good Winter Haven squad. As expected, Cameron Boozer, a 6’9 sophomore paced the team along with twin brother, 6’4 point guard Cayden Boozer. Malik Abdullahi, a 6’8 junior was a key component on the interior while 6’1 senior Garyn Bess and 6’3 sophomore Benny Fragela were mainstays in the backcourt. In a bit of a surprise, Columbus decided not to participate in ESPN’s State Champions event like Calvary did last year. Instead, they are playing as a “club” team in the NBAPA’s sixteen team tournament “The Throne”. Consequently, Columbus’ showing in that even will not count towards their record and the Explorers will no doubt finish nationally ranked in the top ten when it comes to the final high school team rankings.
Windermere Prep lost most of lost its 21-22 team to graduation and/or transfer so little was known about them coming into this season. On top of that, the Lakers trotted out two freshman and a junior who had not played in the program last season. Somehow it all worked out and Windermere Prep reached the Class 3A title game. The freshmen, 6’4 Brandon Bass, Jr., and 7’0 Sinan Huan, both played well beyond their years and certainly look to have bright futures at the next level. Chandler Watts, a 6’5 junior, came over from Monteverde and gave the team a boost with his ability to collapse defenses and score at the basket. The lone contributing returnee, 6’4 senior Mason Williams, was just what the team needed in terms of toughness and leadership. At mid-season, the Lakers got 6’0 senior guard Aiden Fletcher back and his presence proved a dynamic addition to the team. Hosting all three regional games at home helped but when the Lakers defeated top-ranked Providence out of Jacksonville to reach the final, all the doubters became believers.
FLORIDA HS TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS SEEDING
Wouldn’t it be great if Florida held a Tournament of Champions for all its classification winners? If that had taken place this season, below is our seeding for the bracket.
#1 Seed: Miami Christopher Columbus – Highest nationally-ranked team
#2 Seed: Weston Sagemont – Sagemont defeated both 3A state champ Riviera Prep and 4A state champ Mater Lakes during the regular season, albeit early on. The continued to play great basketball even after losing starting point guard Cam Gibson to a knee injury in December.
#3 Seed: Hialeah Mater Lakes Academy – Mater Lakes has a win over 3A champ Riviera Prep on the books which puts them here. They were very impressive in a neutral-court win over Winter Haven in January.
#4 Seed: Miami Riviera Prep – The Bulldogs played a tough schedule and have wins over 5A state champ Belen Jesuit, Nevada state champ Durango and a pair of Georgia powerhouses in Pebblebrook and Grayson.
#5 Seed: Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer – Dwyer lost only one game all season but their schedule was not nearly as strong as the team’s in front of them. Still, they found ways to win close games and were dominant in their run to the state title.
#6 Seed: Miami Belen Jesuit – The lone distinction we could make between Dwyer and Belen is that Belen beat Miami Southridge at home by four while Dwyer defeated that same team by nine on its home court in the playoffs. The difference between the two teams, at least in this instance, is razor-thin.
#7 Seed: Williston– Class 1A teams always seem to get stuck at the bottom of this list. Williston would probably do better than most as the Red Devils took on a challenging schedule to prepare for this season and it paid off.
NEVER-TOO-EARLY LOOK AHEAD
Below is an early look at a team and player to watch in each classification heading into 2023-2024. These are the teams and players that we think will have a breakout season
1A: Team to Watch: Hawthorne; Player to Watch: Javon Brown, Williston
2A: Team to Watch: Lakeland Victory Christian; Player to Watch: Isaiah Brown, Orlando Christian Prep
3A: Team to Watch: Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy; Player to Watch: Jaylen Robinson, Jacksonville Providence
4A: Team to Watch: St. Petersburg Gibbs; Player to Watch: Sammy Yeanay, Citra North Marion
5A: Team to Watch: Miami Norland; Player to Watch: Tristan Wilson, Miami Norland
6A: Team to Watch: Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas; Player to Watch: Jeremy Elyze, Pembroke Pines Charter
7A: Team to Watch: Orlando Oak Ridge; Player to Watch: Ta’Veon Jones, Windermere
Independent: Team to Watch: Gainesville The Rock School; Player to Watch: R.J. Jones, Gainesville The Rock School