WEST PALM BEACH —
There are competitive athletic districts throughout the state of Florida, and then there’s 13-7A.
Four football teams in the Boca Raton-to-Palm Beach Gardens district won at least seven regular-season games in 2014, and two of them missed the playoffs. Among them? Defending state champion Dwyer.
13-7A is expected to be equally as competitive for boys basketball this season.
Palm Beach Lakes and Dwyer, the top two seeds, respectively, in last year’s district tournament, failed to advance to the postseason. No. 3 Royal Palm Beach was the district champion and No. 4 Atlantic was the runner-up.
Those four teams, plus talented Lake Worth, could contend for the district championship this season, though any team in the eight-team district could win on any given day, Eagles coach Brad Flaig said.
“It was definitely the toughest district in the state last year, and it can be one of the toughest this year,” Flaig said of 13-7A, which also includes West Boca Raton, Forest Hill and Olympic Heights. “There’s no doubt. There are four or five teams, and even all the other teams, that can knock anybody off. We have some good coaches there.”
Among those coaches are three who have won state basketball championships. Dwyer’s Fred Ross has won three state titles with the Panthers. Lake Worth’s Murray Smith won two with Cardinal Newman and one with Summit Christian. And Royal Palm Beach’s Rob Long won a state championship with Suncoast.
Veteran coaching combined with talent and chemistry often leads to success on the basketball court. But in some cases, luck and health play a role too.
“Nobody is so good that they just handle their top one, two, three, four or five players getting hurt,” Smith said. “You need a break too.”
“Anything can happen,” Flaig added. “It only takes one game. If you don’t bring your ‘A’ game every night, somebody’s going to knock you off.”
Dwyer’s Ross understands that better than most.
The Panthers lost guards Thomas Agnew and Rod Gaines to injury during the latter part of last season and struggled with consistency during the district tournament.
“We had a win streak going, and then we lost Thomas and Rod,” Ross said. “They came back at the end, but they weren’t the same.”
Staying injury-free could play a big role in who makes it out of the district this season, Ross said, but talent also will be key.
Dwyer, Lake Worth and Royal Palm Beach, considered the district’s top three teams heading into the season, return a handful of impact players and have plenty of experience.
The Panthers return four starters this year plus senior guard Jalen Huff, who missed last season with an injury. The Wildcats also return plenty of talent, including senior guard Travis Weatherington. And the Trojans added guard/forward Jeantal Cylla, a senior forward who transferred from Lake Worth Christian, to complement a strong supporting cast.
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Smith said. “You have good coaches and good players. Chemistry is a key.”