TAMPA — When Largo’s Brandon Jones picked up basketball three years ago, he didn’t think his brief hoops career would ever include a night like Friday.
Jones showed his transformation from a two-way football player to a basketball standout, earning MVP honors after leading Pinellas County to a 118-112 win over Hillsborough in the all-star basketball game at Hillsborough Community College.
“I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” Jones said, still cradling his individual trophy on his way out of the gym.
Jones had focused on football for most of his life but picked up basketball in high school because of a late growth spurt. He showed the leaping ability he honed as a receiver/defensive back, soaring for six dunks in Pinellas’ comeback win.
Pinellas trailed by as many as 15 points before Jones led his team back into the game. He scored six of his game-high 22 in the final 3 minutes, 24 seconds to turn a 104-101 deficit into a six-point victory.
“It was beautiful,” said Jones, who added 10 rebounds.
LONGHORNS’ LAST GO: Lennard was one of Tampa Bay’s Cinderella stories this winter, winning its first district title and claiming its first playoff victories on the way to the Class 6A state semifinals.
Some of the players got one more chance to take the court together: Guard Caelen Watts competed alongside teammate Gary Hector one final time, as Lennard coach Danny Gaddis served as a Hillsborough assistant.
“It was an honor to be able to play with (Hector),” Watts said.
Watts finished with 15 points, and Hector scored five.
RISKY SHOT: Even though there was plenty of time left on the scoreboard, Gibbs guard Bria Bostick figured her Pinellas team’s five-point lead was safe in the girls game. So instead of letting the clock run down, she ignored her teammates’ pleas and drained a 3-pointer from the corner for the final score in Pinellas’ 86-78 win.
“They were telling me not to shoot it,” Bostick said. “I knew the game was over and just took it.”
Bostick earned the right to let a shot rip. She scored 13 of her game-high 19 points in the second half to lead an eight-point comeback in the game’s final eight minutes. She earned team MVP honors by sinking two free throws with 1:18 left that broke a 78-78 tie and put her team ahead for good.
CONTEST WINNERS: Pinellas made a clean sweep of Hillsborough, even claiming the slam dunk and 3-point contests.
Lakewood’s Jacobi Boykins scored four perfect 10s on two of his dunks to top Wharton’s Jack Taylor in the dunk competition. The Louisiana Tech commitment threw down a 360 slam in the first round and leaped over two children from the stands in the finals. Boykins continued the show in the actual game, throwing two alley-oops, one off the backboard, for dunks by fellow Spartan Michael Clark.
Pinellas Park’s Nick Preradovic won the 3-point shootout, outscoring Strawberry Crest’s Malik Channer 14-9 in the final round. Both players carried their success into the game, too. Preradovic’s corner 3 gave Pinellas a 110-108 lead in the closing minutes, while Channer scored a team-high 17 to earn Hillsborough’s MVP honors.
THIS AND THAT: All but six boys scored in double figures. Boykins (18 points) and St. Petersburg’s Dayon Griffin were two of Pinellas’ top scorers. Berkeley Prep’s Craig Bowman scored 14, and Anton Crutcher of East Bay and Rashad Green of King both had 12 points. … Seffner Christian’s Sabrina Whiting earned the MVP award for the Hillsborough girls by finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds and two steals. Strawberry Crest guard and UCF signee Aliyah Gregory and Sickles’ Cierra Wheatley both added 10 points. … Dixie Hollins’ Meagan Thomas dominated, finishing with 18 points, nine rebounds and six steals.
Staff writer Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.