Favorite: NSU University School

You would be hard-pressed to find any one that forecasted the kind of year “U-School” had last season.  A City of Palms title; a state title in dominating fashion; a single loss to mighty Oak Hill which was later redeemed at the Dick’s Nationals, and a second place finish in both the Dick’s National Tournament and all respectable national rankings.  Now the Sharks become the hunted instead of the hunter.  Last year set the bar high.  The return of 6’10 Vernon Carey, Jr. and 6’8 junior Scottie Barnes, two of the top players in their respective classes, certainly give U-School a great advantage against the majority of their competition.  It will be tough to replace the contributions from Trey Doomes and Dru Drinnon from last season, but juniors Roger McFarlane and Jace Howard have the talent to do so.

Regional Favorites: Pensacola Catholic (Region 1); Ocala Trinity Catholic (Region 2); Tampa Catholic (Region 3)

If this trio and U-School look familiar, it is because this was last season’s final four in Class 5A.  P’Cola Catholic returns a strong nucleus, led by 6’2 senior D.J. McKenzie.  Challenges will most likely come from Raines, Bolles, or Andrew Jackson out of Jacksonville or Starke Bradford.  Trinity Catholic returns all five starters from last year’s state finalist.  Dominic Pugh, Jarvell Gainey, and Montez Leath make a potent trio on the perimeter while 6’9 senior Kyler Rodman doesn’t hesitate to do the heavy lifting inside.  Region 2 has a lot of land mines, most notably The Villages, Jones and The First Academy out of Orlando, and a re-tooled Titusville Astronaut program.  Tampa Catholic returns the majority of its final four team and will be led by juniors Alijah Harrison, Isaiah Elmore, and Kobe Knox.  District foe Berkeley Prep will be a challenge while potential regional opponents Cardinal Newman and Oxbridge Academy, both out of West Palm Beach, as well as Boca Raton St. Andrew’s could derail TC’s return to Lakeland.

Best Player: Vernon Carey, U-School

Considered by many the top prospect in the national class of 2019, Carey is a major talent and is being pursued by the very best in college basketball.  At 6’10 with a strong frame, the athletic lefty can step outside and connect out to the three point line, drive the ball and score in the lane, or post up and make a mockery out of the defense if not double-teamed.  A member of USA Basketball, he could by an Olympian one day.  It will be a shocker if Carey isn’t a “one-and-done” player in college.

Pre-Season All-State: Carey, Tre Mann (The Villages Charter), Scottie Barnes (University School), Toumani Camara (Hollywood Chaminade), A.J. Cajuste (West Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy

Mann, a UF commit, is one of the top point guards in the country.  The 6’3 senior has a beautiful stroke from deep, is quick to the rim and can finish above it.  Barnes is one of the top five players in the national 2020 class.  At 6’8, he’s a great passer, passionate defender, and relentless rebounder.  He can defend and play all five positions on the court.  Camara turned a fantastic summer into a commitment to a rising University of Georgia program.  The lefty has a lot of bounce, is a reliable perimeter shooter, and his length, speed, and quickness make him a factor on both ends of the court.  Cajuste is a solid point guard that can score and distribute the ball at an equally high rate.  He’s physically strong and a tough defender.

Better Than Advertised: Tallahassee Florida High

The “stars” in this program are very young, but they have played a lot together over the spring and summer and the chemistry that has been developed should help a great deal this coming season.  Sophomore forwards Terrion Arnold and Kai Farlin were double-figure scorers as freshman last year and Jaylen Martin, a 6’2 incoming freshman, proved this summer that he can play and produce against older competition.

Don’t Sleep On: Chase Barrs, Tampa Berkeley Prep

Barrs may not register a lot in the scoring column but his ability to alter or block shots around the basket more than offsets a lack of point production.  Thin but long and bouncy, the 6’8 senior Barrs will make the most of his opportunities on putbacks and lobs to the basket.  He is a key piece to Berkeley’s success this coming season.

PRE-SEASON TOP TEN

1.University School

2.Ocala Trinity Catholic

3.Pensacola Catholic

4.Tampa Catholic

5.Pembroke Pines Somerset Academy

6.The Villages Charter

7.Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna

8.West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman

9.Boca Raton St. Andrew’s

10.West Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy