No matter how the Florida High School Athletic Association cuts it, Class 7A men’s basketball seems destined to have an Orlando “District of Doom.”
This year’s upgrade, announced in September, makes District 5 murderous again, but with a new twist.
Oak Ridge (21-8 last season), Olympia (21-8) and Windermere (21-7), all in the top eight of SourceHoops’ preseason 7A top-10 rankings, are now in the neighborhood of killers.
A year ago it was 2021 state champion Dr Phillips, Windermere and Olympia who pulled together and the district tournament was a trap for favorites. Third-seeded Olympia knocked out No. 2 Windermere in the semis and stunned the top-seeded DP in the final.
More gore is likely this season, but the FHSAA’s inclusion of general teams at least ensures that highly rated teams get a second chance in regional play.
But could the best team in the best district in the state still be doomed? Lake Worth (21-4), which SourceHoops ranks No. 2 behind defending champion and heavy favorite Miami Columbus (29-2), was moved to Region 2 alongside No. 3 Oak Ridge, No. 5 Olympia , No. 8 Windermere and No. 9 Port St. Lucie Centennial.
That’s half of the top 10 in any of the four regions. Only area champions make it to Lakeland.
It’s a major storyline heading into a season that kicks off today and quickly ramps up with the 28-game Earl Graham Memorial Metro vs Florida Challenge being played Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday – around the day of Thanksgiving.
Here’s another big question: Can 10-time state champion Orlando Christian Prep continue to display 2A title banners after losing two top prospects to national powers?
A look at the best teams in the Orlando area in each ranking:
Oak Ridge stayed near the top with a very young team in 2021-22. Now Tyler Davis (6-6, Jr.), Jalen Reece (5-11, Soph.), Tyler Johnson (6-5, Jr.) and Elijah Elliott (6-3, Jr.) are veterans – and 6-8 sophomore Amari Davis becomes a force. As if that weren’t enough, they’re joined by UCF commit Cameron Simpson (6-6, Jr.), who transferred from CFCA, and do-it-all Jordan Tilery (6-5, Jr.) who left DP. The Pioneers, state champions in 2018, are ready for at least two years in the championship.
Olympia has nearly unstoppable guard EJ “Jizzle” James (6-3, Sr.) running the show with Kevins Charles (6-5, Sr.) also back. Transfers DP Carter McDole (6-5, Jr.) and Cam Miles (6-2, So.) make the Titans go deeper.
Windermere would have been in the national rankings if Duke signee Sean Stewart (6-8, Sr.) hadn’t transferred to Montverde Academy. The Wolverines are still very talented with Chalier Torres (6-3, Jr.), Jalen Debose (6-2, Sr.) and the addition of Cole White (6-7, Sr.) from Montverde Academy and the flash Taveon. Jones (5-7, Jr.) of CFCA.
DP (26-6), the 2021 state champion, has a rebuild in store for veteran Metro Conference coach Antonio Cunningham, who came from Lake Nona after Ben Witherspoon resigned and landed a job at the ‘UCF.
Apopka (19-9) doesn’t have big names. Philip Tepper (6-5, Sr.) is his leading returning scorer with 8.8 points per game. But Blue Darters coach Scott Williams (522-305, 29) is still getting plenty from his lads and that could be enough for a 7A District 3 title.
Defending Lake Brantley District champion (25-5) has versatile forward Eric Vandendriessche (6-5, Sr.). Evans (20-10) fired two starters, Micah Blackmon (6-8, Sr.) and Jalen Escontrias (6-3, Sr.), from a regional semifinal.
7A-4 is wide open with Hagerty (19-9) and Winter Park (15-9) as both teams come out of winning seasons. The Huskies have a strong senior class led by Dawson Barr (6-4) and Andrew Broome (5-11, Sr.). Colonial (12-13) expects another sophomore jump under coach Gary McDaniel.
In District 6, area runner-up Kissimmee Osceola (20-6) starts three sophomores after a 19-0 junior varsity season.
DeLand (21-7) and Sanford Seminole (19-9), both district champions last season, are in District 2.
Wekiva (17-11) has four final aspirations after adding Hofstra commit KJ Robinson (6-3, Sr.) to a heavyweight roster that includes Malachi Hampton (6-6, Sr.) and Vophcy Prophete (6-4 , Jr.).
Edgewater (14-14), Lake Minneola (17-9) and South Lake (16-8) offer competitions in District 6.
The Eagles beat Wekiva to a district crown last season and despite losing excellent senior guard Jaylen Smith to West Oaks, they still have a deadly backcourt with Erik Taylor (6-1, Jr.) and Darius Washington III (6-3, So.).
Lake Minneola fired leading scorer Dylan Diaz (6-2, Sr.) and other key players.
Oviedo (21-7), along with Ryan Blount (6-5, Jr.), is the team to beat in District 5.
Jones (21-8) made it to the last four in the freshman year for coach Travis Aikens and brought home a cargo. Savvy guard Jalen Cole (6-2, Sr.) and Calvin Liptrot (6-3, Jr.) are the top returning scorers.
SourceHoops ranks the Tigers No. 2 in 5A, behind only Riviera Beach Suncoast.
Leesburg (19-8), the defending District 5 champion, has excellent senior Camerin James (6-5) and high hopes.
Jones plays indie powerhouse West Oaks Friday Night as part of the Florida Get Down showcase at the Grand Avenue Neighborhood Center in Orlando
Kissimmee Gateway (18-9) shares District 7 with Jones.
Pine Ridge (19-8) is in District 4.
Lake Highland Prep (25-4) is 100-39 with five consecutive district titles and two last four appearances under coach Ben Fratrik. Junior guards Julian Clarke and Kellan Lewis are looking to keep the program going.
Area semifinalist Windermere Prep (20-8) fired just one starter, senior Mason Williams, but added a few new pieces, including Chandler Watts (6-5, Jr.) and rookie of 7 feet Sinan Huan from China.
The Lakers lead District 6, which includes Trinity Prep (14-12), improved First Academy (12-13) and Foundation Academy (15-9), which could make some noise with pro baseball prospect Braden Holcomb back to basketball as a senior. alongside Jacob Crain (6-3, Jr.). TFA’s first win gives Chris Mayberry (399-179) his 400th career coaching win.
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Master’s Academy (14-12), with Zion Mitchell (6-2, Jr.) on a roster packed with guards, is a District 4 favorite.
Three-time defending state champion Orlando Christian Prep (26-4) lost two major college prospects to the national academy powerhouses, with Jayden Hastings senior landing 6-9 at IMG Academy and second Mikel Brown Jr. going to Sunrise Christian from Kansas. But the closet is never empty for a program that’s been 82-6 in those three championship years.
The Warriors have Ameer Ramadan (6-0, Jr.) in point and Isaiah Brown (6-3, Jr.) ready for a breakout season. They added physical guard Sean Combs (6-1, Sr.) from Osceola and have some size.
Central Florida Christian Academy (24-5), which leaves with a promising cast of newcomers, finds itself in District 7 with OCP. And District 6 favorite Mount Dora Christian (26-2) again shares Region 2 with those Orange County powers. This also includes City of Life Christian (20-8) from District 8.
CFCA gained one of the region’s top playmakers in Eduardo Placer (6-5, Sr.) who previously played for Master’s Academy and Windermere Prep.
Veteran Mount Dora coach Christian Steven Hayes (436-159) said he has his best offensive team. The Bulldogs’ best returning players are Navy football rookie Isaiah Bryant (5-10, Sr.) and Kevin Frederick (6-5, Sr.).
This report was first published at Orlandosentinel.com. Buddy Collings, Academic Content Editor, can be contacted by email at [email protected].