Boys high school basketball season began Monday. A look at five teams and players to watch as the season opens.
Arlington Country Day: It is a transitional season for the Apaches, the first without longtime coach Rex Morgan in the system. While Morgan missed most of the last two seasons while battling cancer, he was an Apaches mainstay even through his health battle. Shaun Wiseman guided ACD last year, and Charles Cunningham is the Apaches new coach. Cunningham has significant college experience, serving in assistant coaching roles at numerous schools, including Arkansas State, Minnesota, Murray State, UNLV and USF. ACD has an entirely new team, with no returnees from 2015-16. Combo guard Andy Jackson and PG Qieon Williams are two to watch early in a lineup that is guard-heavy. There is height available, Cunningham said, but injuries have negated that.
Jackson: The Tigers were stopped in the state playoffs a season ago by eventual state champion Bolles. The roles shift this time, with Jackson and coach James Collins opening as the favorite in District 3-5A. The Tigers lost a good bit to graduation, but they’ve rarely had lulls, even with younger players transitioning to full-time roles. G Keshawn Curry (14.7 ppg) is front and center as the Tigers’ top player. F Duane Bradley is back to anchor to post (6.7 rpg). Jackson doesn’t have the height that some of its opponents will have, but that shouldn’t matter in the long haul. If the Tigers evolve as they have in the past, they’ll be able to offset that lack of height with speed and production from its cast of guards.
Providence: The Stallions are always a preseason pick to do big things, and this season is no different. While it doesn’t have the Big Three that it had in 2014-15 during its last state championship season, this team has the potential to be just as good, albeit, in a totally different way. They should be deeper and more explosive than they were a season ago when they finished 21-9 and lost in the regional finals. PG Zackery Bryant could be the best overall player in the area. He averaged 20.3 ppg last season, and broke Grayson Allen’s single-season school scoring record in the process. Guards Jacorie Archie and Kyle Marion are back. Junior G Will Erickson and senior G Tyler Perez are 6-6 and 6-5, respectively. Paxon transfer F Nieja Jordan and F Ahren Freeman (from Bishop Snyder) give Providence significant help on both ends of the court. This team has championship-level potential in Class 4A.
Potter’s House: The Lions are an annual contender in the SIAA, although their lineup will look a bit different for the first time in years. With the graduation of C Udoka Azubuike, Potter’s House will be more of a perimeter-based offense. The Lions bring back 6-7 wing D.J. Russell and 5-8 G Mike McDougal, added Wolfson transfers, G Tyriek Railey (18.5 ppg) and F Charlie Daniels, and 6-5 senior combo guard Hnric Murry from Orlando. There should be no lack of offensive production from the guards. There are solid young players in the fold, too, with 6-10 freshman C Peter Okyni among the more promising underclassmen to watch.
Ribault: The Trojans have a new coach in Claude Harold III and should open as the favorite in District 3-6A. They’ve made the postseason the last three years, and played for a championship as recently as 2014. There isn’t a ton of returning players, with the exceptions of PG William Easton and F Caprece Wells, but Ribault has an infusion of newcomers who will make this team very good right off the bat. Junior combo guard Devon Matthews has the potential to lead the team in scoring. Louis Dorsey, a 6-6 forward, will give the Trojans a big, scoring body in the paint. Senior G Deatry Lang was a very good scorer last season for Stanton.
F Caleb Townsend, Jr., Creekside: The second-leading scorer on the 24-6 Knights last season, he’ll be the offensive headliner for a younger team this year. Townsend (6-5, 195) averaged 10.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Teammate and junior PG J’michael Plummer returns to run the offense after averaging 9 points and a team-best 4.8 rebounds last season.
G-F Tyron Bond, Sr., Fletcher: He averaged 18.2 ppg last season, one of the top numbers in the area. While the Senators were just 12-14 last year, Bond returning gives Fletcher a good head start among Gateway Conference teams. He’ll be the focal point of this team as he was in 2015-16, although he picks up some help. Jackson transfer G-F Michael Young and Atlantic Coast transfer Cam Barnett should take some offensive pressure off. Look for more scoring from guards Anthony Evelyn and Jeremiah Payton, too.
G Jonathan Bryant II, Sr., Oakleaf: The third-team All-First Coast selection had a breakout season for the Knights, averaging 18.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. The big change for Bryant this season is doing more without F Nassir Little (transferred) alongside him. Oakleaf plays in what should be a hyper-competitive District 4-8A (Bartram Trail, Buchholz, Creekside and Fleming Island).
G Ryan Burkhardt, Sr., St. Augustine: The 6-4 shooting guard and UNF signee averaged 12.6 ppg as a junior and shot 32 percent from behind to arc. Those numbers should both jump this season for Burkhardt. He led the Yellow Jackets to a district title last season and will open this year as the favorite in District 3-7A.
F Gabe Merete, Sr., Bishop Kenny: The unquestioned leader of the Crusaders, the 6-6 Navy commitment will shoulder a far greater offensive load than at any time in his career. Kenny graduated a pair of first-team All-First Coast picks, including player of the year Christian Carlyle, who became one of the best players in area history. Merete averaged 7.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season as Kenny finished 28-4 and was the 5A state runner-up. It will take everything Merete and the Crusaders have to win a fifth consecutive district title in District 3-6A.