The final four
Hillsborough County’s preseason top four, listed with 2011-12 record
1. Jesuit (27-2): Four starters return from veteran coach Neal Goldman’s best team, which finished a game shy of the program’s first final four berth since 1984. If there’s a deficiency on this roster, we haven’t seen it. How’s this for planet aligning: Because of the early end to Jesuit’s football season, 6-foot-4 low-post force Travis Johnson won’t miss a game.
2. Tampa Prep (31-1): After waiting 29 years for his first state title, Terps coach Joe Fenlon might have to wait only one for his second. Three starters return from last season’s Class 3A titlist including USF signee Josh Heath, arguably the bay area’s best point guard. The front court will feature 6-8 Furman signee Adonis Rwabigwi and 6-9 Juwan Durham, the county’s top freshman.
3. Wharton (24-4): Shocked last season by East Lake in the first round of the 8A playoffs, Wharton returns four of its top six scorers, who have spent the past nine months with that loss in their collective craw. Point guard C.J. McGill is as good as they come, and a front court led by 6-6 junior Chase Litton has been bolstered by the transfer of 6-7 senior Drew Vanderbrook from Freedom.
4. Berkeley Prep (22-9): The Bucs lost some key components (Nelson Agholor) from their 4A final four team, but return enough talent for another run to Lakeland. Six-foot-4 swingman Justin Gray, last seen putting on a first-half clinic at the state tourney, is a viable player-of-the-year candidate.
The elite eight
The county’s next-best four
Tampa Catholic (16-9): While we’re on the subject of atonement (see Wharton), TC returns four starters from a team that ended the season with an abysmal three-game skid. All four returners are juniors who have played a bunch (preseason No. 1 in 2013?).
Sickles (22-7): Last season’s Gryphons squad that reached the 6A region semifinals featured only two seniors. Watch for 6-5 veteran forward Malcolm Johnson, a Navy commitment, and seasoned guard Dan Harris.
Chamberlain (15-8): The reigning Class 7A-9 district champ lost only one senior who contributed last season, and his name was not Reggie Hart (27.9 ppg).
Alonso (15-12): The Ravens, four points from a playoff berth last season, return top scorers Malachi Christopher and Greg Robinson, who teamed for 61 points in a preseason win against Wiregrass Ranch.
Four teams that could surprise
Armwood (14-12): Only two years after a winless season, coach Jeff Pafunda has the Hawks poised to contend for a 6A playoff spot. Armwood returns seven seniors including 6-5 forward Marcus Hill (19 ppg, 12 rpg as junior).
Plant (20-6): The Panthers, who graduated their top four scorers, are green on the perimeter but possess good front-court size. Tuesday’s 60-24 loss to Jesuit was ugly, but Plant will be a different team by January.
Robinson (23-6): General assumption is, the graduation of low-post sensation Tre Leonard sends the Knights spiraling. We’re not so sure; Robinson had only two seniors last year. Once the football players arrive, Steve Smith’s team could make noise in 5A, District 11.
Cambridge Christian (21-5): Okay, the Lancers are by no means a sleeper, but we couldn’t let this preview pass without mentioning a three-time defending district champ that returns everyone.
G Jack Fleming, Sr., Jesuit: Colgate signee set program record with 88 3-pointers as junior
G/F Justin Gray, Jr., Berkeley Prep: Led Bucs in scoring (19.6 ppg) and rebounding (7.2 rpg)
G/F Reggie Hart, Sr., Chamberlain: County’s top scorer (27.9 ppg, 9.2 rpg) in 2011-12
PG Josh Heath, Sr., Tampa Prep: USF signee averaged 7.1 assists for state champs
F Travis Johnson, Sr., Jesuit: Averaged nearly a double double (11.6 ppg, 9.0 rpg) as junior
F Chivarsky Corbett, Jr., Tampa Catholic
PG Devin Harris, Sr., Jesuit
PG C.J. McGill, Sr., Wharton
F Adonis Rwabigwi, Sr., Tampa Prep
PG Isiah Thomas, Jr., Tampa Catholic
Did you know?
Tampa Catholic will feature Dziagwas in triplicate — and that’s just on the sideline. Coach Don Dziagwa’s oldest son, Matt, a former 1,000-point scorer for the Crusaders, joins his dad as an assistant. Dziagwa’s wife, Cindy, normally will keep the scorebook, and could be doing much scribbling beside the name of her youngest son Thomas, a TC freshman.
• Tampa Prep sixth man Marshall Holmes, who had two critical field goals — including a baseline trey — and a steal in the final 1:46 of last season’s state semifinal, is now at Berkeley Prep.
• Roughly 12 hours after his football season ended with a loss Friday at Orlando Dr. Phillips, Litton was participating — intensely, coach Tommy Tonelli says — in the Wildcats’ 11 a.m. practice Saturday.
Joey Knight can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JoeyHomeTeam.