Photo courtesy of Orlando Sentinel
Favorite: Orlando Oak Ridge
The Pioneers had an incredible season last year. They captured the state title and finished ranked near or in the top ten in the national polls. A lot was lost from that team but Oak Ridge has reloaded and looks to repeat as champs. C.J. Walker transfers in and the 6’8 senior forward is a top thirty player nationally. He’ll be an energizer for the team at both ends of the court. Lipscomb signee Kaleb Coleman, a 6’7 wing, had a great summer and will provide scoring punch both around the basket and from the perimeter. Uber-athletic Niven Glover returns as well and the 6’4 guard will no doubt electrify fans when he gets on the break. Emmanuel Adedoyin, a 6’2 senior guard, shouldn’t be overlooked. Kissimmee Osceola hopes to derail the Pioneers come playoff time as do programs such as Sarasota Riverview and Vero Beach. Overall, Oak Ridge has the talent and toughness to repeat as champs.
Regional Favorites: Apopka (Region 1), Wellington (Region 3), South Miami (Region 4)
Apopka has been building toward this season for quite a while. The perimeter triumvirate of 6’5 senior Nate Louis, 6’6 senior Keeving Etienne, and 6’6 junior Zach Anderson give the Blue Darters a lot of flexibility on offense and defense. If a point guard emerges, they will become even more dangerous. For Wellington, the return of 6’6 senior Linton Brown from a short stint at a private school means the Wolverines have a go-to player that they can rely on much as they have in the past. Wellington has developed into one of the more consistently successful programs in South Florida and this year should be no different. The All-Miami-Dade duo of 6’1 senior Toru Dean and 6’6 senior Lee Flenor is a potent one-two punch that gives the Cobras a leg up on the likes of Miami Palmetto and North Miami in Region 4.
Best Player: C.J. Walker, Oak Ridge
Walker has narrowed down his college choices to Oregon, Miami, and Louisiana State. He had an incredible spring and summer in Nike’s EYBL and went from a borderline top 100 player to a potential McDonald’s All-American Game participant. While slender, Walker is long, bouncy, and plays with an elevated energy level. He has become a better ball-handler and driver from out on the perimeter and his shooting range now extends to the three point line. Walker is disruptive defensively as he covers a lot of ground quickly and is an effective rim protector.
Pre-Season All-State: Walker, Isaiah Palermo (Kissimmee Osceola), Toru Dean (South Miami), Nate Louis (Apopka), Kaleb Coleman (Oak Ridge)
Palermo has been a contributor since his freshman year and became a starter one year later. With a high basketball IQ, Palermo does a lot of little things that win games but don’t show up in the box score. He’s a solid defender, a consistent shooter from inside the arc, and a solid ball-handler out on the perimeter. Dean average 20+ppg and 7+apg last season as a junior, earning First Team All-Miami-Dade honors. He’s fast with the ball in transition, has a respectable outside shot, and makes good decisions on the move with the basketball. Louis has a solid mid-range game and by all accounts his three point shot has become more consistent between travel ball season and now. He’s a long-armed defender and rebounder that can and will guard multiple positions. Coleman started out as a post player but has worked hard to became an effective inside/outside threat. He’ll go by bigger defenders on the perimeter and shoot over or post up smaller ones.
Better Than Advertised: Miramar
This group lost a lot from last season’s final four team, but don’t sell them short. Junior 6’2 Brent Davis has proven to be a solid combo guard that will get his points and still keep the younger guys involved in the game. Freshman Deshawn Jean Charles looked to be productive at the Fall Festival as did some other role players. It’s unlikely Miramar will replicate last year’s success but they certainly present an obstacle on the path to Lakeland.
Don’t Sleep On: Avery Brookes, Lake Worth
A first team all-Palm Beach County selection as a junior, Brookes was a hard man to find on the travel circuit. Once we found him, the 6’3 senior guard was impressive. He scores in a variety of ways but is most effective when attacking the basket, regardless of the game’s tempo. Brookes is also an active defender and uses his quick feet and long reach with great effectiveness.
PRE-SEASON TOP TEN
1.Orlando Oak Ridge
10.Delray Beach Atlantic