We move onto Central Florida for our regional previews.
TOP FIVE “BIG” SCHOOLS (CLASS 7A thru 5A)
Orlando Oak Ridge (Class 7A, Region 2, District 5) For whatever reason, when the FHSAA decides to do a re-classification every other year, they end up creating a “District of Death” in Central Florida. For this year and next, 7A-D5 will be just that as three of the top five teams in the area reside there. The Pioneers of Oak Ridge will be considered the favorites to come out on top but it will not be easy. It is a young team but has a lot of talent, starting with 6’5 junior Tyler Johnson. He has become a match-up nightmare now that his perimeter shooting ability is on par with his talent for scoring on drives to the rim. Elijah Elliott, a 6’4 junior, is another dynamic slasher that creates havoc for the defense with both his scoring and passing skills. Jalen Reese, a 6’1 sophomore, is one of the better point guards in the state regardless of class. He keeps his teammates happy with plentiful shot opportunities but Reese is a very accurate perimeter shooter that can create points on his own. A pair of newcomers, 6’6 junior Cam Simpson and 6’4 junior Jordan Tillery add more firepower to the line-up. Sophomore Amari Davis, at 6’8, can also step out and shoot and will be asked to hold down the paint at the defensive end. A strong schedule should get the Pioneers ready for the playoffs and a run to Lakeland.
Orlando Olympia (Class 7A, Region 2, District 5) The Titans were one of last season’s biggest surprises but ran out of gas in a tough region. They won’t surprise anyone this time around but that shouldn’t matter. Edgerrin “Jizzle” James, a 6’2 senior and Cincinnati commit, excelled for the Florida Rebels on the EYBL circuit this past spring and summer. The strong guard can and will score from all three levels, get his teammates involved, and make plays in crunch time. Senior Jackson Outlaw, 6’8, will be counted on to control the glass, protect the rim, and make the most of his opportunities inside. His length and leaping ability are difficult to contain. Juniors Carter McDole (6’6) and Cameron Miles (6’2) should provide plenty of perimeter punch on the offensive end. This group will get better as the season progresses and it wouldn’t surprise to find them on a multi-game winning streak come playoff time.
Windermere (Class 7A, Region 2, District 5) No doubt the transfer of national top ten senior Sean Stewart to Montverde Academy hurts. However, the “transfer portal” also giveth, as the Wolverines received a pair of newcomers that should offset the loss at least a little. Senior Cole White, 6’6 who played in Monteverde’s College Basketball Development program last season, is a physical inside presence that will hold his own at both ends of the floor. He should get inside support from 6’7 junior Kennedy Day and 6’7 sophomore T. J. Drain. Jalen DeBose, a 6’2 senior, is a returning starter. He is a good athlete that knocks down perimeter shots and puts in work on the defensive end. Chalier Torres, a 6’3 junior, is a solid spot-up shooter that stretches the defense but will surprise with quick drives to the hoop when it is least expected. The other impact transfer is 5’7 junior TaVeon Jones. We have yet to find a defender that can stay in front of him and his speed, quickness, and ability to collapse defenses allows him to find teammates for easy shots. His perimeter shot is accurate enough to be respected. Don’t write-off this group because of the loss of Stewart. They will be a tough out every night.
Orlando Jones (Class 5A, Region 2, District 7) Jones returns the vast majority of last season’s team that reached the state semifinals. They were quite impressive at team events over the summer and look to be on track to make a return trip to Lakeland. Jalon Cole, a 6’2 senior, spearheads the point of attack at both ends of the court. He can create shots for himself or teammates, covers a lot of ground quickly on the defensive end, and generally makes good decisions with the ball. The junior trio of 6’3 Calvin Liptrot, 6’3 Keishaun Robinson, and 6’0 Telario Pringle excel in the up-tempo pace that Jones looks to create. Tyrell Anderson, a 6’9 senior, is a big body that will protect the interior. This could be a special season for the Tigers.
Orlando Wekiva (Class 6A, Region 2, District 6) There were a lot of programs vying for this final spot but we decided to take a flyer on the Mustangs of Wekiva. Malachi Hampton, a 6’5 senior, is one of the more under-valued players in the state. An athletic wing that quickly gets to rebounds at both ends, scores in transition and on drives, and disrupts the passing lanes on defense, Hampton gives everything while on the floor. Kijae Robinson, a 6’3 senior, transfers in and should provide the Mustangs with both perimeter scoring and an ability to breakdown the defense with the dribble. Darius Livingston, a 6’0 sophomore, provides more speed and scoring punch from the backcourt. Overall, Wekiva is not a big team so it will have to use its collective speed and quickness to force opponents to play at a faster pace than they prefer.
TOP FIVE “SMALL” SCHOOLS (CLASS 4A thru 1A)
Orlando Christian Prep (Class 2A, Region 2, District 7) While the loss of 6’0 sophomore Mikel Brown (KS Sunrise Christian) and 6’10 senior Jayden Hastings (IMG Academy) stings, OCP certainly has enough in its talent pool to contend for another Class 2A title. Isaiah Brown, a 6’3 junior, showed off a much improved and more complete game this spring and summer. His ability to score in a variety of ways will be a big factor. Ameer Ramadan, a 6’0 junior, is solid at the point guard spot. He shoots the ball well from the perimeter, makes good decisions on the move, and doesn’t seem to be fazed by defensive pressure. Isaiah Sutherland, a 6’6 senior, should help on the inside with rebounding while using a soft shooting touch on offense to stretch the defense. Marc Ekiri, a 6’7 junior, is still refining his offensive skills but ferociously pursues rebounds and challenges shots on defense. Sean Combs, a 6’1 senior, comes over from Kissimmee Osceola and provides another scorer for the Warriors.
Orlando The First Academy (Class 3A, Region 2, District 6) While this group contains a lot of underclassmen, they were impressive at the Fall Festival and should only be better when the regular season starts. Don’t be surprised if 6’3 freshman Donovan Williams inherits the “go to” mantle quickly. He has a lot of natural talent, finds ways to score, and covers a lot of ground defensively. Junior guards Rilan Jean Baptiste (6’0) and Lorenzo De Jesus (6’2) should be key contributors. Baptiste’s speed with the ball causes problems for opponents and De Jesus finishes strong at the basket. Nick Blake, a 6’0 sophomore, is a sniper from deep as is 6’0 freshman Luke Mayberry. TFA may take a few lumps early but will be a team no one wants to face come playoff time.
Orlando Lake Highland Prep (Class 4A, Region 2, District 7) Bryce Sensabaugh, last season’s Mr. Basketball, has graduated and moved on to the Ohio State University. There will certainly be some holes to fill but history has shown that the Highlanders routinely find ways to infuse new talent into their roster. This time around thought, it should be a pair of young but experienced guards that keeps the team competitive. Julien Clark, a 6’2 junior and 6’0 Kellan Lewis, another junior, will now be freed to “fire at will”. Clark is more of a slasher and rim finisher while Lewis has deep and accurate range on his shot. It will be interesting to see how newcomers and/or JV callups fit in but we aren’t taking this group lightly.
Melbourne Holy Trinity (Class 3A, Region 2, District 5) Holy Trinity made (to some) a surprising appearance in last year’s 3A final four. They are hoping to take it at least one step farther this season. Caleb Gaskins, a 6’7 freshman, averaged double-figures as an eighth grader last season. After spending time with USABasketball this fall, he is on the national radar. Elijah Reynolds, a 5’10 junior, returns after averaging nine points a contest last year. Expect that number to increase well into double-figures this time around. Willie Thompson, a 6’6 junior, impressed in some individual showcases this fall. A strong run/jump athlete, Thompson will look to put his physical gifts to good use when it comes to rebounding and scoring around the basket. The region is more challenging this year after the FHSAA re-classification but Holy Trinity should have enough to at least be a major opponent come playoff time.
Kissimmee City of Life Christian (Class 2A, Region 2, District 8) City of Life has had very good regular season records the past two years. However, they had to face the juggernaut that is Orlando Christian Prep and never had the chance to make much noise in the playoffs. At least now they are not in the same district, so it may be possible that a team that returns its’ top six scorers will at least have a better seed and therefore make a deeper run. Jo-El King, a 6’6 senior, returns after averaging 13.7 ppg and 8.5 rpg last season. He impressed with an inside/outside skill set this fall. Seniors Lawrence Mitchell (6’4) and Kalik Shape (6’0) both averaged double-figures last year. A young group the past two years is now senior-laden and hope to get one last shot at OCP in the regional finals.
Top Five Players
Edgerrin James, Orlando Olympia: The 6’2 senior had a great EYBL season with the Florida Rebels and went from a mid-major prospect to an easy high major recruit in a short amount of time. James uses his strength to get to the basket and score or create separation and knock down a very accurate mid-range shot. He’s tough with the ball, makes good decisions, and finds ways to keep teammates involved. James is also a tough physical defender that is quick to convert turnovers into points. He should excel at Cincinnati.
Camerin James, Leesburg: A 6’5 senior, James has a lot of strength and bounce and knows how use both. He is a terror in transition, tough to keep off the offensive glass, and is improving as a perimeter shooter. James will get to and finish at the basket in a crowd very quickly on one and two-dribble drives. He is also very quick off the floor to challenge shots in the paint.
Eduardo Placer, Orlando Central Florida Christian Academy: A 6’4 senior, Placer is well-traveled but has had success everywhere he has been. The lefty shoots the ball well from beyond the arc, is a surprisingly effective distributor, and relishes taking smaller guards into the post and overpowering them for buckets. Placer had the ability to play either guard spot and will produce no matter where he is on the floor.
Tyler Johnson, Orlando Oak Ridge: The 6’5 junior continues to improve his overall game. While still able to score around the basket, Johnson is now a threat to knock down mid-range pull-ups as well a catch-and-shoot jumpers from beyond the arc. He is an excellent rebounder at both ends of the court and finishes well on the break.
Isaiah Brown, Orlando Christian Prep: The 6’3 junior simply has a knack for getting the ball in the basket. Whether it is creatively finishing forays to the hoop in a crowd or knocking down threes off the catch, Brown gets the ball in the hole. He anticipates well and reacts quickly on the defensive end and will surprise opponents with his ability to finish above the rim.
#1 Senior: Edgerrin James, Orlando Olympia (see above)
#1 Junior: Tyler Johnson, Orlando Oak Ridge (see above)
#1 Sophomore: Jalen Reese, Orlando Oak Ridge: Combining a high hoops IQ as well as a high skill level, Reese has become a national level recruit in the Class of 2025. He is tough to stop in ball-screen situations and can knock down shots behind the arc off the dribble. Reese sees the floor well on drives and recognizes quickly where the ball needs to go once the defenses collapses to tries and contain him.
#1 Freshman: Caleb Gaskins, Melbourne Holy Trinity: As a 6’5 eighth grader, Gaskins led Holy Trinity in scoring and helped the team reach the Class 3A Final Four. Now 6’7, Gaskins took part in the most recent USABasketball mini-camp. He will once again be a big part of any success that Holy Trinity has this season.
Senior Sleeper: Jo-El King, Kissimmee City of Life Christian: The 6’6 senior was quite impressive this spring and summer. King has broad shoulders, long arms, and the ability to play on the perimeter or punish foes inside. He has a reliable perimeter shot out to the arc, can put the ball on the floor to score if overplayed, and has good touch around the rim, both when posting up and putting back offensive rebounds.