We saw quite a bit of hoops over the holidays.  Here are some of the players that made lasting impressions.

While his stat totals may not have been much, it was hard not to like the way Amarchi Ujabor of Pembroke Pines Charter approaches the game.  The 6’6 sophomore plays with great enthusiasm and energy while playing actively around the basket at both ends of the court.  A good athlete with long arms, Ujabor best skills right now are playing hard, challenging opponent’s shots and pursuing offensive rebounds.  Growth in both size and skills could determine his collegiate future.

In watching Dillard’s 6’6 junior Makerere Williams at the Kreul Classic, we liked his ability to make shots inside the arc, play the passing lanes, and rebound in traffic.  Williams is quick off of his feet and fast up the floor in transition.  He had a fast eight points in the first quarter, making jump shots as well as scoring near the basket.  Williams’ progress this spring and summer will be one to track.

We were all captivated by U-School’s run to the City of Palms title.  Vernon Carey more than lived up to his billing as the top player in the Class of 2019 while Scottie Barnes earned both tournament MVP honors and mentions as being near or at the top of the 2020 heap.  Maybe University was just has a knack for beating teams that have the letter “M” in their names as they dispatched Archbishop Malloy, Mater Dei, McEachern, and Memphis East.  Justas, in not more, important was the guard play of seniors Drue Drinnon and Trey Doomes.

Drinnon was a bit on the quiet side in the first two games, scoring nine and eight points respectively.  When the bright lights were on in the semis and the finals, he played his best basketball, averaging 17.5 points, 4 assists and 3.5 steals.  He was solid with the basketball and his decision making in the title game against Memphis East, dealing out six assists and turning the ball over only once.  He also nabbed five steals against East in that title game.

Doomes was arguably even better.  The slashing guard averaged fifteen points a game and shot over 50% from the field and 90% from the free throw line.  His only game not in double figures was in the semis but he still had eight points as well as eight rebounds in that contest.  Not showing up in the box score was his ability to use his wing span and lateral quickness to make life difficult for opponents out on the perimeter, averaging two steals and nearly a block per game.

At 6’0, Ocala Vanguard’s Dantwan Grimes may not have the ideal size for a “two” guard but he certainly has the skills and scoring mentality to light up a scoreboard.  The junior has deep range on his shot and converts well both off the catch and the bounce.  Grimes also showcased an ability to score at the basket in traffic.  Athletically he is solid and will certainly get stronger as his body matures.  Grimes scoring prowess was a key reason for Vanguard making the Kingdom of the Sun finals for the first team in several years.

Stranahan out of Fort Lauderdale is a young team that starts four sophomores and a junior.  After watching them battle a talented Orlando Christian Prep team in the first round of the Kingdom of the Sun, we really like the potential in 6’6 sophomore Inady Legiste.  A tough, physical player, Legiste scored well around the basket and proved tenacious in going after missed shots on both ends of the court.  He converted the only jump shot he took in the contest and looked good doing so.  As Legiste’s skills improve and body fills out, he will be a guy that college coaches will have on their radar.

A 6’2 senior from Miami Norland, Omar Rolle was one of the top shooters at the Respect Series Winter Showdown.  He was quite lethal from beyond the arc, going 5-9 over the course of the game watched.  He also proved valuable on the defensive end by helping out in the rebounding department and doing a fine job of anticipating the passing lanes.  Rolle can drive and finish at the basket when the opportunity presents itself but clearly prefers to shoot jump shots.

We haven’t seen too many freshmen of note to this point, but one that has made an impression is 6’2 Noah Tovar of Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian.  He doesn’t play like a freshman as he makes good decisions with the ball, possesses good court vision, and is a vocal leader on the court.  Tovar didn’t take any jump shots in the game we saw but he still reached double figures with his ability to get out in transition and score on drives in the half court.

It was a tough first quarter for 6’2 junior Byron Smith of The Villages in their championship game against Leesburg at the Battle of the Villages.  While most players would have sulked and gotten down on themselves, Smith fought through it and played a significant role as The Villages tried to mount a comeback.  Smith started having success in getting to the basket and scoring as well as pushing the pace and getting teammates involved.  He made the most of his opportunities from the perimeter but he was most successful when attacking the rim.

Everyone who watched the Battle at The Villages championship game had to come away impressed with the play of senior Cordrayius Graham and junior Lance Irving of Leesburg.  Graham was out to make a statement right away with his defense on Tre Mann as well as his refusal to be stopped when taking the ball to the basket.  Whenever Leesburg needed a stop at one end or a score on the other, it was Graham that delivered.  He is one of the most physically and mentally tough players in Florida’s highs school ranks.

For those of you that may have thought that Irving was pretty much just a jump shooter, he displayed a wide variety of scoring tools in the title game.  Yes, he scored from deep but he also finished in traffic at the rim, knocked down mid-range pull-ups, got out in transition, and even put in some time on the offensive glass.  Defensively Irving was solid, guarding the ball well and constantly alert to try to tip or steal passes into his area.  His stock certainly went up after that outing.

While we didn’t see the entire contest between Oviedo and Creekside in the opening round of the Great 8 Shootout at Ocoee, we got there for the second half and overtime of what turned out to be a riveting contest.  Oviedo claimed the victory but wouldn’t not have do so without the presence of 6’0 junior guard Aiden Knight.  He hit big shot after big shot, both in front of and behind the three point line.  Seemingly unflappable with the ball in his hands, Knight wasn’t afraid of the big moment.