The high school boys basketball season started last week. Once again, there are teams capable of going far in the playoffs. Here is the breakdown in the first rankings of the season.
1. Tampa Catholic (0-0)
Last season: 24-7, Class 5A state semifinalist
This week: Tuesday vs. Sarasota Booker; Thursday vs. Hillsborough; Saturday vs. Orlando’s Windermere Prep (@Orlando Oak Ridge’s Breast Cancer Awareness Shootout)
Outlook: After falling short in four straight state final four appearances, the Crusaders have plenty back to not only get there again but possibly win it all. The five scorers, led by Kobe Knox (19 points per game last year) and Johni Broome (15.8), all return. Tampa Catholic will certainly be tested if it returns to the postseason. Of the known teams on the Crusaders’ schedule, all but one either made the playoffs or are nationally ranked. All three teams on this week’s schedule made the postseason a year ago.
2. Lakewood (1-0)
Last season: 27-4, Class 6A state runnerup
This week: Tuesday vs. Northeast; Friday at Orlando Montverde Academy
Outlook: The Spartans lost two starters from last team: Jermaine Phillips and Jalen White. The good news is that nearly everyone else from the roster in back, including UCF signee Jamille Reynolds and Oteman Delancy. Lakewood has already got off to a strong start by sweeping its two preseason games and beating defending region semifinalist Alonso 77-57 in last week’s Berkeley Prep Shootout. The big matchup this week is on Friday when the Spartans travel to take on national powerhouse Orlando Montverde Academy.
3. Seffner Christian (0-0)
Last season: 25-7, Class 4A state runnerup
This week: Tuesday at Lakewood Ranch; Friday at Jacksonville Providence School
Outlook: Last season, the Crusaders nearly knocked off three-time state champion Fort Lauderdale Westminster in the Class 4A final. A solid returning nucleus, led by juniors Mike Trigg and Willie Jones, gives Seffner Christian enough talent to make another run at a state title. The bracket will be tougher with Berkeley Prep joining the Crusaders in the same district in a revamped Class 3A. To prepare for the playoffs, Seffner Christian put together a challenging regular-season schedule, starting with the opener at Lakewood Ranch in a matchup of two state finalists from a year ago.
4. East Lake (0-0)
Last season: 24-5, Class 8A region finalist
This week: Tuesday vs. Seminole; Friday at Sunlake
Outlook: There is plenty to be excited about with the Eagles, who return nine of the 13 players from last season’s roster. The only setback came in the preseason when Jordan Hillmon fractured his finger; he likely will miss some time early in the season. The main attraction is Dionte Blanch, the reigning Pinellas County Player of the Year. Blanch, who recently signed with Murray State, scored 34 points against Sickles and added 29 against Anclote to lead East Lake to a pair of preseason victories.
5. Wharton (0-0)
Last season: 26-5, Class 8A region finalist
This week: Tuesday vs. Alonso; Wednesday at Wiregrass Ranch; Friday vs. Steinbrenner
Outlook: The biggest loss the Wildcats had to deal with in the offseason was the graduation of Darin Green Jr., the Hillsborough County Player of the Year last season who already is the third-leading scorer for UCF seven games into his college career. Still, the backcourt is in great shape with Carr Thiam and Gio Reyes taking on more prominent roles as scorers and leaders.
6. Anclote (0-0)
Last season: 20-6, Class 6A region quarterfinalist
This week: Tuesday vs. Hudson; Wednesday vs. Sunlake
Outlook: The Sharks were a depleted bunch in the preseason. Jakob Hester was out with a sprained meniscus and Jalen Cooper and Diontray Manuel both nursing sprained ankles. All three are expected to be back in the lineup either this week or next. Anclote will have as much height as anyone in the area with five players who are 6-foot-4 or taller. Cooper and Hester are both Palm Beach Atlantic signees who will be counted on for production as the Sharks try to make an even deeper run in the playoffs after getting knocked out in the region quarterfinals last season.
7. Berkeley Prep (3-0)
Last season: 19-9, Class 5A region semifinalist
This week: Wednesday at Cypress Creek
Outlook: The Buccaneers swept their three games at the shootout they hosted last week, beating Bell Creek (68-18), King (66-30) and Gibbs (63-41). Varun Ajjarapu and Kegan Karnes were among the players who stood out for Berkeley Prep. The schedule now becomes significantly lighter. After Wednesday’s game against Cypress Creek, the Buccaneers have a 13-day layoff before their next game.
8. Land O’Lakes (0-0)
Last season: 24-3, Class 5A region semifinalist
This week: Tuesday at Gulf, Friday vs. River Ridge
Outlook: The Gators did a lot of good things last season. They had a 16-game win streak and advanced to the region semifinals. The pieces are still in place to build off that success, chief among them the return of guards Chase Farmer and Mekhi Perry. The schedule includes mostly Pasco County teams the first three weeks of the season. The real test comes at the Nature Coast Christmas Tournament Dec. 27-29.
9. Sickles (0-0)
Last season: 11-15
This week: Tuesday at Steinbrenner, Friday vs. Strawberry Crest
Outlook: The Gryphons got a boost with the offseason addition of Dillon Mitchell, a 6-foot-7 forward who transferred from Alonso. Mitchell recently picked an offer from Texas A&M. He teams with Zach Johnson, Gary Jones III and Javohn Thomas on what already was a talented starting lineup.
10. St. Petersburg (1-0)
Last season: 24-5, Class 8A region semifinalist
This week: Tuesday vs. St. Petersburg Catholic; Friday vs. Gibbs
Outlook: The Green Devils are going through some rebuilding after graduating so many elite prospects the past few years. Still, there is talent and the potential for another deep playoff run. On Monday, St. Petersburg opened the season with an 83-61 win over Pinellas Park. The big matchup, at least this week, comes on Friday against rival Gibbs.
11. Gibbs (0-1)
Last season: 17-11, Class 6A region semifinalist
This week: Friday at St. Petersburg, Saturday vs. Lakeland Kathleen
Outlook: Much like last season, the Gladiators are having to compensate for the temporary loss of leading scorer Tre Gilliam, who is out with an injury to his shin. To fill the void, Gibbs will rely on Bryce Brown, Marcus Calvin, Marcus Lloyd and Chris Levy.
12. Hillsborough (0-0)
Last season: 28-3, Class 6A state semifinalist
This week: Tuesday at Bloomingdale, Thursday at Tampa Catholic
Outlook: The Terriers were hit hard by graduation, losing nine players who helped the program advance to the state semifinals the past two seasons. With six freshmen and sophomores on the roster, Hillsborough will have to turn to Tyriq James, the team’s top returning scorer, for leadership.
13. Tampa Prep (0-0)
Last season: 21-8, Class 4A region quarterfinalist
This week: Tuesday at Bishop McLaughlin, Thursday vs. Bell Creek Academy, Friday vs. Academy at the Lakes
Outlook: Terrapins coach Joe Fenlon, who was inducted into the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame earlier this year, had to find a replacement for last year’s leading scorer, Jaren Phillips, who graduated. Fortunately, the offense was balanced and there are plenty of others that can produce, including Gabriel Sharp (13.4 points per game last year) and Jaden Gray (12 points per game).
14. Seminole (1-0)
Last season: 14-10
This week: Tuesday at East Lake, Friday at Countryside, Saturday at Lakeland Victory Christian
Outlook: The Warhawks got off to a strong start, beating Palm Harbor University last week 74-38. The schedule gets much this week with games Pinellas County rivals East Lake on Tuesday and Countryside on Friday.
15. Calvary Christian (1-1)
Last season: 16-10
This week: Tuesday vs. Northside Christian, Friday at Lakewood Ranch, Saturday vs. Orlando Jones (@Orlando Oak Ridge’s Breast Cancer Awareness Shootout)
Outlook: After coming up short in the district tournament last season, the Warriors beefed up their schedule to prepare for what they will face once the regular season ends. It shows with a tough weekend stretch that includes games Lakewood Ranch and Orlando Oak Ridge. Calvary Christian has the lineup, led by forward Josh Berenbaum, to handle those games. On Monday, Berenbaum had a team-high 15 points in an 82-22 win over River Ridge.
On the bubble
Clearwater (1-0), Plant (0-0), Tampa Bay Tech, Jesuit (2-0), Nature Coast Tech (0-0), Wesley Chapel (0-0), Springstead (1-0), Sunlake (0-0), Boca Ciega (0-0)