While we didn’t see as many games as we would have liked this holiday season, we still saw several outstanding performers, both from Florida and beyond.
Dionte Blanch, Tarpon Springs East Lake: We had heard great things about the 6’3 junior but had not seen him until the Seminole Holiday Classic in Sanford. In front of us, he put up 27 points and 10 rebounds and he kept that pace the next two games in leading East Lake to the tournament title. Blanch plays with a great pace, is a superior scorer from all three levels and makes the easy play to get his teammates good looks at the basket. He’s a solid athlete, outstanding free throw shooter, and excels at getting to the basket and finishing in traffic.
Sam Griffin, Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy: We’ve admittedly been a fan of the 6’2 senior since before his freshman year at Norland in Miami. Now a senior with a pair of state titles under his belt, Griffin continues to show a solid, all-around game. He’s a rarity in that he has a mid-range game, using swift change of direction moves to create space for his shot. Griffin also shoots well off the catch from beyond the arc and finishes well in transition. Defensively he is solid, never playing upright and always ready to spring into the passing lanes to deflect or steal wayward passes.
Anthony Atkinson, Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy: Unlike Griffin, we are late to the party that is the 6’8 senior Atkinson. He’s built and plays similarly to his older brother, now at Yale and getting good minutes. Anthony has a strong frame, good footwork in the post, and scores well around the basket. He understands his role is to rebound, challenge shots in the paint, set crushing screens (both on and off the ball) and provide an interior scoring option. And he does all these things well. He won’t overwhelm opponents with eye-popping athleticism, but Atkinson more than compensates with his effort, strength, and skills.
Victor Brown, Orlando Lake Highland Prep: The 6’4 sophomore got off to a slow start against Westminster in their opening round contest in the Seminole Holiday Classic. His perimeter shot wasn’t falling and he seemed to be in a funk. All that changed after he made a great hustle play, chasing down and blocking a shot in transition that only he thought he could get to. From there, he used his quickness and length to get to and finish at the basket, both in transition and in the half-court, attacked the offensive glass, and became a more active and disruptive defender. Brown then connected on a pair of deep jumpers. When he can turn in that kind of effort and production into entire games, he will certainly elevate his recruiting profile.
Allan Jeanne-Rose, Tallahassee St. John Paul II: The 6’7 senior impressively filled up the stat sheet in the game we watched at The Rock Holiday Classic at Windermere Prep. With 16 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals, Jeanne-Rose was one of the more all-around performers we saw over the holidays. Nearly all of his points came either at the rim or from the free throw line but his shot looks to have good form based on his free throw performance. At his size, he can play any of the perimeter positions and Jeanne-Rose proved to be a solid defender both on and off the ball.
Kevin Zeng, Windermere Prep: When watching Zeng, we have to continuously remind ourselves that the slender 6’9 freshman is just that: a freshman. He will sometimes fail to complete plays because of a lack of strength and his overall conditioning/coordination is still a work in progress for someone so tall at a young age. Still, we like his ability to run the floor, play inside and out, and attack the basket with a bounce or two and finish with authority. Zeng plays with great effort, particularly when pursuing rebounds at the offensive end. As his body matures and gains strength, he will certainly improve on the defensive end. Zeng right now is more potential than polished product but his ceiling is very high.
Inady Legiste, Fort Lauderdale Stranahan: The 6’6 junior played a lot bigger than his size at The Battle at The Villages. Long and active, he aggressively pursues rebounds at both ends, grabbing fourteen in the game we witnessed. Despite being a bit undersized, he scores well around the basket and will put the ball on the floor for a dribble or two from the free throw line and short corners and score that way. Legiste is quick off the floor and with long arms he does a good job of changing and challenging shots at the basket.
David Herard, Fort Lauderdale Stranahan: The 6’2 junior is a dual-sport standout as he is a coveted wide receiver on the football field. On the basketball court, he uses his high-level athleticism to convert in transition, cover a lot of ground quickly on defense and grab long rebounds to push the offensive tempo. Herard is a streaky three point shooter that can go on long runs of makes as well as misses. He would be well-served to use his speed and quickness to attack the defense with the dribble to set up his perimeter shooting.
Tampa Berkeley Prep
We came away feeling that the Buccaneers have been undervalued at the start of the season, as they have some solid components. Chase Barrs, a 6’9 senior committed to Western Michigan, does a great job of protecting the basket, pursuing offensive rebounds, and making the most of his offensive opportunities. C.J. Hawkins is a 6’6 freshman with a solid body and by all accounts is still growing. While his court time was limited, when he did play he showed an understanding of the game, didn’t try to do too much, and looks to have a high ceiling. Ronnie Williams, a 6’5 junior, is the son of a former Jacksonville University standout and NBA player by the same name, and he’s been taught well. His jumper has an unusual rotation but it goes in and he’s got a solid frame that allows him to finish thru traffic at the basket. Finally, we have to mention the play of 6’0 junior Kegan Karnes. With a high basketball IQ and playing with a chip-on-his-shoulder tenacity, Karnes seemingly made the right play at the right time all the time. Whether scoring on drives, knocking down open threes, or corralling 50/50 balls, he made quite an impact in the team’s win at the Battle at The Villages.