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Pinellas: Boys hoops preview

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Mon. November 21, 2011 | Bob Putnam | Email

The boys basketball season begins today with plenty of changes. There are new coaches, players and districts. Some of the established powers will still be strong, but emerging teams could become contenders. Here is a guide to all the moves.

The stars
Gibbs’ Gary Simon, an athletic guard, is the county’s top returning player. Last season, he helped the Gladiators reach the state semifinals for the first time since 1991. Most Gibbs starters graduated. The biggest loss was Quincy Ford, the Times player of the year last season. Simon will be a primary ball handler, as well as the go-to-guy. Boca Ciega’s Dallas Moore is the county’s best shooter and will be counted on to provide points on the perimeter. Moore’s teammate, D.J. White, is coming back from a torn ACL and is still working back to becoming a dominant player.

The coaches
The biggest change in the county is at Lakewood, where Anthony Lawrence takes over for legendary Dan Wright, the county’s all-time winningest coach who retired in the spring after 35 years. Lawrence played for Wright and has been an assistant with the program. Lakewood, which missed the playoff last season, has a young team led by Jacobi Boykins and Earnest Clayton. James Margarella, who guided a resurgent Tarpon Springs program, takes over at Clearwater Central Catholic. Two Marauders playmakers transferred.

The players
Movement within the county could impact some rosters. Dayon Griffin transferred from Clearwater to St. Petersburg. He will team with David Jones and Demontre Adams to give the Green Devils three solid scorers to go along with a frontcourt that averages 6 feet 6. Joe Lampley transferred from Admiral Farragut to Clearwater and will help fill the scoring void left by Jon Hogan, who graduated.

The districts
The Florida High School Athletic Association re-shuffled classifications and districts. The most competitive will be in Class 5A, District 12, which features south county powers Boca Ciega, Gibbs and Lakewood. Class 7A-10 has strong contenders in Clearwater and St. Petersburg, and sleepers such as Pinellas Park and Northeast. The 3A-9 district will be tough with Admiral Farragut, Calvary Christian, Indian Rocks Christian, Shorecrest and St. Petersburg Catholic all vying for postseason contention.

The sleepers
Osceola showed signs of contending last season and have some confidence after beating Lakewood in a recreational league game this fall. Pinellas Park, led by guard Cory Edwards, can knock off some of the county’s top teams. Northeast lost leading scorer Andres Sanchez, who graduated. But the Vikings still have an enforcer in the middle, Auggie Sanchez, and will get strong guard play. And Largo will be near the top with an young team led by freshmen Donava Hale and Jamal Crawford.

The contenders
Gibbs is still the team to beat. The Gladiators, despite fielding several new starters, played well in the summer leagues and beat St. Petersburg by seven in a preseason game. The Green Devils have one of the tallest frontcourts in the county, as well as several scoring options. Clearwater is always solid. Admiral Farragut has enough playmakers, led by Alvin Cunningham, to make another postseason run.

Regular season: Starting today, schools play 25 games maximum, including all regular-season tournament games.

Playoffs: District tournaments are Feb. 6-11, followed by the region quarterfinals (Feb. 16), semifinals (Feb. 21) and finals (Feb. 25). The state tournament is Feb. 28 to March 3 at the Lakeland Center.

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