Photo Courtesy Montverde Athletics
It was an AMAZING two days of wall-to-wall basketball this past weekend at The Big House in Tavares as Hoop Exchange held its annual Fall Festival. Dozens of teams from all over the Sunshine State came to test themselves against competition they won’t likely get or see in their area. There is a lot to cover, so let’s get to it.
It comes as no surprise that Montverde Academy drew the most attention from spectators and scouts whenever the Eagles played on Saturday and Sunday. One thing that will make this group so tough this coming season is that their main players all played quite a bit last year as juniors and have already developed incredible chemistry at both ends of the floor. We’ll get to 6’8 senior Cooper Flagg, arguably the top recruit in the country regardless of class, in a moment, but we first need to outright rave about the play of 6’10 senior Derik Queen. Off the charts skilled and smart, Queen dominates the paint with excellent footwork, a soft touch, and super-computer-like response and reactions to what the defense throws at him. He’s dropped weight, has become more athletic, and is consistently productive at both ends of the court. Flagg seemingly does whatever he wants on the court. He’ll get to his spots, knock down shots from all three levels, displays good court vision and passing instincts, and defensively not only locks up his guy but is extremely quick to come from the weakside to help out and block shots. Asa Newell, a 6’9 senior, continues to blow us away with his inside/outside game. He has a beautiful lefty stroke out to the arc, a nice little jump hook in the lane, and runs the floor for scores. Newell is a good rim protector and post defender. Liam McNeeley, a 6’8 senior, is a sniper on the perimeter, makes good reads on the move with the ball, and surprises defenders with a quick first step when attacking the basket. Curtis Givens, a 6’2 senior, runs the point but has the ability to play off the ball as well. He can score when necessary but knows his job is to get the ball to his teammates where they can best use it and then defend like mad on that end of the floor. Robert Wright, a 6’1 senior, is a blur with the ball, makes tough finishes at the rim, and is quick to locate open teammates for easy scores. Ace Flagg, a 6’7 junior, is likely the first big off the bench. He may lack the flash of his twin brother and the other “bigs” but Ace is solid fundamentally and doesn’t lower the talent level when he’s on the floor. There is also a lot of young talent on the bench for the Eagles so the future looks bright beyond the 23-24 season.
Orlando Oak Ridge
A team vying for the “Best FHSAA Team Regardless of Classification”, this group of Pioneers is looking to dethrone two-time state champ Columbus. The squad has D-I talent on its bench as well as in its starting lineup and will get a hard push to start the season as a top fifty team in the country. Jalen Reece, a 6’0 junior with multiple high D-I offers runs the team from the point guard spot. The son of a coach, it shows as Reece has a high hoops IQ, is an extension of the coach on the floor, and is unfazed by defensive pressure. He is also a terrific scorer and distributor of the basketball. Jamier Jones, a 6’5 junior, is a highlight reel waiting to happen anytime he touches the ball. Explosive only begins to describe Jones’ athleticism. Jones is tough to keep from the basket, whether in transition or in half-court sets. He is also a surprisingly skilled passer. Tyler Johnson, a 6’5 senior and Virgina Tech commit, is a jack-of-all-trades type that scores, rebounds, and defends with tenacity. Jordan Tillery, a 6’5 Georgia Southern commit, is a slasher deluxe that scores quickly off the bounce. He is also a versatile defender that takes on the opposition’s best player. Cam Simpson, a 6’6 senior and Central Florida commit, is a long-range sniper that continues to improve his ability to score off the bounce. His length makes him an above-average defender. Calvin Liptrot, a 6’2 senior, is a microwave-type scorer off the bench. Tim Winkler, a 6’10 sophomore, brings size, athleticism, and shot-blocking ability to the floor. As a group, this team is athletic, plays at a fast tempo on both ends of the floor, and has the ability to end games quickly with big scoring runs.
Miami Riviera Prep
The reigning Class 3A champs and another contender for best overall team, we only got to see them for a half but it was more than enough. Riviera Prep has no seniors on the roster so their reign could last a while. Dante Allen, a 6’4 junior, was the talk of the event. In short, he’s just a baller. Highly skilled, great hoops IQ, a non-stop motor and a fierce competitor, Allen makes high-level, winning plays on a consistent basis at both ends of the floor. Complementing Allen on the interior is 6’11 junior Gustavo Gumaris. He seems to play best against other guys his size. Gumaris controls his rebounding area, is a shot changer in the lane, and scores effectively around the basket. He isn’t very bouncy in terms of athleticism, but he is good enough. Mason Fuentes, a 6’0 sophomore, and Myles Fuentes, a 6’0 freshman, are a tough tandem in the backcourt. Mason is a hyper-aggressive scorer with both his drive and his jumper while Myles is a bit more of a traditional point guard but can also score when given the opportunity. Jeremy Jenkins, a 6’7 freshman shows plenty of potential for the next level. He moves well, has a solid frame, scores okay around the basket and plays with great effort.
The defending Class 2A champion, Sagemont is in the mix for best school in the FHSAA playoffs regardless of class (Montverde, IMG, and some others are FHSAA members but do not partake in the playoffs). Jordyn Kee, a 6’3 senior, has transferred back to Florida and has assumed the point guard role. He’s a dynamic athlete, has an attack mentality, and continues to develop as a perimeter shooter. Ricky Liburd, a 6’6 junior and Kevin Thomas, a 6’7 sophomore, are bookend wings that play a similar style. Both are long, athletic, and very good at going strong to the basket and finishing through contact. Each has versatility on defense with the ability to switch out on smaller defenders and keep them from the basket. Dominic Issa, a 6’6 senior, plays a point-forward role for the team. A good, not great athlete, Issa excels at finding cutters in the lane for easy shots, tossing skip passes to open perimeter shooters and feeding the post. He’ll score on drives and open perimeter shots when the opportunity arises. Inside, 6’9 senior Kenneth Lopez has some basic scoring tools. While he may not yet be a threat to step away from the paint and make shots, he runs the floor, catches lobs for scores, and challenges any and all shots in the lane.
Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy
A young but talented group, Westminster Academy will be one of the favorites to win the Class 3A title this coming season. Their top four players are as good as any you will find, not only in their classification but the FHSAA overall. Unfortunately, on Saturday that four dropped down to three as early on in the first contest Alex Constanza, a 6’8 sophomore, rolled an ankle and had to be helped off the floor. He did not return to play the rest of the weekend. Jeremiah Police, a 6’6 senior, upped his game to fill in the gap, aggressively attacking the basket and consistently coming away with positive results. That aggression carried over to the defensive end where he constantly harassed ball-handlers and disrupted passing lanes. Alex Lloyd, a 6’4 junior, often found himself running the team from the point guard spot. He handled the chore well but seems better suited off the ball. A skilled and athletic wing, Lloyd makes a lot of tough finishes in traffic. Normally a reliable three-point shooter, he struggled a bit in this department in the one game we watched. Dwayne Wimbley, a 6’6 junior, plays with a ton of energy. A grab-and-go rebounder, he pushes the pace until the defense stops him. He then finds open teammates for easy scores. Wimbley continues to improve as a perimeter shooter. We came away impressed with his vision and passing ability on Saturday.
The Lakers were without the services of 7’0 sophomore Sinan Huan and 6’5 junior Malachi Martis, so they trotted out five guards and went to work. Sam Shoptaw, a 6’3 junior, mans the point. He does a good job of running the offense, getting players involved, and dictating the tempo. Shoptaw will score on the drive or perimeter shot when the opportunity arises. Jordan Ford, a 6’4 junior, is a long athlete that uses his physical gifts well on the glass as well as the defensive end. Most of his points come around the basket in transition or drives but he will drop in a three-pointer every now and then when the defense is inattentive. Ian Parham, a 6’5 sophomore, fits in well after playing at Calvary Christian last season. He has a good feel for the game, rebounds the ball well and scores well driving to the hoop. Brandon Bass, a 6’5 sophomore, is an athletic lefty with deep range on his shot. He continues to improve as a finisher around the basket. Gustavo Roca, a 6’2 freshman, doesn’t play like it. He’s savvy, plays under control, takes and makes smart shots, and has solid ball-handling and passing skills.
Miami Mater Lakes
The Bears came in as reigning 4A state champs and looked the part all weekend long. Anthony Knowles, a 6’0 junior, showed no ill effects of a wrist injury that has limited his playing time this fall. He was dynamic as a shot creator on both sides of the arc this past weekend. Whether using ball-screens or quickly pulling up on a back-pedaling defender, Knowles’ jumper was falling at a high level. He also got to the basket and completed “and one” plays, as well as getting teammates the ball for open looks when the defense collapsed on his drives. Braylon Burbage, a 6’0 senior, fits in well with the group. He shoots the ball very well from deep, is a solid ball-handler, and makes good shot vs. pass decisions on the move. Christian Reid, a 6’5 senior, is back as an athletic beast on the interior. From fifteen feet and in, Reid is tough to cover as he is too strong for smaller players and too quick for bigger ones. Clarence Burts, a 6’3 senior, benefits from the defense having to focus and helping and recovering against the Bears’ ball-movement offense that he gets a lot of open looks from the perimeter. Fortunately, he makes them. Teo Martinez, a 6’8 junior, has some inside/outside skills. He knocked down a couple of three pointers in the game we saw and also challenged shots on defense. Khanye Moss, a 5’11 freshman, has speed to spare but is another Mater Lakes player than makes shots from the perimeter.