Favorite: Miami Christopher Columbus
Columbus started three freshmen and a sophomore last year and won the state title over a defending champion with three high-major signees. On that alone, Columbus would be considered a near lock to repeat. However, after a couple of successful performances in some high-profile events this summer and fall, this group is clearly one of the better teams in the country, not just the Sunshine State. Cameron Boozer, 6’9 sophomore and twin brother Cayden Boozer, a 6’4 sophomore, are the twin turbos the take the team to another level. Cameron has been labeled the top prospect in the country regardless of class by more than one national source. Highly skilled and cerebral, he is also a very good athlete and no doubt any D-I college would take him right now. Cayden runs the show at the point, scores as well as distributes, and makes an impact on the defensive end. Malik Abdullahi, a 6’7 junior, is an excellent complement to Boozer on the interior. A dynamic athlete that plays with great energy, he is a terror on the offensive glass and can switch out and defend on the perimeter. Benny Fragela, a 6’2 sophomore, is a sniper from the corners. He loosens up the defense for post play by Cameron or drives for Cayden. Nikola Djapa, a 6’10 senior from Serbia, has size but it most comfortable draining threes from the perimeter. Garyn Bess, a 6’1 senior, and Angelo Miranda, a 6’4 junior, provide additional firepower. Outside of Miami Palmetto and Coral Glades, Columbus may not see much of a challenge on its way to Lakeland.
Regional Favorites: Apopka (Region One); Lake Worth (Region Two); Winter Haven (Region Three)
After the FHSAA’s most recent reclassification, the path to Lakeland is wide open in Region 1, which stretches from parts of Orlando north. Seminole out of Sanford has been the rep the past couple of years but they seem to have lost too much to graduation to be the pick. We are going to go with Apopka. It isn’t a team with great size or a singular spectacular talent, but Scott Williams does a good job of getting his group to play hard at both ends of the court and by the end of the season they are playoff ready. District rival Orlando Evans could make a run, as could Orlando University. Reclassification also did a number on Region 2, especially District 5 where Orlando Oak Ridge, Orlando Olympia, and Windermere would be clear favorites if they had a district to themselves. For some reason, Districts 7 & 8, both holding teams in South Florida, have been placed in this region after several years in Region 3. Lake Worth, the team that reached Lakeland last year from that region, returns everyone of consequence for another try at the title. Calvin Sirmans, a 5’8 senior, and Marvin Golf, a 6’5 senior, area dynamic combo that does a little bit of everything. Both have gotten a lot of college attention. The aforementioned trio of schools in District 5 will certainly be in the mix as should Centennial out of Port St. Lucie. Region 3 is comprised mostly of west coast schools. However, Winter Haven has moved up from Class 6A and is definitely the favorite here. Dylan James, a 6’8 senior and Georgia commit, and FAMU commit Kjei Parker, a 6’2 senior, are just the tip of the iceberg for this club. Juniors Isaac Celiscar, 6’6 and Jamie Phillips, 6’4, make things happen at both ends of the floor for the Blue Devils. Challengers in this region should include Tarpon Springs East Lake, Riverview Sumner, and Sarasota Riverview.
Best Player: Cameron Boozer, Miami Christopher Columbus
The 6’8 sophomore is the son of NBA vet Carlos Boozer and it is clear that he has been taught well. Boozer plays with a high degree of confidence, scores from all three levels, controls the glass and protects the rim. He is quick to outlet the ball to ignite the transition game and moves swiftly up, down, and around the court. Don’t be surprised if he is a three-time Mr. Basketball winner if he spends his entire high school career at Columbus.
Pre-Season All-State: Boozer; Edgerrin James (Orlando Olympia); Dylan James (Winter Haven); Calvin Srimans (Lake Worth); Cayden Boozer (Miami Columbus)
James, a 6’3 senior and Cincinnati commit, had a great spring and summer on the EYBL circuit. He is a clutch scorer, tough to keep from the basket, and is a physical player at both ends of the floor. James of Winter Haven, a 6’8 senior, has a lot of inside-out versatility. He can knock down the three or score inside, deter shots in the paint with his length and leap, and defend both perimeter and post. Don’t be put off by Sirmans’ size at 5’9. He has a high hoops IQ, excels at moving the defense to get good looks at the basket, and is tough when it is winning time. Boozer, a 6’4 sophomore, is a solid point guard that can score, has great chemistry with his teammates, and plays a very mature game that belies his sophomore status.
Better Than Advertised: Sanford Seminole
While Seminole lost a lot to graduation, it is still a group that can make a run if overlooked. They arguably won’t get going until the team gets off the football field and get in basketball shape, but come mid-January, no one will want to play them.
Don’t Sleep On: Ty Owens, Port St. Lucie Centennial
A 6’1 senior, Owens was one of just three players in Florida’s 2023 class last season to shoot 50% or more from the field, 40% or more from behind the arc, and 80% or more from the foul line. He averaged nearly 18 points per game for a young Centennial club that is still angry about losing in the first round of last year’s regionals and believes some scores need to be settled.
PRE-SEASON TOP TEN
1.Miami Christopher Columbus
3.Orlando Oak Ridge
6.Fort Lauderdale Coral Glades
9.Port St. Lucie Centennial
10.Tarpon Springs East Lake