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This is shaping up as one of the most volatile high school boys basketball seasons the county has ever had, with few clues as to how it will end.
As many as seven teams seem capable of making a run to the state final four. Which team has the best shot? Who knows.
About the only thing anyone can predict is that plenty of games will come down to the last shot.
Take last week’s preseason games. Gibbs beat St. Petersburg. The Green Devils came back and knocked off Lakewood. Both were decided at the buzzer.
“It’s going to be a dogfight every night,” Gladiators coach Larry Murphy said.
The south part of the county has always had high-quality basketball. But it has been a while since premier programs like Boca Ciega, Gibbs, Lakewood and St. Petersburg have had rosters this loaded with talent.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen as strong and as balanced as it will be in the county this year,” Pirates coach Randy Shuman said. “You could play really well one week and still come away with a couple of losses. That’s how tough it’s going to be.”
The toughest district is Class 5A-12, which features Boca Ciega, Gibbs and Lakewood. Last year, the Gladiators went undefeated in the regular season against county competition and were the No. 1 seed. But they were upset by the Pirates in the semifinals and failed to make the playoffs.
In Class 7A-10, St. Petersburg and Seminole played a series of close games last season that were decided either in the last minute or in overtime. The Green Devils prevailed in all of them and advanced to the state semifinals. Both teams return the bulk of their starters.
“It’s going to be tough every night,” St. Petersburg coach Chris Blackwell said. “But that’s good. You want those kind of games to get ready for the postseason.”
1. St. Petersburg: The defending Class 7A state semifinalists have a little bit of everything: strong guard play led by Demontrae Adams and Dayon Griffin and size with 6-foot-7 Ben Clare. The Green Devils opened the preseason with a last-minute loss to Gibbs before coming back to beat Lakewood.
2. Gibbs: Despite losing county player of the year Gary Simon, the Gladiators are strong contenders with a back court led by Barry Brown and Shaquille Speights. Besides beating St. Petersburg in the preseason, Gibbs also had a chance to knock off state contender Jesuit but missed two free throws at the end of regulation.
3. Boca Ciega: Dallas Moore and Michael Clark already formed one of the county’s best tandems. Now the Pirates are even stronger thanks to the addition of Joe Lampley, who transferred from Clearwater, and the return of DJ White, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL.
4. Lakewood: The Spartans are a work in progress until they get football players back from the playoffs and Jacobi Boykins, who is out for six weeks after fracturing his neck in a car accident earlier this month. Still, Lakewood is loaded with others scorers such A Anthony Lawrence Jr. and Shabazz Waller.
5. Seminole: The top six players return from a team that won the first state playoff game in program history last season. What the Warhawks lack in size, they make up for in solid shooting from guards such as Matt Cassity, Justin Hollis and Noah Weller.
6. Largo: Now, that the football season is over, the Packers will get the bulk of their star power back with Jonathan Crawford and Donavan Hale leading a young team capable of making significant improvements this season.
7. Shorecrest: Though the Chargers lost their two best scorers to graduation, they still have something to build around with the return of Jay Joyer and Johnny Koenig.
On the bubble: Admiral Farragut, Clearwater, Countryside, Osceola, St. Petersburg Catholic.
Players to watch
F Jacobi Boykins, Jr., Lakewood: Once he returns from injury he will help the Spartans thrive in their transition game.
G Barry Brown, So., Gibbs: Scored a combined 59 points against St. Petersburg and Jesuit in the preseason.
G Ibrahima Camara, Jr., Admiral Farragut: Becomes the go-to guy for the Blue Jackets after the graduation of several scorers.
F Michael Clark, Jr., Boca Ciega: He gives the Pirates a much-needed inside presence that will complement their surplus of guards.
G Ryan Green, Sr., St. Petersburg Catholic: The FSU football recruit is coming back from a shoulder injury and will try to lead the Barons to another region semifinal appearance.
G Donavan Hale, So. Largo: The son of former Packer standout Ron Hale is poised for a breakout season on a district title contending team.
G Dallas Moore, Sr., Boca Ciega: The North Florida signee led the county in scoring last season with 25 points per game.
Jay Joyer, Shorecrest: Meteoric rise continues for player who can score and rebound.
G Noah Weller, Sr., Seminole: Clutch shooter on a team full of them who will help Warhawks stay in district title contention.
F George Campbell, So., East Lake: Two-sport star has to wait for football playoffs to end before leading the Eagles.
G Cody Carden, Jr., Clearwater: Second-leading returning scorer (5.8 ppg) and leader in assists (4.1 pg) on a young team.
G Darnell Lovett, Sr., Countryside: Transfer from Plant averaged 10 points per game and is a captain.
Bob Putnam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org