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Boys Basketball Preview

The Brandon High School boys basketball team's season ended at last school year's regional semifinals. Could this be the year that the team recaptures that magic and capitalizes on its playoff experience? To do that, it will look to a pair of seniors, including lightning-quick guard Mike Brown.

Here's a look at the prospects for the boys' teams in eastern Hillsborough County.

Armwood

District: Class 5A, District 8

Outlook: After averaging more than 18 points a game as a junior and being named the MVP of both the Bayshore Christian and Seffner Christian holiday tournaments, senior forward Jason Anthony should help Armwood contend in the 5A-8 race after a disappointing district tournament showing last season.

Last regional appearance: 2003. Lost 68-55 to Winter Haven in quarterfinals.

Bloomingdale

District: Class 5A, District 8

Outlook: Because Theo Smalling graduated - he was a St. Petersburg Times second-team performer last season - Bloomingdale might have trouble improving on last season's 17-10 record. And with Brandon and Wharton looking strong again this year in 5A-8, the Bulls will have to surprise a few people to make it out of districts.

Last regional appearance: 2004. Lost 50-41 to Cypress Creek in the quarterfinals.

Brandon

District: Class 5A, District 8

Outlook: Whenever Brandon absolutely had to have a basket last season, it seemed it could always count on leading scorer Korri Ennis. But with Ennis playing for UC-Riverside, where he averages nine minutes and two points a game as a freshman, the Eagles must rely on senior guard Mike Brown, one of the quickest players in the county, and senior forward Jeremy Jackson. Jackson is a transfer from Tampa Baptist, who averaged 26 points and 10 rebounds for the Rams.

Last regional appearance: 2006. Defeated Ridgewood 63-56 in the quarterfinals. Lost 50-46 to Lake Region in the semifinals.

Durant

District: Class 6A, District 8

Outlook: After going 9-14 last season and losing four seniors, Durant will start four sophomores and one freshman, including sophomore freshman A. J. Garden, who led the Cougars in points with 15.5 a game as a freshman. Durant will build around Garden and rely on a strong backcourt to help win close games, something the Cougars struggled with last season.

"We're not very big," head coach Jeff Shotwell said. "When we shoot the ball well, I think we can play with anybody. We'll be a team that improves as the season goes on."

Last regional appearance: 2003. Defeated King 77-65 in the quarterfinals. Lost 45-38 to Lake Howell in the semifinals.

East Bay

District: Class 6A, District 8

Outlook: East Bay finished 5-17 last season, but stunned Plant City with a last-second three-pointer in the district tournament's first round. The Indians missed a chance to go to their first regional tournament since 2002 by losing to Lakeland in the semifinals. The Indians, led by returning starter senior guard Rudy Jean, are 1-2 and in the midst of an eight-day stretch with no games. They'll play Durant in their first district game on Tuesday.

Last regional appearance: 2002. Lost 60-56 to Boca Ciega in the quarterfinals

Lennard

District: Class 3A, District 11

Outlook: Little is expected of Lennard and coach Joe Willis in their first season of play, but already the team has played somewhat competitively in losses to East Bay (77-44) and Riverview (64-42). The Longhorns will get their first taste of district play tonight against Berkeley Prep.

"We have a little more experience (on the boys' team as opposed to the girls' team)," Lennard athletic director David New said. "We're optimistic we can make some progress. What that progress will be, we're not sure."

Last regional appearance: None.

Newsome

District: Class 5A, District 8

Outlook: Beginning its fourth season of play, Newsome has yet to post a winning season. Junior guard/forward Dylan Fugate and senior guard Justin Gist will look to change that. Fugate averaged 12 points and 7 rebounds last season, and Gist is an experienced leader who has played for Newsome since the team's inception.

Newsome coach Jon Mackey says the Wolves are "shooting to get a higher seed in the district" - they were sixth last year - in addition to finishing above .500. The Wolves were close last season, going 11-14.

Last regional appearance: None.

Plant City

District: Class 6A, District 8

Outlook: 6A-8 is wide open. Lakeland looks to be the team to beat, but it's anyone's guess who will grab the runnerup spot. Plant City could be one of those teams. They're 1-0 with a game at home against Blake tonight.

Last regional appearance: 1993. Lost 71-61 to Brandon in the quarterfinals)

Riverview

District: Class 6A, District 8

Outlook: Riverview went 5-18 last season, and with an entirely new lineup with limited varsity experience, head coach Mike Baker isn't expecting any miracles.

"We're up and coming," he said. "Hopefully, by the end of the season, we'll be a lot better. We're going to try to win more than five games this year. Winning 10 would be a good accomplishment for us."

Last regional appearance: 2004. Lost to Timber Creek 58-56 in the quarterfinals.

Spoto

District: Class 4A, District 9

Outlook: Former King girls' coach Eric Brooks takes over the boys' program at Spoto, where, initially, he will find victories hard to come by. The Spartans are 0-3 (0-2 in district) with a home game against district foe Kathleen tonight.

"We're looking to just improve as the year unfolds and to get everybody together because we have so many players from different schools," Spoto athletic director Stacie Breedlove said.

Last regional appearance: None.

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