The Tampa Bay area has become a prime destination for college softball recruiters, especially underclassmen and middle schoolers.
That talent was on display this week at the Colorado Fireworks Tournament in Denver. The Tampa Mustangs had a pair of 14U teams that advanced to the championship game of their power pool.
In the all-Tampa final, the Mustangs-TJ beat the Mustangs-Hennigar 8-5. The game was televised on ESPN 3.
Jenna Lord, an incoming freshman at Sunlake, hit three homers in the title game, including a three-run shot in the first inning. Admiral Farragut sophomore Krystina Hartley hit a solo homer for the Mustangs-Hennigar.
The two teams were the only ones from the bay area selected for the 48-team field in that age bracket. The players will all be freshmen and sophomores this year.
Former Plant star Kyle Tucker is playing the Futures Game
The bay area will be well represented at the Futures All-Star Game, scheduled July 9 at Miami’s Marlins Park as part of Major League Baseball’s all-star festivities.
Former Plant standout Kyle Tucker and former Lakewood star Bo Bichette were selected Thursday for the U.S. team.
Tucker was the fifth overall selection by the Astros in the 2015 amateur draft. After hitting .288 with four home runs and 43 RBIs in 48 games for Advanced Class A Bouie Creek, Tucker was promoted to Corpus Christi in the Class AA Texas League. In 25 games at Corpus Christi, Tucker is hitting .257 with six homers and 17 RBIs.
Bichette, selected in the second round (66th overall) by Toronto in last year’s amateur draft, plays for the Lansing Lugnuts and leads the Class A Midwest League in hitting (.402 average), slugging percentage (.638) and is second in RBIs (47).
The Futures Game, which features the top U.S. and international minor league players, starts at 4 p.m. and will be televised on the MLB Network.
Bo Bichette's rapid ascension up the Toronto Blue Jays’ organizational ladder is due in large part to his hitting ability.
The former Lakewood High standout, who was selected in the second round (66th overall) by Toronto in last year’s amateur draft, started the season as the Blue Jays’ fifth-best prospect and one of the top 100 overall according to Baseball America.
A promotion, as well as a rise in the rankings, could come for Bichette considering the numbers he is putting up for the Lansing Lugnuts in the Class A Midwest League.
Bichette leads the league in hitting (.398 average), slugging percentage (.622) and is second in RBIs (46). Last week, he went 7-for-8 in a doubleheader to raise his batting average to .400.
Bichette has impressive baseball bloodlines. His father is former major leaguer Dante Bichette and his brother, Dante Bichette Jr., is in the Yankees’ organization.
Last year, Bichette was named the Florida Dairy Farmer’s Mr. Baseball and was the Gatorade state player of the year after hitting .569 with 13 home runs. …
The injury deprives Calipari and Knox of three extra weeks to work together, as Calipari will with Wildcats PJ Washington and Hamidou Dialloo. Regardless, Calipari has high expectations for Knox this season.
"The three or four days I spent with Kevin were great," Calipari said. "He's going to be terrific. He is really good."
North Florida's Dallas Moore playing against UConn this season.
Dallas Moore could make history. The 6-foot-1 guard has a chance to become the first player from North Florida selected in the NBA draft. The former Boca Ciega standout also could be the first bay area player drafted since John Henson (Sickles/North Carolina) was taken in the first round in 2012.
Moore, however, will not be glued to the television. In fact, Moore said he will most likely be working out at Eckerd College during the draft.
The guard, who has already graduated, is not projected to go in the NBA’s two-round draft. He will most likely will have to sign as a free agent and play well in the summer league and training camp to make a roster.
“I won't be nervous,” Moore said. “I’m not too concerned about getting drafted. If it happens it happens that's just a blessing from God. Summer league is the goal so as long as that happens I'm excited because it's another opportunity for me to showcase my talents.”
Throughout his basketball career, Moore had to prove his worth. He was an unheralded college prospect who was overlooked and ultimately discarded by most big-time Division I college programs. …
For the past two years, Kevin Knox led USA Basketball’s junior national teams to world titles.
The opportunity for a third was cut short Wednesday after Knox tweaked his hamstring during tryouts for the U19 team.
Knox, a former Tampa Catholic standout who is entering his freshman season at Kentucky, was encouraged by Wildcats coach John Calipari to return to Lexington to heal.
“Kevin Knox is going to be fine with some rest, but he and I talked and thought it was in his best interest not to push it,” Calipari said on his Twitter account. “He’s too important to our season to push it and aggravate it more.
“My suggestion was that he go back to Lexington to rest it and focus on class, which he is. But he was great this week at USA Basketball’s training camp. Proud of him.”
Knox, a 6-foot-9 forward, stood out in tryouts. He was a finalist and one of the favorites to make the team.
If he made it, Knox would have played in Egypt, the fourth continent in his basketball travels over the past two years. He won world titles in Argentina (2015) and Spain (2016).
Tai Strickland in action at the state semifinals this past season.
Tampa Catholic’s Tai Strickland transferred to St. Petersburg earlier this month.
Strickland helped the Crusaders reach the state semifinals two years ago and the state title game this past season. His departure is a blow for Tampa Catholic, which already lost Kevin Knox to graduation. Knox (28.9 points per game) and Strickland (13.2) were the only two that averaged double figures in scoring for the Crusaders last year.
Tim Carter, a rising senior who averaged 8.5 points per game, is Tampa Catholic’s top returning scorer.
The addition of Strickland bolsters a Green Devils’ lineup that already includes Serrel Smith, the Tampa Bay Times Pinellas County player of the year this past season.
“This is a much better situation and I've known Serrel for a while and we played together on the (Nike) EYBL,” Strickland said. “It only made sense to join him in St Pete.”
Strickland, a 5-foot-10 guard, has offers from Boston College and USF but said he is in no rush to make a college commitment. His father, former NBA guard Rod Strickland, had been an assistant at USF. .
Strickland said he is unsure if his father will take on a coaching job this season.
Less than two weeks after committing to Minnesota, Shamaur McDowell made another big decision.
On Tuesday, the senior defensive back said he was transferring from Wiregrass Ranch to IMG Academy.
“My parents and I felt like it was the best decision,” McDowell said. “It will allow me to focus on being the best student-athlete I can be. It will also prepare me for the next stage in my life.”
McDowell (5-foot-11, 184 pounds) is a three-star recruit who is ranked among the top 215 players in the state’s 2018 class by 247Sports. He is the second bay area player to transfer to IMG this offseason, joining former Clearwater Central Catholic tight end Dane Saltarelli.
IMG raised its profile in the program’s first few seasons thanks to an influx of bay area standouts. Two years ago, the Ascenders had five locals on the roster, all of whom signed with major Division I-A programs.
The program now recruits nationally after becoming one of the best in the country. Last season, IMG had just one area player on the roster: Tre McKitty (Wesley Chapel/Tampa Catholic).
McDowell leaves the Bulls after three seasons. Last season, he helped Wiregrass Ranch make its first playoff appearance since 2010. …
Calvary Christianâs Greg Olsen has been named the Florida Dairy Farmerâs 2017 baseball Coach of the Year
Calvary Christian’s Greg Olsen has been named the Florida Dairy Farmer’s 2017 baseball Coach of the Year. Olsen, who is in his sixth season at the school, led the Warriors to a 30-0 season and a Class 4A state championship. It is the school’s first state title in any sport.
Olsen was chosen by state coaches and media from a group of nine who were named the top coach in each classification. He finished with 123 points, 45 points ahead of Class 9A Coach of the Year Tim Beaman of Timber Creek. The Coach of the Year in each class won a state title.
In six years at Calvary Christian, Olsen is 125-46. Overall he is 253-86 in 12 years as a head coach. This year’s team was the first high school team in Florida to end undefeated since Pensacola Catholic did it 2013.
Warren Thompson was ready to commit to Oregon once he returned home from a visit last week.
The Armwood receiver loved the coaching staff and the facilities. Still, Thompson did not want to make an impulse decision. So he waited a few days.
He was weighing offers from North Carolina and FSU, the other two schools in his top three.
All signs kept pointing to the Northwest. Thompson has three tattoos of douglas firs on his left arm and he saw those trees on his visit to Eugene. For the past two months, Thompson said he also noticed some ducks that kept strolling past his front yard.
“It just seemed like Oregon was where I was meant to be,” he said.
On Monday, Thompson made it official by announcing his decision on a YouTube video he put together with the help of mentor Ty Timmons, who used to coach him in 7-on-7 with Unsigned Preps.
Thompson, a four-star receiver, is ranked 130th nationally in the 2018 class by 247Sports. He is the third major bay area prospect from this class to commit to the Ducks, joining Wesley Chapel athlete Isaiah Bolden and Tampa Bay Tech defensive tackle Jonathan King. …
Jon "Deuce" Gruden II, oldest of the former Bucs coach's three boys, won a gold medal Monday in the juniors 83-kilogram (183 pounds) division at the IPF World Classic Powerlifting Championships in Minsk, Belarus.
ESPN's Neeta Sreekanth tweeted photos from Gruden's triumph. Among his lifts: a bench press of nearly 419 pounds. Complete results weren't immediately available.
His parents, including mom Cindy, attended the event.
Here's our recent story on Gruden, a former multi-position football standout at Carrollwood Day who now serves as a strength-and-conditioning assistant for his Uncle Jay with the Washington Redskins.
A half-decade after graduating from Carrollwood Day, former Patriots football standout Deuce Gruden (22), pictured here with dad Jon Gruden, has evolved into an international powerlifter.
For all of his dad's influence and cachet in the NFL stratosphere, Jon Gruden II is letting the world know he can carry his own weight.
Twice his weight, in fact. Or three times as much if you're talking squats and dead lifts.
The younger Gruden, a 23-year-old known universally as Deuce, currently is competing in the IPF World Classic Powerlifting Championships in Belarus. Endowed with a wrecking-ball frame (5-foot-6, 180 pounds), he qualified with an astounding performance at last fall's USA Powerlifting Raw Nationals in Atlanta.
Here's footage of Gruden's nationals performance, in which he bench-pressed 402 pounds, squatted 584 and dead-lifted 633.
Former Tampa Prep standout Juwan Durham announced via Twitter that he is transferring from Connecticut to Notre Dame.
Durham, a 6-foot-11 forward, left the Huskies in April after his freshman season. He visited several schools during his latest recruitment and picked the Fighting Irish over Virginia Tech and Villanova, among others.
Two years ago, Durham committed to UConn after taking his official visit to the school. At the time of his commitment, he was considered a four-star recruit and a top-25 prospect in the 2016 class by nearly every major recruiting service. He was one of the rare bay area basketball stars who committed to a national title contender in the past decade.
Others in that elite group include former Gibbs/Admiral Farragut star Marreese Speights (Florida 2006-08), former Plant standout Michael Frazier (Florida 2012-15), former Sickles star John Henson (North Carolina 2009-12) and Tampa Catholic’s Kevin Knox (Kentucky).
Durham picked the Huskies over offers from more than a dozen major schools, including Indiana, Florida, Florida State, Miami and Louisville. UConn has won four national titles, the last coming in 2014. …
Brett Phillips of the Milwaukee Brewers hits a single in the eighth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Miller Park on June 5.
Former Seminole standout Brett Phillips made his major-league debut Monday night for the Milwaukee Brewers. He was 1-for-3 with two strikeouts as the Brewers' centerfielder against the Giants. Phillips, 23, was called up from Triple-A after Milwaukee placed infielder Travis Shaw on the paternity list.
Phillips was a sixth-round pick by the Astros in 2012 and was traded to the Brewers in 2015. He has worked his way through the minor-league system and is considered a top prospect. He may not stick in the big leagues the entire season, but he is close to being a permanent part of the Brewers' major-league club.
Phillips, who was the Times' high school Player of the Year for Pinellas County in 2012, is easy to root for. He has a contagious personality and seems to always have a smile on his face. Oh, and his laugh is legendary. Watch this: