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High school girls basketball players to watch in Tampa Bay

We spotlight 26 of the area’s talented players as the 2019-20 season gets underway.
Tampa Bay Tech's Janiah Barker was among the state's top freshmen last season. Can she lead the Titans to a second straight state title? [Times]
Published Nov. 19
Updated Nov. 20

The girls basketball season started Monday. As usual, the Tampa Bay area is filled with competitive teams and talented players. While there are good players on rosters throughout the area, here are 26 to watch as the season kicks into gear:

Jakara Akins, Sr., Keswick Christian

Height/Position: 5-8, G/F

The Crusaders won 24 games last season and Akins was a big reason why. She scored 14.4 points per game and also led the team with 7.3 rebounds. She will be counted on again this season on a team with several returning starters.

Janiah Barker, So., Tampa Bay Tech

Height/Position: 6-3, F

A power forward in the truest sense, she was named to the U.S. under-16 women’s national team in May and spent the summer playing with the team. Barker is one of the top players in the class of 2022 and a big-time Division I recruit. She averaged 12.2 points and 7.7 rebounds as a freshman.

RELATED: A freshman force on defense sparks Tampa Bay Tech

Kendal Cheesman, Jr., Plant

Kendal Cheesman enters her third season as a starter, giving Plant a veteran presence on the court. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

Height/Position: 6-2, F

Now in her third year as a starter, she averaged a team high 13.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Very good at taking the ball to the rim and shot blocking. She is the main target when the Panthers need points under the basket.

RELATED: A heartbreaker for Plant in the region finals

Honor Culpepper, Sr., Plant

Height/Position: 5-9, G

Missed just about all of her junior year due to a knee injury. She is a shooting guard who also isn’t afraid to go to the basket. She averaged nearly 15 points per game in her sophomore year when she was healthy and is a dual threat for the Panthers.

Mykaylyn “K.K." Davis, Sr., Seffner Christian

Height/Position: 5-7, G

Committed to Western Carolina, Davis averaged 9.1 points per game as a junior, her first year with Seffner Christian. She will be counted on as a long-range shooter now that Brylee Bartram (University of Florida) has graduated.

Jaela Davis, So., Brooks DeBartolo

Height/Position: 5-7, SG

Emerged as the Phoenix’s top player as a freshman. Scored just over 12 points per game and made 53 three-pointers. She is one of a trio of scorers, including Amarie Godwin and Triniti Youngblood.

Aryana Dizon, Jr., Carrollwood Day

Carrollwood Day'S Aryana Dizon, left, shoots over Miami Country Day's Koi Love during the state tournament last season in Lakeland. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

Height/Position: 6-2, C/F

Played very well last year as one of the first players off the bench. Scored 10.6 points and had 7.7 rebounds per game. She is another big player for teams to deal with.

RELATED: Carrollwood Day back for a third title shot

Anabel Ellison, Sr., Tarpon Springs

Height/Position: 5-10, G

A dynamic guard who is committed to Marist University. She is a ball handler who can shoot and go to the basket. Averaged 24.5 points per game as a junior. The kind of player who can take over a game on both sides of the ball.

Zoi Evans, Jr., Wiregrass Ranch

Height/Position: 6-2, F

Evans is a big target under the basket. She scored 15.3 points per game as a sophomore, the only Bull who averaged double figures. She will be just as valuable this season. She is a versatile athlete who also played volleyball.

D’Mya Ferguson, Sr., Clearwater

Height/Position: 6-1, C

A big part of last year’s team that won 20 games. She is difficult to stop under the basket. Averaged more than 10 points last season after transferring from Clearwater Central Catholic. Should have an even bigger role under first year coach Darian Dublin.

Tarriyonna Gary, Sr., Carrollwood Day

Tarriyonna Gary of Carrollwood Day drives during the fourth quarter of a game at Seffner Christian on Jan. 24. Carrollwood Day won 86-81 in overtime. [Times]

Height/Position: 5-9, G

She was the leading scorer for the Patriots last season with 13.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. She is not the tallest player on the court, but she is a deadly shooter. Also averaged 4.3 assists.

RELATED: Girls basketball: Carrollwood Day falls short in Class 4A state final

Kailyn Gilbert, Soph., Tampa Prep

Height/Position: 5-8, G

She had a monster freshman season with 30.2 points per game. A bona fide Division I talent who will once again lead the lead the Terrapins after an 18 win season last year. She can also play defense, with just over six steals per game.

K’Nisha Godfrey, Jr., Tampa Bay Tech

Height/Position: 5-9, G

Another key player on last year’s state championship team. She averaged 8.1 points and 3.4 rebounds. A good shooter and ball handler who is yet another offensive threat.

Kayla Grant, Sr., Wesley Chapel

Height/Position: 5-9, G/F

A top player on a team that won 22 games last season. She averaged 15.5 points and 10.7 rebounds as a junior. The kind of player who is aggressive on both offense and defense.

Kanesha Hall, Sr., Northeast

Height/Position: 5-7, G

Took over as the Vikings’ leading scorer last season with 20.2 points per game. She also made 46 3-pointers. Has been on the team since her freshman year.

Denise Hall-Papaleo, Sr., St. Petersburg

Height/Position: 5-6, G

Has the ability to take over games. She was a nice addition last season when she scored 16.9 points per game. Will definitely be a major factor this year.

Jasmine Peaks, Jr., Tampa Bay Tech

Tampa Bay Tech's Jasmine Peaks pulls up for a jump shot during the first half of the state championship game vs. St. Thomas Aquinas last season. [Times]

Height/Position: 5-6, G

Peaks is a 3-point threat who averaged 12.2 points per game for the state champion Titans. She is another key returner for a young team that won 29 games last season.

RELATED: No repeat collapse at state for Tampa Bay Tech

Nyla Jean, Jr., Plant

Height/Position: 5-7, PG

Another Panther who started as a freshman. Last season she averaged 11.4 points. Also made 27 3-pointers. On a team with several options inside, Jean is the player who can shoot over defenses and keep teams honest. Also a good defensive player.

Britney Lacerte, Sr., Gulf

Height/Position: 5-6, SG

A four-year starter, Lacerte is the main offensive threat for the Bucs. She scored 14.5 points for a team that won 16 games and averaged 45 points per game.

CC Mays, Sr., Seffner Christian

Height/Position: 5-8, G

Now in her second year with the Crusaders after transferring from Carrollwood Day. Averaged 7.2 points and five rebounds in 19 games last season. Committed to Marshall.

Morgan McDaniel, Jr., Weeki Wachee

Weeki Wachee's Morgan McDaniel tries to elude an American Heritage double team during last year's state tournament in Lakeland. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

Height/Position: 5-9, G/F

The Hornets were loaded with seniors last season, but McDaniel stood out as an underclassman. She scored 8.5 points per game on a team where she was not the first, or even second, option.

RELATED: A natural progression to state for Weeki Wachee

Weeya McGill, Sr., Carrollwood Day

Height/Position: 6-2, C

Committed to Texas A&M Corpus Christi, McGill is in her fourth year as a starter. She averaged 12 points and 8.6 rebounds as a junior. That average would be way higher if she wasn’t on a team with so many other scorers.

Tiasia McMillan, Sr., Carrollwood Day

Height/Position: 6-0, F

Another member of a loaded senior class, McMillan scored 10.6 points and had 7.7 rebounds per game. Very good at muscling her way to the basket. She is committed to Colgate University.

Brandi Willard, Sr., River Ridge

Height/Position: 5-5, G

She was named the Sunshine Athletic Conference West Division player of the year as a junior. Had to pick up the scoring slack when I’ces Utegg was lost due to injury. Scored 14.9 points per game and made 69 three-pointers.

RELATED: River Ridge’s season not on ice after key injury

Ices Utegg, Sr., River Ridge

Height/Position: 5-8, G

Missed last season due to a knee injury. She was one of the area’s top players as a sophomore and is back to full speed, according to River Ridge coach Joeyn Dearsman. She scored 20 points per game as a sophomore.

Macey Zeh-Arndt, Sr., Lakewood

Height/Position: 6-3, C

Had some injury troubles last season, but is one of the few experienced players on the Spartans’ roster. On a young team full of shooters, she will be a handful for defenders under the basket. Averaged 12 points per game last season and should be a reliable scorer again this year.


  1. Tampa Prep's Grace Langston (50), left, works to disrupt a shot attempt by Wesley Chapel's Mia Nicholson (12) during the game on Friday. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes
    The Wildcats lead early, then hang on to improve to 5-0 on the season.
  2. Cambridge Christian coach Bob Dare and wife Beth at the 2015 state championship in Orlando. BOB DARE  |  Special to the Times
    The longtime Lancers coach, who led the program to the state title game in 2015, will no longer be a coach or teacher at the school.
  3. River Ridge senior Brandi Willard is among the area leaders in points per game so far this season. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    Our offensive and defensive leaders for Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties.
  4. Academy of the Holy Names senior Madison Kurtz, right, gets congratulated by sophomore Nicole Sakre after scoring a goal in a 4-0- victory over Steinbrenner early this season. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    The Jaguars, who came up short at state a year ago, expect to remain energized and focused all the way to a title.
  5. Jalen Cooper is among a group of seniors on the Anclote roster who have been playing together since middle school. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    A three-point loss in last season’s playoffs spark the Sharks to strive for more.
  6. Seffner Christian doesn't shy away from tough competition, taking on a team that reached state last season in its season opener. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    The defending state finalist Crusaders rally from a 20-point deficit only to watch host Lakewood Ranch sink a free throw as time expires.
  7. Kanesha Hall, the first 1,000-point scorer in school history, on the court during Monday's practice at Northeast. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    The senior recently broke the 1,000-point barrier to become the school’s all-time leading scorer in girls basketball.
  8. Marcellus Crutchfield of Tampa Catholic runs down the court  during the Class 5A state semifinals last season in Lakeland. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    With a brutal schedule this season, will Tampa Catholic’s reign at the top last long?
  9. Carrollwood Day, an annual state contender, remains one of the top teams in Tampa Gay. MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Eight teams in our top 10 are undefeated.
  10. Lakewood's Artez Hooker (8) consoles Cornelius Mckenzie (10) after the Spartans fall 9-7 in the Class 4A state semifinals to Miami Booker T. Washington. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    One thing is certain: South Florida remains a hurdle for teams all over the state to clear.