NEW PORT RICHEY — Ridgewood senior Lukas Poderis calls the abrasion beneath his left eye, inflicted when he drove in for a layup during a summer game a month or so back, a mere scratch. Others deem it a shiner.
Doesn't really matter. What the blemish symbolizes is far more significant than what it's called. To Rams coach Gary Anders, and those guiding Poderis through an odyssey of elite-level AAU basketball, it represents an evolution in the big man's game.
Specifically, it says Poderis, once considered gracious nearly to a fault in the scrappy world of low screens and high elbows, has added a streak of menace to his 6-foot-8 package of size, agility and interior deftness.
"He's had a black eye a good portion of the summer, which just tells me how he's playing," said Conrad Foss, a coach on the Florida Elite 17-under team Poderis recently helped lead to an AAU state title. "He's really done a nice job of banging."
The hike in aggressiveness couldn't have been better timed. Over the next few months, Poderis, the Times' reigning North Suncoast boys player of the year likely will face the most ferocious press he has ever encountered.
College recruiters will be the ones applying it.
"I think he's got a chance to just blow up," said Anders, who watched Poderis score 10 of the Rams' 13 overtime points in a 53-47 summer league win Monday over Land O'Lakes at Pasco-Hernando Community College.
"He's still got the month of July, where he's going to be recruited heavily."
By summer's end, in fact, Poderis could find himself at the center of the most intense recruiting battle waged for a Pasco County player. He said he's getting roughly 10 letters a week, and confirmed he recently got his first formal scholarship offer, from Kent State. Anders said a number of others have shown "heavy interest."
Among them: Tennessee Tech, East Tennessee State, Stetson, Belmont, College of Charleston, Boston University and some Ivy League schools. The suitors could multiply throughout July, when Poderis joins Florida Elite for at least four nationally prominent showcase events.
They include the Kentucky HoopFest in Louisville (July 9-12), the Best of the South in Tampa (July 13-15), the Reebok Big Time in Las Vegas (July 21-25) and the AAU Nationals at Walt Disney World (July 27-Aug. 1).
Foss said all are NCAA-certified events, adding Poderis could be exposed to "more than a thousand" coaches during those four events.
"He has progressed remarkably well," Foss said. "He has gotten better every tournament that we go to. The greater the competition the better he gets. He's just made great improvement this summer."
Anders, who watched Poderis average a double double (18.3 ppg, 10 rpg) for the Rams as a junior, is even more succinct.
"Talking about his ability," Anders said, "I think he's just starting to scratch the surface."
Not to mention an eye.
Joey Knight can be reached at (813) 226-3350 or firstname.lastname@example.org.