We continue our look at teams we caught in action at the Hoop Exchange Fall Festival.

Leesburg

While this year’s group of Yellow Jackets may not be as lethal as the one last season that rolled to the state title in Class 6A, don’t think for a second that they won’t have an opportunity to defend that crown.  The energy and effort is a constant on the defensive end.  Last year’s role players such as 6’5 junior Jyre McCloud and 6’5 senior Deshawn Benton appear ready for expanded roles on the offensive end.  Lance Irving, a 6’2 senior was dynamic this past weekend, not only with Leesburg in the Team Showcase but in the Individual Showcase as well.  Always a dangerous three-point shooter, Irving is a much-improved slasher that completes plays at the rim in traffic.

Bartow

Another hive of Yellow Jackets that is always dangerous, Bartow competed well this past weekend against some “big city” competition as Coach McGriff called it.  While there may not be a singular standout on the team like a Tony Bradley, the group as a whole is much more valuable than the sum of its parts.  Jordan Daughtry, a 5’9 senior point guard, proved to be a catalyst at both ends of the floor with his mid-range scoring and his defensive ball-hawking.  Junior Joshua Simmons may only be listed at 6’2, but the burly forward owned the glass against much bigger competition in the game we watched.  Sophomore Alex Vigo, a 5’11 guard provided plenty of perimeter scoring, going 3-5 from deep.  Look for 5’8 freshman Jordy Lowery to make an impact this season.

Jacksonville Providence

A consistent title contender in Class 4A, Providence will again be one of North Florida’s better teams, if not the best.  Ahren Freeman, a 6’5 senior, is a matchup nightmare every game.  He overpowers smaller players and is too skilled and athletic for bigger players to keep up with.  Freeman is just as likely to grab a defensive board and go end-to-end for the finish as he is to outlet the ball quickly up the court for an assist.  He is complemented well on the inside by 6’10 sophomore James Repass.  With solid footwork, good hands, and a soft touch on both sides of the rim, the big man is tough to defend on the block.  Repass controls his rebounding area and challenges shots in the paint.  Noah Mitchell, a 6’3 senior, is the main point producer on the perimeter.  On Sunday, both 5’11 senior Norman Haynes and 6’0 sophomore Jack Dillard connected on a combined six three pointers, making it difficult to help inside when Repass posted up or Freeman or Mitchell attacked the basket with the dribble.

Punta Gorda Charlotte

The Tarpons had an up-and-down weekend but it shouldn’t put a dent into their title as one of the top teams in Southwest Florida this coming season.  The guard trio of 6’3 senior Ahmad Johnson, 6’2 senior Makai Reaves, and 6’1 junior Tyrik Gainer can each effectively score or distribute the basketball.  Johnson has the hops to finish above the rim once he gets there and has also shown to be a solid shooter from the perimeter when contested.  Both Reaves and Gainer do their best offensive work inside the arc.  Tre Carroll, a 6’6 sophomore, has filled out since last season and contributed significantly on the boards.  He’s also able to handle the ball out on the perimeter to spread the floor.  Faustin Phanor, a 6’8 junior, has improved by leaps and bounds since the spring.  He’s stronger and feels much more comfortable with his size and is providing more production when it comes to rebounding the basketball and challenging shots in the lane.

The Villages Charter

While we were disappointed that University of Florida commit Tre Mann did not play this weekend, it did give us a chance to focus on some other Buffalo players.  At the top of that list was Terry Ivery, a 5’9 senior who injured a knee last season and hasn’t been seen in a while.  The knee certainly appears better as he has retained the speed and quickness he was known for prior to the injury.  A dunk attempt, while missed, was also another indicator of recovery.  Jarred Hall, a 6’10 sophomore, is the definition of “big man”.  We saw him in the spring and he showed great improvement, especially at the offensive end when he dropped in an eight foot jumper.  Prior to that, anything other than an unmolested dunk attempt was an adventure.  Junior Bryan Jackson, a 6’2 guard, was solid in his role as a secondary scorer.