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Hillsborough boys basketball season preview

There was no fast in Tampa Prep's fastbreak, and the lethargy was making Joe Fenlon livid. "That was an absolutely pathetic effort," the Terrapins' 26th-year coach yelled during this recent evening practice. A few more scalding observations were strung together as the players stood silently, panting and awaiting Fenlon's next directive. Then just before ordering the resumption of the fullcourt drill, Fenlon barked a profound command, the response to which might determine the outcome of a season brimming with promise:

"Don't get caught up in who the heck you think you are!"

Such are the lofty projections for the 2009-10 Terps.

Nothing, short of themselves, appears capable of stopping them until they reach Lakeland. Ask Fenlon to cite his biggest concern for the season, and he pauses momentarily before saying, "Losing focus."

They haven't lost much else.

Four starters are back from a 26-5 club that came within a controversial last-second foul of making the Class 2A state final. Among them are 6-foot-5 senior Jay Bowie and 6-4 classmate Jamal Cherry, Fenlon's top scorers and rebounders last season.

There's size, senior leadership, depth and some scary good youngsters. Among them: 6-6, 230-pound Oldsmar Christian transfer and sophomore forward Quincy Mitchell, 6-2 sophomore guard Devontae Morgan and freshman guard Josh Heath, sibling of senior guard Jordan Heath and son of USF men's basketball coach Stan Heath.

"There's no drop-off in talent level from the starters to the bench players," Cherry said.

His coach concurs.

"Do we have that McDonald's All-American? No, but we can be as deep as we were then," Fenlon said, referring to the Casey Sanders-led Terps teams of the mid 1990s.

"At this level of basketball, if you're deeper than your opponent, that's usually a good thing. With us only losing one starter …we have cohesion and know what to expect. And they're also a year older."

Should the Terps avoid losing their heads — or an early-round playoff game — a treacherous field likely awaits in the 2A state tournament, where they would try to give their coach his first title.

Weston Sagemont, for example, has a 7-foot, 270-pound senior who has committed to Syracuse. There also is tube sock terror Port St. Joe, which has defeated Fenlon's clubs four times at state.

Then again, such teams also can't afford to get caught up in who the heck they think they are.

"That's why they play the games," Fenlon said.

"We had a McDonald's All-American and went to state three times and didn't win it."

Preseason starting five

G Samal Shepherd, Sr., Newsome: First-team all-county pick (19.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game) as a junior.

G Jordan Davis, Sr., Sickles: Averaged a staggering 7.4 assists as a junior.

G Andre Smith, Jr., Blake: Sharpshooter had a field-goal percentage of nearly 50 percent last season.

F Jamal Cherry, Sr., Tampa Prep: Rangy playmaker hit double figures in all but five games last season.

F Jay Bowie, Sr., Tampa Prep: Averaged a double double (14.6 points and 10.8 rebounds) for Class 2A state semifinals.

Preseason second five

G/F Michael Frazier, So., Plant: Averaged 14.4 points as a freshman; already has an offer from Ohio University.

G/F Devontae Morgan, So., Tampa Prep: Showing up on some national Class of 2012 watch lists.

G/F Andre Nation, Jr., Durant: Top scorer and stealer (3.0 per game) for a 21-win team last season

F Michael McFarland, Sr., Blake: 6-foot-7 Florida football commitment is a low-post force.

F Rashawn Rembert, Jr., Sickles: After complementing John Henson as sophomore, should break out this season.

Preseason top five teams

With last season's record:

1. Tampa Prep (26-5): This could be Joe Fenlon's best team since the Casey Sanders era of the late 1990s. The Terps are tall, talented and deep.

2. Newsome (20-6): Every coach with whom we've spoken this preseason loves the Wolves. Veteran coach Jon Mackey returns four starters, including sleek 6-foot-3 guard Samal Shepherd, from a Class 5A playoff team.

3. Blake (20-8): We project a Tampa Prep-Blake final in the City of Tampa championships in late December. Junior guard Andre Smith (17.9 points, 3.9 assists) and 6-7 senior Michael McFarland give the Yellow Jackets a fierce inside-outside tandem.

4. Sickles (24-5): Big man John Henson took his game to Chapel Hill, but the Gryphons return a very solid group, including senior guard Jordan Davis (8.2 points, 7.4 assists).

5. Wharton (13-11): The return of coach Tommy Tonelli after a two-year stint at USF makes the Wildcats, who have some size and athleticism, our local dark horse candidate.

Hillsborough boys basketball season preview 11/22/09 [Last modified: Sunday, November 22, 2009 6:02pm]

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