Boys player of the Year
F Erik Thomas, Sr., Wesley Chapel
Why we picked him: Thomas compiled one of the most prolific seasons and careers in North Suncoast history. He ranked among the nation’s leaders by averaging 33 points and 16 rebounds while earning all-state honors from the Florida Athletic Coaches Association. In a last-second win over rival Wiregrass Ranch, he scored the game-sealing basket, made his 2,000th career point and finished with 35 points. He played well in the Wildcats’ five losses, too, averaging 29 points and 15 rebounds in defeat. Thomas had 27 double doubles in 29 games and scored at least 21 points in every game.
Most impressive accomplishment: Thomas led his Wildcats to their first district championship in seven seasons. His top individual performance came against a good Hudson team when he scored a career-high 47 points in front of college scouts. “It showed my game, from around the perimeter to inside to everything.”
Future plans: Recruiters from Seattle, Saint Leo, East Tennessee State and Texas State have expressed interest in the 6-foot-5 Thomas, who’s still waiting to see what offers materialize. He plans to study sports management and hopes to pursue a professional basketball career, either in America or internationally.
Did you know? Thomas joined his sister, former Wildcats standout and Clemson player Sthefany Thomas, as the only two 2,000-point scorers in school history. His sister has played for the Argentina national team, and Erik — who was born in Argentina — has suited up for his home country’s junior national team. “The game is different,” Thomas said. “It’s played more as a team effort.”
G Rico Kerney, Sr., Wiregrass Ranch: Athletic sharpshooter took Bulls to the Class 7A playoffs with 22.2 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Scored in double figures in all but one game.
G Chris Parra, Sr., Wiregrass Ranch: Piloted one of Tampa Bay’s highest-scoring offenses. Averaged 15.8 points and 3.8 assists for the 20-win Bulls.
G Jeffrey Velasquez, Sr., Hernando: His 17.6 points and 5.6 assists per game led the Leopards to their best season since 1999.
F Rohan Blackwood, Jr., Nature Coast: D-I football recruit averaged a double double (15 points, 11 rebounds) for the district champion and Class 5A region semifinalist.
C John Childs, Jr., River Ridge: 6-foot-9 post averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds; already holds a pair of Division-I college offers.
G Victor Davila, Sr., Nature Coast
G Joey Stokes, Sr., Central
G Tristan Ficarro, Sr., Ridgewood
F Lawrence Watt, So., Mitchell
F Joey Nickerson, Jr., Gulf
Academy at the Lakes: Ethan Haslam, Malik Hall; Anclote: Ty Carter, Shy Carter, Chris Palamidis, Drew Driscoll, Dylan Walsh; Bishop McLaughlin: Andrew Valancius; Fivay: Jerome Merritt; Hernando: Mark Wilson, Giovanni Perez; Hudson: Zack Petersen, Bryce Durham; Land O’Lakes: Mike Obi, Victor Obi; Mitchell: Bernie Conley, Ryan Doherty; Nature Coast: Carlos Clemente, Yamil Marrero; Pasco: C.J. Brown; Ridgewood: Adam Ibrahim, Brandon Green; River Ridge: Micheal Jones; Sunlake: Brendan Huynh, Jonuel Martinez; Weeki Wachee: Tyler Wiley; Wesley Chapel: Marcus Hayne, Carson Emery; Wiregrass Ranch: Larrentz Manora; Zephyrhills: Jordan Roberts
Coach of the year
Jared St. Charles, Mitchell. St. Charles graduated his top scorer (Jake Driscoll) and didn’t have any superstars. But his Mustangs won their first district title, beat Lakeland Kathleen in the Class 6A region quarterfinals and nearly avenged a blowout loss to Winter Haven in the next round but lost by a point. He edges Anclote’s Jason Szymanski for the honor.
Girls player of the year
F Tatiana Manuel, Sr., Academy at the Lakes
Why we picked her: Manuel was the top player for the North Suncoast’s top team. The 6-foot-2 post evolved from a rebounder and shot blocker to an all-around player. Her scoring average doubled, to 16 points per game. She also averaged nine rebounds and six blocks per contest for a Wildcats squad that lost only three games and finished as the Class 2A state runnerup. “I felt responsible for my team,” said Manuel, a transfer from Brooks-DeBartolo. “If we lost, I felt like it was all on me. I liked to carry the team on my back.”
Most impressive accomplishment: Manuel was strong all season but found another gear in the playoffs. She scored at least 17 points in every game from the district semifinals until a loss to FAMU in the state title game. That includes a 27-point, 10-of-11 shooting performance in the state semifinal and a 28-point, 17-rebound masterpiece in the region final. “I don’t think we would have gone to state championship without her,” coach Karim Nohra said.
Future plans: Manuel recently received a scholarship offer from Webber International and is also receiving interest from College of Charleston and USF, among others. She wants to study criminal justice with plans to become a homicide detective and would like to go to college in the Carolinas. “I don’t want to stay in Florida,” Manuel said.
Did you know? Manuel is an avid reader, and her favorite book is Vladimir Nabokov’s classic, Lolita. “It’s very different,” Manuel said. “It has a lot of imagery. It kinda gets you in a mind-set of why people do certain things.”
G Timecia Cohen, Sr., Academy at the Lakes: The Wildcats’ MVP averaged 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists — in her first real season at point guard.
G Leah Ford, So., River Ridge: Helped the Royal Knights upset Tarpon Springs and advance to the playoffs; averaged 16 points.
G Brianca Roberts, Jr., Pasco: Top all-around player (17 points, four assists, five rebounds) for a Pirates team that advanced to the Class 5A region finals.
F Kayla Kivinski, Jr., Gulf: Reigning player of the year averaged a double double (19.6 points, 11.3 rebounds) for district champ. Had one of the best performances of the year — a 49-point triple double in a win over Wiregrass Ranch.
F Andrea Mauger, Sr., Academy at the Lakes: Sharpshooter averaged almost 18 points to take the Wildcats back to Lakeland.
G Allahon Marbra, Jr., Pasco
G Brielle Downing, Fr., Bishop McLaughlin
F Alicia Artley, Jr., Fivay
F Amanda Melosky, So., Wiregrass Ranch
F Anna Poholek, Jr., Springstead
Academy at the Lakes: Alex Gittens; Anclote: Marlena Sweeney; Central: Christina Lewis, Evelyn Anderson; Fivay: Meghan Tate; Gulf: Jalena Hawkins, Lyndsey Hetrick, Syann Julian; Hernando: Arianna Tankersley; Land O’Lakes: Sarah Nichols, Makala Canada; Mitchell: Ashley Lewis, Hannah Kriston; Nature Coast: Rita Jarque; Pasco: Ashley Webster, Tranisha Harmon; Ridgewood: Breanna Schooler, Mary Kujak; River Ridge: Jalynn Hoolihan; Springstead: Hailey Enjeneski; Wesley Chapel: Tiffany Echeverria; Wiregrass Ranch: Beliz Esen; Zephyrhills: Aaliyah McKenzie, Aaliyah Norton
Coach of the year
Karim Nohra, Academy at the Lakes: His Wildcats lost two of their best players but still found a way to get back to Lakeland. AATL’s 26-3 record and run to the Class 2A state title game included wins over Plant, Wiregrass Ranch and Tampa Catholic.