We headed down to Charlotte HS in Punta Gorda to take in the Saturday action at the Wally Keller Classic. Featuring two gyms with games going on at the same time but with staggered starts, it is a good place to see not only the best teams and talent in Southwest Florida but also from other parts of the state. Donnie Wilkie and the crew at Charlotte do an incredible job year in and year out with this event, but this year the group greatly elevated their game given the circumstances that COVID brings. We admittedly kept our focus in the main gym for six games on Saturday.
Game One: Naples vs. Winter Haven
It was a quick turn-around for Naples, as the Golden Eagles played the late game the previous evening. It didn’t seem to bother them as they kept pace with a young but very talented Winter Haven squad. The score was tied at 12-12 with 3:30 remaining in the opening period when Winter Haven went on a 7-0 blitz and looked to have control. Naples responded with a 7-0 run of their own to end the quarter tied at 19-19. The Blue Devils of Winter Haven seized control early in the second period, putting together an 11-2 run to lead 30-21 with four minutes left. Naples was able to get back on track, cutting the deficit to just five, 36-31, at the break.
Winter Haven was able to keep Naples at bay for the first half of the third period and led by six, 42-36. At that point, Naples got going. The Golden Eagles took their first lead at 46-44 with just over a minute left and went into the final quarter up by two, 49-47. In the fourth, Winter Haven made a couple of runs but Naples maintained a lead the rest of the way. Naples would go on to win by the score of 64-57.
Naples was paced by 6’7 senior Tony Green with 24 points. Byntley Theork, a 5’10 senior, contributed 11 points.
Winter Haven had four players contribute double-figure points. Ventrell Moore, a 6’2 senior, led the way with 14 points while 6’4 sophomore Tyler Williams and 6’4 freshman Isaac Celiscar each had 12 points and 6’0 sophomore Rolijah Hardy finished with 10 points.
Game Two: Orlando Christian Prep vs. Jacksonville Andrew Jackson
Both teams played the previous night at the Wally Keller, each scoring a win. It was a bit of a sluggish start for both teams and the score was just 9-5 in OCP’s favor midway thru the opening quarter. Sparked by 6’4 junior A.J. Brown, who had ten points in the period, OCP upped its advantage to 17-10 heading into the second period. That period was completely dominated by the Warriors of OCP. They held the Tigers of Jackson to zero points in the quarter while scoring fifteen of their own to lead 32-10 at the break. We’ve been covering high school hoops in the Sunshine State for more than a decade and have seen some strange things, but we cannot recall a shut-out like that.
To Jackson’s credit, they were able to shrug off that woeful offensive performance in the third quarter, scoring nineteen points. However, OCP’s offense was clicking and the Warriors scored twenty-four points to extend their lead to 56-29. The running clock never kicked in, but the Tigers simply didn’t have enough time or offensive weapons to mount a comeback. OCP headed back home with their perfect record still intact, winning 73-43.
Omar Figueroa, a 6’0 senior, led OCP with 18 points. Brown was just behind with 17 points while 6’7 junior Ven-Allen Lubin added 13 points.
Jackie Simmons III, a 5’11 senior, led Jackson with 16 points, including four makes from beyond the arc.
Game Three: Tarpon Springs East Lake vs. Vero Beach
East Lake also came into the event undefeated but faced a tough task in perennial power Vero Beach. The Indians of Vero Beach were coming of a tough loss the previous night to rival South Fork. East lake took advantage of a slow start by Vero and jumped out to a quick lead. The Eagles’ up-tempo offense and swarming defense flustered the Indians and after one quarter play, East Lake was up by ten, 18-8. The second quarter was when the roof pretty much caved in on Vero. Mikey Shane, a 6’0 senior, got hot from behind the three-point line, the recipient of several drive-and-kick opportunities from teammates. He went 4-6 from deep in the quarter and East Lake grew its margin from ten to twenty-five by the time the period was over to lead 45-20 at the break.
Vero continued to struggle in the third quarter and Shane continued to hit threes (four more) to extend the East Lake lead. With the score 64-29 at the start of the final period, the running clock kicked in. Both teams let their benches play the entire period. To no one’s surprise, there wasn’t much scoring in the fourth quarter for either team. East Lake ended up cruising to a 66-35 win.
Shane led the Eagles with 31 points, including a Wally Keller Classic record of 9 made threes. Anthony Bittar, a 6’4 senior, contributed 13 points and many of his 8 assists went to Shane. Noah Chatman, a 6’1 junior, contributed 13 points.
For Vero Beach, 6’3 senior Almondo Cyrius led the way with eight points.
Game Four: Bradenton IMG Academy vs. Oldsmar Christian
IMG is the #3 ranked team in the country. Their only losses are to the #1 (Monteverde Academy) and #2 (Sunrise Christian) teams. Oldsmar is a solid team in the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association and takes on its head coach Jordan Fair’s mantra of “we’ll play anybody, anywhere, anytime”. The Ascenders of IMG got off to a hot start, racing out to a 10-0 lead in the first four minutes. We were afraid we might see another scoreless quarter but thankfully, Oldsmar put together a couple of buckets before the first quarter ended. Still, the Eagles were down twenty, 24-4. The second quarter went better for Oldsmar in terms of putting points on the board. IMG outscored them by just three (19-16) but it was still a wide gap at the break with IMG leading 43-20.
The third quarter went much the same way the first quarter did. IMG put on a spurt while holding Oldsmar to a single point over the first four minutes. The final period came quickly thanks to a running clock that kicked in just before the end of the third. IMG simply had too much in a 65-31 win.
Both 6’6 junior Eric Dailey and 6’6 junior Jett Howard each scored 12 points for IMG. Tamar Bates, a 6’5 senior and 6’11 senior Moussa Diabate each scored 10 points.
Ronnie Johnson of Oldsmar, a 6’2 senior, paced the Eagles with 14 points.
Game Five: Bartow vs. Sarasota Riverview
After a 10-0 start by Riverview in the first two minutes, we were afraid this game might turn out like the previous three. After a timeout, Bartow was able to get back into it but still trailed 20-10 at the four- minute mark. Riverview was knocking down shots from a variety of distances but Bartow stayed undeterred. The Yellow Jackets eventually got stops on defense and scored at their end to close the gap to 29-23 after one quarter of play. After a minute of the second period had gone by, Bartow seemed to have solved the Riverview puzzle, tying the score at 29-29. Bartow had a five-point, 41-36 lead at the four minute mark, but Riverdale got back on track. The Rams outscored Bartow 11-4 to end the half up by two, 47-45.
Bartow tied the score at 49-49 with 5:30 left in the third period. The Yellow Jackets soon took the lead and with just under three minutes remaining in the quarter, forced a Riverview timeout with the score 59-53. That six-point margin would remain heading into the final period. Riverview still had hope, down eight, 73-65, with 3:30 left to play. But then the wheels fell off as Bartow closed out the quarter with a 16-1 run to win going away 89-66.
Walter Clayton, a 6’3 senior, led Bartow with 17 points. 6’5 senior Daithan Davis put up 16 points while 5’10 senior Malcolm Dewberry added 13 points and 5’8 senior Tyrone Smith tallied 12 points.
Curtis Butler, a 6’4 senior, paced Riverview with 14 points. David Mazon, a 6’6 senior contributed 12 points while 6’7 senior Jayven Millien finished with 11 points.
Game Six: Punta Gorda Charlotte vs. Spring Hill Bishop McLaughlin
The final game of the Wally Keller Classic featured the host team taking on a talented but young Bishop McLaughlin team. Charlotte lost a tough one the night before to Orlando Christian Prep and early on looked like it was using that loss as fuel for this game. The Tarpons got out to a 14-8 lead midway thru the first and were up ten, 22-12 entering he second quarter. McLaughlin found a groove in the second quarter and cut the deficit in half to five, 28-23, midway thru the period. Charlotte would let them get no closer and at the break the Tarpons held a six-point 40-34 lead.
McLaughlin came out with renewed purpose on the defensive end and tied the score at 41-41 at the four-minute mark. From there, the visiting Hurricanes went on a 12-0 run to finish out the quarter with a 53-41 advantage. Charlotte was not able to recover, never really threatening the McLaughlin lead in the final period. The Hurricanes would go on to win by the score of 69-58.
McLaughlin got a superb performance from 6’8 junior Dillon Sharp to the tune of 23 points and 14 rebounds. Fellow junior, 6’4 Emanuel Sharp, tossed in 19 points.
For Charlotte, 6’8 senior Tre Carroll led the way with 24 points while 6’6 sophomore John Gamble contributed 12 points.