Dante Valentine, Sr., Springstead
Why we picked him: When it counted most, this quick, combustible 5-foot-11 guard was the best player on the area's most successful team. The Eagles' No. 2 scorer (18.7 points per game) and team leader in assists (4.7) and steals (4.3), Valentine elevated his game in the postseason. He scored at least 20 in Springstead's first four playoff contests, highlighted by a dazzling effort (24 points, five assists, six rebounds) in a 61-49 triumph against top-ranked Pensacola in the Class 4A semifinals. "The tapes I saw (of him) weren't overly impressive," veteran Pensacola coach Bob Stinnett said after the game. "But he impressed my butt tonight, I promise you."
Future plans: Uncertain. Eagles coach Pat Kelly said he's trying to hook up Valentine and teammate Isaiah Mason with a local junior college.
Did you know? Valentine's senior season was the first that didn't end prematurely. He missed last season's district tournament, which ended with a semifinal loss to Hudson, with a dislocated elbow, and was suspended from the 2007 district tournament after receiving two technicals in one game in early February. "I think I get portrayed as angry on the court, like a mean person," said Valentine, assessed only one technical as a senior. "I'm not. You can ask my teachers and friends. I'm laid-back, fun."
C Lukas Poderis, Sr., Ridgewood: East Tennessee State signee nearly averaged a double double
PG Alvin Satram, Sr., Ridgewood: Fleet playmaker averaged 8.3 assists
G Darryn Frazier, Sr., Central: Area's top scorer (26.9 a game) had 11 games of 30-plus points
G Jarrod Branco, Sr., Hudson: 19.5 ppg, 9.5 rebounds per game; no player in area was more valuable to his team
F Isaiah Mason, Sr., Springstead: Slasher extraordinaire (19.1 ppg) was best athlete on 31-1 team
G/F Kevin Burnell, Sr., Land O'Lakes
G C.J. Jones, Sr., Ridgewood
G Domnique Roberson, Sr., Springstead
F Bryan Jones, Sr., Ridgewood
F Eric Williams, Jr., Wiregrass Ranch
Gulf: David Ramirez, Kyle Scianna; Hernando: Corey Thomas; Hernando Christian: Ian Townsend; Hudson: Chris Russo; Land O'Lakes: Sean Cooper; Mitchell: Billy Hester; Nature Coast: Mike Adams, Mike Fields; Springstead: Addison O'Neil; Sunlake: Eli Escobar; Wiregrass Ranch: Jordan Mitchell; Zephyrhills: Kyle Farrell, Tyler Guy
Coach of the Year
Pat Kelly, Springstead
A 57-year-old defensive disciple with a thick Pennsylvania accent, Kelly somehow got his brash collection of undersized Eagles to buy into his old-school approach and fundamentals-heavy practices. It was a bizarre marriage for sure, with the occasional player-coach clash, but one can't argue with the results: a 31-1 record and Class 4A state runnerup finish.