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Ten Tampa Bay basketball players who starred in holiday tournaments

Winter break isn’t much of a respite for area high school teams, and these five girls and five boys ruled the court.
East Lake basketball guard Dionte Blanch (1) works to make a play while taking on Wildwood during the Sun Bash boys basketball tournament at Calvary Christian on Jan. 2. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
East Lake basketball guard Dionte Blanch (1) works to make a play while taking on Wildwood during the Sun Bash boys basketball tournament at Calvary Christian on Jan. 2. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Jan. 6
Updated Jan. 6

The holidays are over. So are the numerous high school basketball tournaments held throughout the state — and beyond — during the break. Local teams took home titles and some players made headlines thanks to their performances. Here are five boys and five girls who provided plenty of holiday highlights.

Boys

Dionte Blanch, East Lake

The Murray State signee led the Eagles to a pair of tournament titles and kept the team undefeated. At the Seahawk Holiday Classic in South Carolina, Blanch averaged nearly 20 points per game in three straight victories. The senior guard followed that up by averaging 23 points per game at the Sun Bash tournament in wins over Wildwood, Choctawhatchee and Paxon — all ranked among the top 10 in their respective classifications by MaxPreps. In the final, Blanch had a steal and layup to give East Lake the lead in the final minute, then had another steal to seal the win over Paxon. The Eagles (11-0) are ranked sixth overall in the state regardless of classification. They are the only area team ranked among the top 10.

Related: East Lake nabs Sun Bash title, delivers milestone to coach

Johni Broome, Tampa Catholic

The Crusaders stayed busy during the holidays, playing in three tournaments, including ones in South Carolina and Louisiana. Broome, a Morehead State signee, played well throughout and currently leads the team in scoring (18.7 points) and rebounds (10.7). His best performance came in a 70-56 loss to Scotlandville (La.) in the final of the Sugar Bowl National Prep Classic in New Orleans. Broome had 30 points and 13 rebounds in the title game and was named to the all-tournament team. The Crusaders (10-5) return to action Friday when they host rival Jesuit.

Max Jones, Clearwater

Clearwater's Max Jones (23) takes the ball to the hoop while taking on Sickles during the Sun Bash tournament. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]

The lone returning starter for the Tornadoes had quite the impact over the break, leading his team to titles at Haines City’s Wayne Gandy Holiday Tournament and the other bracket of the Sun Bash tournament at Calvary Christian. Jones, a senior, had 36 points to beat Anclote in the final of the Wayne Gandy tournament and came back with 30 points, including the winner in the final seconds, to squeak by Sickles in the opening round of the Sun Bash tournament. He has offers from Eckerd and Tampa, among other schools. Clearwater (9-1) has won six straight.

Jamille Reynolds, Lakewood

The UCF signee showed his efficiency around the basket during the Florida Prospects Christmas Tournament in Orlando. Reynolds had 17 points and 10 rebounds in both the semifinal and championship games, leading the Spartans to the title. The biggest performance was in the final, a 40-36 victory over Auburndale, ranked eighth in Class 5A by MaxPreps. By dominating inside, Reynolds was named tournament MVP. He is averaging 17.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and three blocked shots per game for Lakewood (9-2), ranked third in Class 5A.

Carr Thiam, Wharton

One of just three seniors on the team, Thiam has provided the veteran leadership needed to help the Wildcats stay undefeated (10-0) during the break. At the Nature Coast Christmas Invitational, Thiam stayed hot from the perimeter. His long-range shooting propelled Wharton to the final. In the championship game of the “A” bracket, Thiam scored a team-high 22 points in a win over Berkeley Prep and was named tournament MVP.

Related: Wharton remains unbeaten, wins Nature Coast tournament

Girls

Jakara Akins, Keswick Christian

The Crusaders (11-1) didn’t make the final of their holiday tournament, but they did come up with a marquee win. The tiny Class 2A school notched a 55-53 win over Class 5A Clearwater in the third-place game on Dec. 30. It was the first time Keswick Christian has beaten Clearwater in girls basketball, and Akins played a big role. The senior guard scored a game-high 23 points, which included a clutch 3-pointer down the stretch as well as the two free throws in the final seconds to ice the game. She also scored 16 points in the tournament’s opening win over Lakeside Christian. “When you have Jakara Akins you always have a chance,” Keswick Christian coach Karrmayne King said.

Related: Keswick Christian girls edge Clearwater in Suncoast Classic

Kendal Cheesman, Plant

Junior Kendal Cheesman helped Plant on the boards as well as in scoring during a tournament in Naples. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

The junior forward, who recently committed to Vanderbilt, played well in three games at the Naples Holiday Shootout on Dec. 28-31. The Panthers went 2-1, including an opening-round loss to Fayetteville (Ark.), their first of the season. In a win over Naples Barron Collier, Cheesman scored a game-high 15 points and had nine rebounds. In a win over Louisville Mercy, she scored 12 points and had 14 rebounds. On a Plant team (11-1) with several scoring options, Cheesman is the one who gets it done inside and that was on display over the winter break.

Mia Nicholson, Wesley Chapel

The junior forward played very well in the Hernando Holiday Classic. She scored 25 points in a 69-53 win over South Sumter and added 17 points in a loss to Eustis in the championship game. In that game, the Wildcats (14-2) lost Ariana Rivera-Heppenstall to foul trouble, Kayla Grant to a rolled ankle and Heaven Williams to a slight knee injury. But Nicholson kept them in the game until the end. Wesley Chapel coach Peter Livingston said Nicholson also played well at the KSA Holiday tournament in Orlando, where the Wildcats went 2-1. “She’s really finding her groove recently," Livingston said.

Related: High school girls basketball rankings for Tampa Bay

Dorothy Pickard, Academy of the Holy Names

Pickard, a senior forward, wasn’t always the leading scorer in the three games of the Jaguar Holiday Tournament. But she was all over the boards. She had a career-high 18 points and 18 rebounds in a second-round win over Bishop McLaughlin. In the opening-round win over Steinbrenner, she had 10 rebounds. While she was held to just six points in a final loss to Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic, she did add seven more rebounds and kept the host Jaguars (9-7) in the game until the fourth quarter. Pickard was one of five players named to the all-tournament team. Junior Angelie Pena, who had 17 points against Santa Fe, was also named to the team.

Related: Academy of the Holy Names falls short in Jaguar Holiday Tournament

Triniti Youngblood, Brooks DeBartolo

Youngblood, a junior guard, was named the game MVP for both matchups the Phoenix played at the SUTS New Year’s tournament in Coral Springs on Jan. 3 and 4. She had 18 points and 11 rebounds in a win over Homestead Keys Gate. Youngblood also showed her versatility in three games played at the Tampa Bay Christmas Invitational at Seffner Christian. She had 13 points and seven rebounds in a win over Marshall County (Ky.), and 12 points and nine rebounds in a win over Arlington Heights (Texas) Through 13 games, she averages 12.5 points and 8.6 rebounds for the 11-3 Phoenix.

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