HomeTeam 25: Boys basketball rankings, Week 1
1. Tampa Catholic (0-0)
This week: Saturday vs. Orlando First Academy
Scoop: The Crusaders possess the most dynamic scoring duo in the area with forward Kevin Knox and guard Thomas Dziagwa, who each averaged more than 24 points per game last season. But the depth of this team is what puts the Crusaders at the top of the rankings. In the preseason, Tampa Catholic beat Shorecrest and Countryside handily despite not having Knox, a five-star recruit who was out last week after doctors discovered he had high blood pressure. Knox resumed practicing Friday. In his absence, the Crusaders found other guys who can score. Tai Strickland, a transfer from Jesuit, had more than 20 points in two preseason games and will take over at point guard. Bentlee Sanders, who missed last season due to injury, will add another scoring option when he returns once the football season is over.That gives Tampa Catholic enough firepower to seriously contend for a state title in Class 4A.
2. Gibbs (1-0)
This week: Thursday vs. Dixie Hollins; Friday vs. Northeast
Scoop: It is hard to judge the Gladiators early on because they are just now returning to full strength. Gibbs had just one practice with its entire team up until last week and was missing four players – DJ Johnson, Clarence Johnson, Jerard Williams and Marquez Walls – in a preseason loss to Sickles. The Gladiators came back in their other preseason game to beat rival St. Petersburg and opened the regular season with a win against Pinellas Park due in large part to the return of DJ Johnson, a point guard and quarterback who is arguably the best athlete in the area. Johnson will team with David Pierce to provide the scoring punch to fill the void of Barry Brown, now at Kansas State. Despite the loss of Brown, Gibbs coach Larry Murphy said this team could be better than the one that advanced to the state semifinals last season because of its depth and balance on offense.
3. Sickles (1-0)
This week: Wednesday at Steinbrenner; Friday at Freedom
Scoop: This is a veteran team with four returning starters – Bryce Beamer, Marcus Cohen, Manny DeJesus and Bryce Workman. Beamon was the team’s leading scorer at 13.1 points per game. In the preseason, the Gryphons beat Gibbs and Bradenton Southeast. They opened the season with a 65-30 win over Jefferson. The experienced lineup will be needed in a tough district (Class 7A, District 8) that includes Freedom and Newsome.
4. St. Petersburg (0-0)
This week: Wednesday at Osceola; Thursday at Countryside
Scoop: The Devils Den seemed to have a revolving door of players coming and going in the offseason. Pro Wells transferred to Dixie Hollins and David Pierce went to Gibbs. The Green Devils were able to absorb those losses with the addition of Keanu and AJ Ford, who transferred from Gibbs. The holdovers on the roster are talented, led by Darius Banks, Travis Bianco, Glen Miller and Serrel Smith. That quartet helped St. Petersburg reach the final four last season and is a big reason the Green Devils are favored to make another deep run in the postseason.
5. Freedom (0-0)
This week: Wednesday at Leto; Friday vs. Sickles
Scoop: The Patriots have five juniors and seven seniors on an experienced team that coach Cedric Smith believes could have the school’s best season. Four starters — Sheldon Odunna, Nasir Core, Dylan Angel and Jamal Byrne – return from last year’s team that went 22-7 and advanced to the region semifinals. Freedom also got a boost with the addition of Alex Oguinn, a 6-foot-7 junior from Texas.
6. Seffner Christian (0-0)
This week: Tuesday vs. Carrollwood Day; Saturday vs. Jesuit
Scoop: After making the region semifinals for the fifth time in school history last season, the Crusaders are poised to make an even bigger run with the return of nine players — all juniors. That group has played together for years and gives Seffner Christian the depth to compensate for the loss of Kent Hegarty, who graduated. Two players – Derek Webster and Reid Walker — averaged double figures in scoring last season. The Crusaders started off the preseason by beating Wharton. Seffner Christian’s first regular-season test comes Saturday against Jesuit.
7. Wharton (0-0)
This week: Tuesday vs. Strawberry Crest; Wednesday at Wiregrass Ranch; Friday at Plant; Saturday vs. Newsome at Berkeley Prep
Scoop: The Wildcats still have a few players coming back from injuries. Point guard Tra Gildon has tendinitis in his knee and forward Evan Trice was suffering from back spasms. They each were held out of one game in the preseason and are close to full strength going into this week. When healthy, Wharton is one of the top three teams in the area. In the summer, the Wildcats won the coaches league in Hillsborough County. The Wildcats did lose three starters from last year’s team that made the region finals but return Gildon, Trice and Josiah Crawford.
8. Newsome (1-0)
This week: Friday at Alonso; Saturday vs. Wharton at Berkeley Prep
Scoop: The Wolves graduated their top four leading scorers from last year’s team that went 23-2 and won 16 straight before losing to St. Petersburg in the region quarterfinals. But Newsome still has a solid nucleus with Isayah Franklin, Brenden Miller and Nick Stuck. These three will distribute the ball and play defense, both hallmarks of Newsome’s success the past few years. In the preseason, the Wolves beat East Bay and Jefferson by more than 20 and opened the regular season with a resounding win over Plant.
9. Jesuit (0-0)
This week: Friday at Spoto; Saturday at Seffner Christian
Scoop: The Tigers lost a lot of production with last year’s top three scorers – Daniel Darst, Chad Holtz and Christian Whidden – all graduating. Still, the Tigers have talent to make the region semifinals again. Stevie Darst and DJ Snyder are solid shooters who form one of the best backcourt tandems in the area. Lee Green (6-foot-5) will team with Will Anderson (6-6) once he returns from football to give Jesuit size in the frontcourt.
10. Tampa Prep (0-0)
This week: Tuesday at Hudson
Scoop: Longtime coach Joe Fenlon needs seven more wins to reach 700 in his career. To reach that milestone, as well as make another deep postseason run, the Terrapins will have to make up for the loss of Juwan Durham. The 6-foot-10 forward, who has already signed with Connecticut, had ACL surgery on Tuesday. It was his second tear in the past eight months. Tampa Prep still has talent with the Tyson Ward and Amari Goulbourne both returning from last year’s team that made the region final. The Terrapins’ biggest challenge will come from Seffner Christian.
11. Clearwater (1-0)
This week: No more games scheduled this week
Scoop: This is the most talented team Tom Shaneyfelt has had since taking over the boys program two years ago. Three players – Gene Culver, Ryan Ierna and Romain Minott – will provide most of the offensive production. In the season opener, Clearwater beat Sunlake 77-33. Ierna had 19 points, eight rebounds and six steals. Culver had 18 points and Minott added 10.
12. Largo (0-0)
This week: No games scheduled
Scoop: Last season, injuries and defections plagued the Packers, who lost nearly their entire starting lineup. Largo has a more stable core this season with a pair of football standouts, Dakarai Allen and Brandon Drayton, leading the way. The Packers started strong, winning both preseason games.
13. Berkeley Prep (0-0)
This week: Tuesday at Academy at the Lakes; Thursday vs. IMG; Saturday vs. Plant
Scoop: The Buccaneers graduated most of their guards, including Eric Reintgen and Chris McWilliams, who were both captains last season. The strength this season is in the frontcourt with the return of Jacob Mathis, Kaleeyl Findlay and Nicholas Petit-frere. Those three are all 6-4 or taller. Berkeley Prep also expects big things from Casey Constant, a freshman point guard.
14. Calvary Christian (0-0)
This week: No games scheduled
Scoop: The Warriors, who made the region semifinals last season, are favored to make the playoffs again, thanks to the return of a pair of sophomores in Eddie Williams and Paxton Wilson. They were the team’s leading scorers last season with each averaging more than 12 points per game.
15. Brandon (1-0)
This week: Friday at Hillsborough
Scoop: Stephonse Mack and Romillio Fields, who each averaged double figures in scoring, return to give the Eagles the experience and scoring punch needed to improve on last season’s 12-14 record. The Eagles opened the season with an 84-61 win over Middleton.
16. East Lake (0-0)
This week: Tuesday at Clearwater Central Catholic
Scoop: The Eagles just missed out on the playoffs last season, losing in the district semifinals. They lost Neilon Joslyn, who is academically ineligible. But East Lake still will be a contender with the return of Breon Hillmon and Dan Spielvogel.
17. Tarpon Springs (1-0)
This week: Tuesday at Dunedin; Friday at Sunlake
Scoop: The Spongers are building after graduating four starters, including leading scorer Scottie James, from last year’s team that set numerous school records and advanced to the final four. Two holdovers, Israel Atkins and Donnie Davis, give Tarpon Springs an imposing frontcourt. In the preseason, the Spongers beat Leto and Mitchell.
18. Shorecrest (0-0)
This week: Friday at Sarasota Christian
Scoop: The Chargers lost their dynamic scorer, Brady Grimm, to graduation. This season, the offense will be built around Marcus Blake, who developed into a solid player last season. It should be enough for Shorecrest to battle with Calvary Christian for the top spot in Class 3A, District 8.
19. Countryside (0-0)
This week: Tuesday vs. Pinellas Park; Thursday vs. St. Petersburg; Friday at Palm Harbor U.
Scoop: After struggling the past few years, the Cougars have emerged as a postseason contender with Braxton Hampton and Andrew Murphy leading a strong frontcourt. The significant loss was Chris Barrett, a standout tight end in football who decided not to play basketball this season.
20. Zephyrhills (0-0)
This week: Tuesday at Fivay; Thursday vs. Ridgewood
Scoop: The Bulldogs will be able to score thanks to the return of Jeremy Oppenheimer, who averaged 19.8 points per game last season. Zephyrhills also will have some size with Hakeem Grant, a 6-foot-8 post player. That makes the Bulldogs the favorite to repeat as district champions.
21. Nature Coast (0-0)
This week: Tuesday vs. Weeki Wachee; Saturday vs. Fivay
Scoop: The Sharks’ top returning player, Nick Crima, averaged 9.8 points per game last season. No one else averaged more than four. But Nature Coast did benefit from the addition of Kaine McColley, a 6-foot-5 forward who transferred from Lecanto.
22. Seminole (0-0)
This week: Tuesday at Osceola; Friday at Pinellas Park
Scoop: The Warhawks’ best player the past two years, Marco Behori, is now at Eckerd. This is one of the youngest teams Josh Walker has fielded in the past five years. Seminole will rely on sophomore Duncan Demuth, who came on strong last season.
23. Mitchell (0-0)
This week: No games scheduled
Scoop: Pasco County’s top team the past few years is starting over with seven players graduating, including Lawrence Watt, last year’s player of the year who is now at Saint Leo. The Mustangs will rely heavily on football players who just returned from the playoffs this week. JJ Lewis, a receiver, is the only returner who averaged double figures in scoring last season (11.1 points per game).
24. Northeast (1-0)
This week: Friday at Gibbs
Scoop: The Vikings pulled off the surprise of the week by knocking off Lakewood 77-72 in overtime in the season opener. Amarildo Lame posted a double double, including a game-high 22 points for Northeast.
25. Lakewood (0-1)
This week: Tuesday vs. Bradenton Bayshore; Thursday vs. Osceola
Scoop: The Spartans have talent with Jalen Bowman and Rashad Williams both returning. But it’s going to take a lot for Lakewood to come together. The roster is filled with football players who just finished their season last week. The Spartans also are dealing with the loss of Anthony Lawrence Jr., the school’s all-time leading scorer who is now at Miami. Lakewood lost both preseason games and the opener.
On the bubble: Admiral Farragut, Cambridge Christian, Clearwater Central Catholic, Wesley Chapel