For those of us on the prep sports beat, the mild temperatures arrived with a mild quandary: How do we awaken readers to the dawn of another basketball season with football playoffs in full swing? Our solution: Incorporate some March Madness into mid November, previewing the local boys teams in bracketology form. Who are the area’s final four projections? Who could make nice postseason runs? Who’s on the bubble? And who doesn’t eat up these kinds of long-term hypotheses? Here then, is our forecast of who is (and isn’t) bound for the Big Dance in Lakeland.
Final Four contenders
The county’s top four teams
After graduating seven seniors, the reigning Class 2A state runnersup may need time to jell, but look out after that. Six-foot-3 junior Devontae Morgan (10.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg) gained strength and confidence in the offseason, while sophomore Josh Heath evolved into what coach Joe Fenlon calls “the consummate point guard.” Throw 6-6, 235-pound junior Quincy Mitchell (35 blocked shots) in the mix, and the Terps appear equipped to make a run that stretches into March.
The Wildcats, 27-2 a season ago, suffered a severe preseason setback when sophomore point guard C.J. McGill tore his ACL. But that loss may even itself out if senior Brandon transfer Da-Vonte Lamar effectively steps in. Down low, Wharton has arguably the county’s best frontcourt. Coach Tommy Tonelli is high on 6-foot-5 freshman Chase Litton, who joins imposing veterans A.J. Astroth and Xavier Owens.
The reigning Class 5A state runnersup return top scorer (and East Tennessee State signee) Rashawn Rembert, arguably the most dazzling player in the 5A final four. Ponte Vedra transfer Tim O’Malley assumes the point guard spot vacated by 2010 St. Petersburg Times player of the year Jordan Davis, while 6-foot-7 behemoth Eric Floyd provides an imposing low-block complement.
Coach Don Dziagwa welcomes arguably the bay area’s most talented freshman class. Michael Clark, Chivarsky Corbett and Isiah Thomas (no relation to that Isiah) are ranked among the state’s top 30 ninth-graders by Florida Hoops. They’ll join an already-solid nucleus led by senior guard Lashawn Harrison, the Crusaders’ top scorer, rebounder and distributor last season.
In the Sweet 16
Teams that could make a lot of postseason noise
Plant: Everyone — and we mean everyone — is back from a 13-13 team, including that Mike Frazier guy
Newsome: Four of top seven return for the 5A region finalists, including 3-point extraordinaire Trent Mackey
Blake: Guard play wins championships, and no local point guard is better than senior Andre Smith
Berkeley Prep: An extended football season could cause the Bucs to start modestly. They’ll finish strong.
Four teams that could surprise
Plant City: The Raiders, 17-6 a year ago, turned a bunch of heads in the summer
Chamberlain: Second-year coach Chris Snyder already earning county-wide respect
Durant: Can’t discount any team featuring a player the caliber of Andre Nation
Jesuit: Six-foot-4 sophomore Travis Johnson may be better in hoops than he is in football
Preseason all-county team
G/F Rashawn Rembert, Sr., Sickles. Nearly had a double double in the state semifinals
G Michael Frazier, Jr., Plant. UF commitment was state’s No. 3 scorer (26.7 ppg) last season
G Andre Smith, Sr., Blake. Winthrop signee may be county’s best pure point guard
G Trent Mackey, Sr., Newsome. Coach’s son shot nearly 50 percent from 3-point range as junior
F Xavier Owens, Sr., Wharton: At 6-5, 240, Owens will anchor a splendid frontcourt
G Lashawn Harrison, Sr., Tampa Catholic: Led team in four major categories as junior
G/F Andre Nation, Sr., Durant: Averaged 18.9 ppg, 2.4 steals, 2.2 blocks as a junior
F Devontae Morgan, Jr., Tampa Prep: Had double double (11 points, 12 rebounds) in state title game
F Eric Floyd, Jr., Sickles. This low-post behemoth (6-7, 230) poised for breakthrough year
F A.J. Astroth, Sr., Wharton: Rangy veteran can score with anyone in county
By the numbers
2 Freshman varsity quarterbacks — Wharton’s Chase Litton and Tampa Catholic’s Chivarsky Corbett — who could contribute mightily to their winter teams
8 Victories needed by Plant coach Mike Phillips to reach 300 for his varsity career (boys and girls)
20 Seasons Don Dziagwa has been coach at Tampa Catholic, including this one. His record at TC: 317-252, with one state title
24 Consecutive regular-season victories for Wharton, an active streak
161 Points needed by King senior Reshard Brown to reach 1,000 for his career