High school basketball: ‘Hope’ for a full season at media day

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Lee's Alex Fudge (3) and Tarence Guinyard at the High School 9:12 basketball media day on Tuesday at the Riverside YMCA.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – High school basketball is right around the corner and Tuesday’s High School 9:12 media day drove that point home.

It looked and almost felt like basketball season.

Players and coaches, most all of them donning masks and neck gaiters, came out for the third annual media day at the Riverside YMCA. With travel ball over the summer largely wiped out by the pandemic, many players and coaches were getting reacquainted with one another and preparing for the crash course that’s about to begin.

Girls practice begins Oct. 26. Boys teams can begin Nov. 2, which overlaps with the tail end of the football season. It’s not the ideal calendar, but most coaches said that it beats not playing basketball.

Media day, however different it looked and felt with masks and fist bumps, was a little slice of normalcy in a wild and erratic year.

“These are small indicators that maybe things may go the way that they went last year,” said Paxon boys coach Toby Frazier. “… It does give hope that we’ll have a full season for these kids.”

Field for Fortegra event announced

The Fortegra High School 9:12 Basketball Invitational makes its third appearance this December at Episcopal.

On Tuesday, the bracket for the Dec. 10-12 event was unveiled.

Bartram Trail-Lee (12:30 p.m.), Atlantic Coast-Episcopal (2:30 p.m.), Camden County-West Nassau (6 p.m.) and Bolles-Fletcher (8 p.m.) are the opening round matchups. The 12-game tournament features some of the area’s best players, including Bolles' Bobby Crouch, Fletcher’s Zyhir Sims, Lee’s Alex Fudge and West Nassau’s Deebo Coleman.

Games are broadcast on 1010 AM and aired on CW17.

Two-time defending champion Providence is not in the field this year.

Speaking of the area’s best players …

Two of the top basketball players in the country play in the area and could conceivably face off in the Fortegra 9:12 High School Invitational in December.

West Nassau combo guard Deebo Coleman is rated No. 34 in the country by ESPN and the No. 3 overall player in the state. Lee forward Alex Fudge is ranked fourth in Florida and No. 57 in the state. Both are four-star prospects.

They’re also good friends who have been through the recruiting process together and done it during a pandemic. Fudge committed to LSU last week, sight unseen, due to official visits being off-limits for players during the pandemic.

“We’d been talking about possibly teaming up in college, but didn’t happen like we thought it would,” Fudge said.

“Being that I’m from Lafayette, Louisiana, it’s basically a home away from home so I couldn’t go homesick. And, also building a relationship with the coaches. Coach [Will] Wade did a great job recruiting and I felt like that’s where I needed to be. Following the year after [forward] Trendon [Watford] and Trendon will be a high major prospect going into the NBA draft so I feel I could come in and take his place and make an immediate impact.”

Coleman is poised to join the area’s exclusive 2,000-career point club this season. He enters the year with 1,797 career points. Coleman has named his top 11 schools — Auburn, Louisville, Ole Miss, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Wake Forest, Memphis, UCF, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Montana State — and will cut his list to three on Friday.

Coleman said the added exposure of recruiting has allowed him to get better with public speaking and feel more comfortable in the public eye.

“Just getting better mentally and watching more film of myself,” he said of what he’s done during the pandemic’s long months. “That’s the plan. I’m trying to be a McDonald’s All-American.”

She’s back

Jasmyne Roberts of Bishop Kenny is the reigning All-News4Jax girls basketball player of the year.

Her takeaway from a splendid junior season? Teams learn the most about themselves through the difficult times.

Kenny started out 1-3 and was just 9-8 by the first week of January. Not impressive numbers in the win-loss column. The Crusaders went 13-2 the rest of the way and played for the Class 4A state championship. Roberts was dominant in that season, averaging 18.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

“We take experience in knowing that adversity,” she said of last season. “It’s going to be a long season. We just know that we’ve got to keep working hard and to get to our goal, our record doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter when you get to state. So just keep working.”

Outside of Roberts, Middleburg center Skylar Baltezegar and Oakleaf’s Taliah Scott are All-News4Jax first-team selections who are returning this season. Baltezegar is working her way back from a knee injury and said that she hopes to return by midseason. Scott, who played at Bolles, will now play for Oakleaf, she said in a weekend post on Twitter.

More ‘unfinished business’ for Raines

Julius Paden’s Raines girls basketball team had the most impressive regular season among any area squad.

The Vikings went 24-1 in the regular season, won a pair of district games and a pair of playoff games, too.

Then Raines ran into Bishop Kenny in the regional final and saw the Crusaders win 53-47. It denied the Vikings a repeat trip to the state semifinals.

And now?

“I think the commitment level, the buy in, the motivation, the fact that we’ve got unfinished business,” he said of the theme this season.

Paden said that he doesn’t know what the incoming player situation looks like and has only seen a handful of his returnees play AAU ball over the summer. But the return of media day, Paden said, was a sign that the season is close. He can’t wait.

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