Season stars fast with holiday events
Opening week of the boys high school basketball regular season will be a bountiful holiday feast for those with an appetite for hoops.
Two major showcase events are on tap, and national power Montverde Academy hosts doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday.
Apopka’s Florida vs. Metro Challenge serves up 22 games on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, all wrapped around Thanksgiving. The menu includes 13 teams from the Sentinel Super 16 rankings, including the top 10.
The Breast Cancer Awareness Classic has five games on Friday and five on Saturday at Orlando Christian Prep with a mix of independent powers and locals. Saturday’s slate includes Oviedo vs. Windermere Prep at 3 and a nightcap of Orlando Christian Prep vs. Oak Ridge at 6 and an academy showdown between IMG of Bradenton and West Oaks of Orlando.
Montverde, which has a 161-11 record in six seasons under coach Kevin Boyle, hosts its Florida vs. Georgia Challenge on Friday and Saturday.
The weekend should set the table for another eventful season. Here’s what to watch for:
Returning all-area players First teamers
Chaundee Brown, The First Academy, 6-5, Sr. Michael Devoe, Oak Ridge, 6-3, Jr. David Nickelberry, Windermere Prep, 6-7, Sr. Wyatt Wilkes, Winter Park, 6-8, Sr. Malik William, The First Academy, 6-8, Sr.
Nick Honor, Lake Highland Prep, 5-10, Jr. Ivan Smith, Oviedo, 6-0, Sr.
The Florida High School Athletic Association added a ninth classification, which means most teams move up one division.
Daytona Beach Father Lopez, which played in an Orlando-centric 4A district the past two years, opted to move up to reside in a 7A league that includes six Volusia County public school neighbors.
“We don’t have to travel all over the place and it’s really going to help our crowds,” said Lopez coach Eddie Miller, who has 398-215 career record.
The Green Wave returned five players who finished 2015-16 as starters, including 6-10 junior Colin Castleton, whose rapid development has garnered major college interest.
Breaking down the classifications; a look at top teams within each class:
Kissimmee Osceola, on a run of three straight district titles, has the experience of three key seniors mixed with the exciting potential of sophomore blue-chippers Omar Payne (6-foot-9), Isaiah Palermo (6-5) and Josh Marte (5-9). Watch out.
Wilkes, an FSU recruit, and fellow senior Kevin Buckley (6-5) should carry Winter Park while it waits for eight football players.
Winter Park heads up District 4, which includes balanced Boone and tough Timber Creek, which will get even sturdier as sophomore running back Peter Hayes-Patrick transitions from backfield to backcourt.
New Oak Ridge coach O’Neil Lubin has the team to beat in District 5, including a special sophomore crop led by 6-5 Niven Glover and Kaleb Coleman. Dr. Phillips, which is 313-96 in 14 seasons under coach Anthony Long, can never be counted out.
Evans, a 2015-16 district champ, faces competition comes from Wekiva, with senior stud Paul Reed, and Apopka, a young squad led by junior Jai Clark.
Oviedo will continue to rack up victories for state all-time wins leader Ed Kershner (880-375 in 44 seasons) with a squad that includes 6-5 sophomore football sensation Morgan Mitchell. The Lions lead a District 2 pack that includes Lake Brantley (22-4) and Seminole (21-10), a region runner-up last season; along with improved Winter Springs and Lake Mary.
A wide open division includes a proven Hagerty program; Lake Minneola, with new coach Marcel Thomas; and Ocoee, a seasoned team that gained region playoff experience a year ago.
Edgewater rises again with a lineup that includes workhorse Robert Allen (6-8, Jr.) and Frank Foreman (6-0, Sr.).
Deltona, a 21-9 state semifinalist last season, still has man-child Blake Hinson (6-7, Soph.), son of its head coach. Wolves’ district includes Atlantic, which graduated only one starter and gained 6-5 Tyrese Seals as a move-in from Crestview of the Panhandle.
Poinciana surged to the 5A state championship with a special senior class last season. The Eagles returned two-time all-conference forward Kimar Edwards and gained a senior scorer in Jacob Newman (6-3) from CFCA. Competition could come from Bishop Moore and Leesburg, which graduated six seniors from a 23-5 team.
Windermere Prep, last season’s 3A state champion, has the court covered with a cast that includes Xion Golding (6-3, Sr.) new arrival Rahsaan Lewis (5-9, Jr.), and USF football recruit Ryan Swoboda (6-10, Sr.).
The pressure is on against a deep district that includes Master’s Academy and Lake Highland Prep, which has good a difference-maker as anybody in Nick Honor. It also holds Jones, which now has former Boone coach Willie Anderson at the helm; and Trinity Prep, which has junior jet Jasen West as the only starter back from a 23-5 season.
The First Academy, coming off an overtime 3A state semifinal heartbreaker, has seniority this time with major college signees Chaundee Brown (Wake Forest), Malik William (Clemson) and Elijah Jordan (New Hampshire), along with senior Greg Summers as returning starters.
The Royals want their first state crown but the 4A battleground has the Jacksonville Providence, Weston Sagemont and Tampa Prep programs that combined to win six straight titles from to 2010 through 2015.
It’s a new head coach and all new frontline players for Orlando Christian Prep, but the talent level is through the roof. The Warriors will make a run at their sixth state championship in a decade.
Deltona Trinity Christian has Amorie Archibald, who averaged 28 points per game as a junior and hit that mark in a 67-55 regional loss to OCP last season.
Mount Dora Christian’s Steven Hayes is on the precipice of a milestone with a 299-128 coaching mark with the Bulldogs, who went 26-2 last season.
CFCA, which beat OCP for a district title last season, added a 6-8 post presence in OCP transfer and Troy signee De’Lazarus Keys. The Eagles are a serious state contender in a classification that has two-time defending champ Boca Raton Grandview Prep.
Wildwood guard Darion Wilson averaged 25 points per game as a sophomore.
District tournaments – Feb. 6-11. Region playoffs – Feb. 16, 21 and 24. FHSAA state tournament – Feb. 28-March 4, Lakeland.
Teams playing outside the Florida High School Athletic Association state series draw major league talent to Orlando. That pipeline now runs to Conrad Academy, where former West Oaks and Jacksonville Arlington Country Day coach Shaun Wiseman has assembled a boatload of talent from multiple nations.
The Conrad roster includes Austin Wiley, a 6-11 Auburn signee who was the top-rated prospect in Alabama before he left to play his senior season in Florida; and Canadian guard Luguentz Dort (6-4, Jr.), who followed Wiseman from ACD.
Montverde, winner of three consecutive national titles before last season’s 26-2 finish, has its own international arsenal. Canadian sophomore sensation R.J. Barrett leads a loaded lineup that includes junior North Carolina commit Rechon Black (6-8), Canadian guard Andrew Nembhard (6-4, Soph.), European standout Sandro Mamukelashvili (6-10), Sr.) and major college signees Marcus Carr (Pitt) and Sean Mobley (VCU).
West Oaks (25-4), the two-time defending champion of the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association, has plethora of perimeter players that coach Kenny Gillion believes is among the best in the country. That includes national top 100 senior L.J. Figueroa (6-6) and French national team member Sylvain Francisco (6-0, Sr.), a transfer from Tavares Liberty Christian. New arrivals to the Flame include 6-11 sophomore Christian Lora of the Dominican Republic, New York City transplant Paul Pearson, and Ocoee transfer Eli Cadet (6-6, Jr.).
Downey Christian (18-17), another SIAA member, has flashy freshman guard Julian Newman (5-7).