We headed to Apopka High School just north of Orlando to take in the twelfth edition of the Earl Graham Metro vs. Florida Challenge the day before Thanksgiving. This event, honoring the late Earl Graham who did so much to help Central Florida youth through basketball, is a great opportunity to see the best teams in the area.
Orlando Jones vs. Winter Garden Foundation Academy
Jones is one of our picks to reach Lakeland in Class 5A while Foundation is a young team with a solid future. Jones got out to a quick 5-0 start, forcing a Foundation timeout with just over five minutes left in the first quarter. That was indicative of how the game would go. Jones built a 19-8 lead after one quarter and led by twenty at the break, 43-23.
In the third quarter, Foundation didn’t cave and was able to stay even with the Tigers. In the final period, Jones gave time to the guys on the bench and Foundation was able to trim the final margin to fifteen at 73-58. Give credit to Jones for establishing a big, early lead while Foundation earns its flowers for playing hard throughout an uphill battle.
Jones was led by 6’0 sophomore Jaquail Smith with 20 points. O’marian Hall, a 6’0 senior, added 16 points while 6’2 senior Jalen Cole finished with 12 points.
Foundation got a game-high 22 points from 6’2 junior Jacob Crain. Isaiah Gilyard, a 6’0 freshman, tossed in 13 points.
Apopka vs Bartow
Both coaches will tell you that their respective teams will be better at this time in January than they are now. It was a rough start for both sides as the score was only 5-3 in favor of Apopka after the first four minutes. The host Blue Darters finished out the first with a 10-3 run to lead 15-6 going into the second quarter. With the score 19-8 in favor of Apopka, Bartow took a timeout to re-group with just under six minutes left in the half. It worked to a certain extent, as the Yellow Jackets were able to stay even with Apopka and entered the break down ten, 25-15.
The Blue Darters opened the third quarter with a 7-0 run and led by sixteen, 38-22 with 3:25 left in the period. Bartow collected itself and kept the margin from growing bigger heading into the final period down 39-24. Bartow gave a great effort but was never able to get the margin below double-digits and threaten to change the outcome of the game. Apopka would go on to win by the score of 52-36.
Apopka was led by 6’0 junior Darren Leath with 11 points while Adam Bracy, a 6’4 junior, scored 10 points.
For Bartow, Lawrence Horton, a 6’0 sophomore, and Joseph Williams, a 6’2 junior, each scored eight points.
Orlando Olympia vs. Leesburg
Olympia, featuring 6’2 senior and Cincinnati signee Edgerin James, Jr., is a top ten team in Class 7A entering the start of the season. Leesburg, featuring 6’5 senior Camerin James, is always a threat.
Olympia got out of the gate quickly and established a 17-8 lead in the first four minutes of the contest. Leesburg collected itself and stayed even the rest of the period but still found itself down nine at 21-12 after one quarter of play. Leesburg started the second quarter on fire, and drew to within three at 22-19 by the six-minute mark. At that point, Olympia scored six straight, highlighted by a James slam, to re-establish control and led 28-21 midway thru the second quarter. The Titans continued to play well and at the break led by ten, 40-30.
Olympia stayed in control for much of the third quarter, leading 51-42 at the midway point. In the span of two minutes, Leesburg put together a 6-1 run, shrinking the deficit to just four at 52-48. Going into the final quarter, the margin would stay at four with Olympia leading 54-50.
A 7-2 run by Leesburg over the first two minutes of the fourth quarter gave the team its first lead. Olympia stayed with and re-took the lead at 60-59 with just over four minutes left to play. With one minute left to play, Olympia was up 70-69 with possession. However, the Titans turned the ball over with thirty-seven seconds left to play, giving Leesburg life. With twenty seconds left to play, Olympia returned the favor, as James stole the ball and scored to give Olympia a three-point lead. Leesburg was unable to recover and the Titans won by the score of 72-69.
James of Olympia led all scorers with 36 points. Carter McDole, a 6’6 junior, contributed 9 points.
For Leesburg, their James pumped in 23 points. Derek McCray, a 6’0 senior, added 14 points.
Orlando Oak Ridge vs. Daytona Beach Mainland
The Pioneers of Oak Ridge are another serious threat to reach Lakeland in Class 7A while the Buccaneers of Mainland have been a solid program for many years and never a team to take lightly.
Oak Ridge didn’t and raced out to a 19-8 lead after one quarter of play. That lead got up to 29-14 midway through the second quarter. At that point, Mainland came alive, cutting a fifteen-point deficit almost in half by the half. With the score standing at 33-25, it was still anybody’s ball game.
Oak Ridge continued to hold to that eight-point lead for the first four minutes of the third quarter. Mainland would finish out the period on an 8-3 run, drawing to within three, 41-38, with one quarter left to play. Oak Ridge scored the first five points of the fourth period, and Mainland was unable to threaten again. The Pioneers extended their lead and won by a score of 61-49.
Oak Ridge was led by 6’5 junior Tyler Johnson with 19 points. Jordan Tillery, a 6’4 junior, added 14 points while 6’6 junior and UCF commit Cam Simpson contributed 11 points.
Mainland got 16 points from 5’10 freshman Nathan Kirk and 13 points from 6’5 junior Narayan Thomas.
Orlando Wekiva vs. Sanford Seminole
Wekiva is a bit under the radar this season but is athletic and plays hard and fast. Seminole has been one of the better teams in Central Florida the past few seasons, having spent some time in Lakeland.
Wekiva started the game with a 10-0 run and looked like they might win in a laugher. Seminole certainly wasn’t thinking that way, got some stops and scores, and by the end of the first quarter had pulled to within two at 21-19. The pace continued to be fast in the second quarter as both teams managed to score ten points in the first four minutes. From there, play quickly switched to sloppy, and both teams could manage only five points in the last four minutes of the second quarter. When the half-time horn sounded, Wekiva led by just two, 36-34.
With four minutes left to play in the third quarter and Wekiva leading 46-40, the Mustangs switched up defenses and went to a half-court trap. The result was a 10-0 run for Wekiva and with one period left to play, the Mustangs now led by double-digits, 57-44.
The final quarter would prove to be anti-climatic as Wekiva maintained its substantial lead throughout, winning by the score of 76-60.
Malachi Washington, a 6’5 senior, led Wekiva with 23 points. K.J. Robinson, a 6’3 senior and Hofstra commit added 14 points while 5’9 senior Abiah Charles netted 11 points.
For Seminole, 5’9 sophomore Gian-Paul Anderson scored 14 points. Josh Shackleford a 6’2 junior, put up 12 points, and 6’6 senior Yeziell Alvarez put down 11 points.