JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The boys high school basketball playoffs begin on Thursday night as area programs begin their quest to reach the state semifinals in Lakeland.
There are a few very interesting storylines headed into the state playoffs, including the winding down on one of the most prolific careers the area has ever seen.
But the big question is this — will the championship drought end this year for area teams?
There’s no clear-cut area favorite to win a state championship this year, but quite a few contenders are here. Can Jackson play its way through a rugged region to reach its third straight title game? Will Bishop Snyder follow its district title with a march through the postseason in Class 3A? Will this finally be the season that Impact Christian breaks through in 2A?
The area had three state runners-up in 2020, Hilliard (1A), Impact (2A) and Jackson (3A), but hasn’t had a state champion since a senior-laden Bolles squad won the 4A state title in 2016. The Bulldogs powered through an eventual first-round NBA draft pick in Tampa Catholic’s Kevin Knox in the state semifinals that year and beat Melbourne Holy Trinity 46-39 in the championship.
Knox is now in his third NBA season and it’s been more than 1,800 days since that title came home to Jacksonville.
Speaking of names to remember, West Nassau’s Deebo Coleman has continued to surge on the area’s career scoring list. He eclipsed the 2,000-point mark this season and is currently third in area history with 2,428 career points. He passed Wolfson alum Will Holloman (2,338) for third on the all-time area scoring list earlier this month. With a strong postseason, Coleman could make a strong run at No. 2 Chet Stachitas of Nease’s 2,505 career points. No. 1, Fletcher grad Myron Anthony’s mark of 2,738 is safe.
Thursday (all games at 7 p.m.)
Lake Mary (11-10) at Bartram Trail (13-13)
Oakleaf (12-11) at Sanford Seminole (14-7)
Region glance: The Knights have made the state playoffs four other seasons (2014-16, ’19) but are still in search of their first win. G/F Markel Allums (10 ppg) is one of four players who are averaging 8 ppg or better, and he leads the team in scoring. … Bartram Trail edged Oakleaf for the district title and gets the home playoff game as a reward. C Alijah Kuehl (17 ppg, 11.3 rpg) is one of the area’s top big men. He’s reached double figures in scoring in all but one game this season. Kuehl is a double-double machine, reaching that on the stat sheet in 13 of the 21 games that he’s played in.
Columbia (18-5) at Tate (6-19)
Daytona Beach Mainland (8-11) at Fletcher (18-9)
Fleming Island (17-10) at Ocala Forest (15-6)
Region glance: The Tigers will try and follow up two very good playoff seasons in 2019-20 with another deep run this year. Columbia went to the state semifinals a season ago. F Charleston Ponds (16.3 ppg, 6 rpg) and F Marcus Peterson (12.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg) lead the Tigers, who have won five state playoff games over the past two years, a number that equals the victory total from their previous 11 trips combined. … G/F Zyhir Sims has been on a season-long net-torching spree, but has elevated his game considerably this month. Sims is averaging 29.1 ppg in February and turned in a sizzling 35-point game against First Coast in the district semifinals to push the Senators to the postseason for the first time since 2015. Sims has scored 1,199 points in just two seasons. F Lajae Jones has six double-double games this season. He’s averaging 16.1 ppg and 7.7 rpg. … Wing Ahman Greenidge (12.2 ppg, 10 rpg) and the Golden Eagles hit the road for their playoff opener. Fleming Island has reached the postseason the last two seasons, reaching the state semifinals in 2019 and the regional semifinals last year.
St. Augustine (10-15) at Lee (17-9)
Parker (15-7) at Ponte Vedra (21-4)
Region glance: Interesting all-local region here. The Sharks have quietly put together an excellent season under second-year coach Kevin Whirity and Ponte Vedra is in the playoffs for the first time in the post-Bud Beech era. F Nick Pirris (15.6 ppg) and G Alex Madson (10.1 ppg) have led a consistent Ponte Vedra squad all season. The Braves have lost some close games to very good teams and have two very good players of their own in G Lokose Natana (17.7 ppg) and F Chris Victor (12.5 ppg, 11.8 rpg) have been solid for the Braves and coach Elijah Wells. For the Generals, the early graduation of star wing Alex Fudge (17.9 ppg, 12.2 rpg) didn’t torpedo Lee’s season. G Tarence Guinyard (17 ppg) has emerged as the leader, with F Jarrion Smith (9.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and Teron Haywood (8.9 ppg, 8.4 apg) elevating their play. For the Yellow Jackets, G Brakhel Burch (10.1 ppg), GF Dequan Stanley (9.9 ppg) and G Bradley Persson (9.9 rpg) lead a balanced attack.
Bishop Kenny (13-10) at West Nassau (17-11)
Paxon (19-7) at Bolles (20-4)
Regional glance: Arguably the best region in the area among local playoff games. The Warriors and electric scoring G Deebo Coleman earned the first home playoff game of his prolific career and will have to try and slow down a very good Crusaders squad. Speaking of Coleman, his record-setting career seems positioned to finish either second or third on the all-time area career scoring list. He passed Wolfson’s Will Holloman (2,338) in a Feb. 2 win over Fernandina Beach. With 2,428 career points, Coleman would need at least two playoff games with average production to move up another spot. Only Nease’s Chet Stachitas (2,505) and Fletcher’s Myron Anthony (2,738) are in front of Coleman. West Nassau edged Kenny 62-58 in a game last January. The Crusaders are always a challenging out in the playoffs. They’ve been at least two rounds deep the last three years and played for a championship as recently as 2016. G Daniel Buckley (13.3 ppg), G Ross Candelino (11.8 ppg) and F Gary Anderson (10.8 ppg) are Kenny’s top three playmakers. … Bolles and Paxon is another heavyweight tilt. The Golden Eagles have gone to back-to-back state semifinals and thundered through this region last year. The big change — those were with current UCF star F Isaiah Adams leading the way. Guards Quinnton Jackson (15 ppg) and Jakobe Williams (14.1 ppg) have powered Paxon throughout the season. The Golden Eagles ended Bolles’ run in the regional semifinals last season, but the Bulldogs are a year more experience. Guards Bobby Crouch (19.7 ppg), G Ben McGraw (15.3 ppg) and Richie Rosenblum (13.9 ppg) have been steady all season for Bolles.
Jackson (16-6) at Tallahassee Florida State University High (19-1)
Tallahassee Maclay (7-11) at Bishop Snyder (19-8)
St. Joseph (16-7) at Orlando The First Academy (14-8)
Region glance: Another excellent local region. The Tigers escaped Episcopal in OT of the district tournament but couldn’t get past Snyder in the district final. The Cardinals had never won a district championship before this season before edging Jackson (66-60), the No. 1 team in the Super 6. For coach James Collins’ crew to return to Lakeland, they first have to win their opener on the road against Florida High. The Seminoles have won 15 consecutive games this season and are a serious threat to reach Lakeland, too. Can guards Rickie Shaw, Jackie Simmons III and F Bryce Turner slow them down? For the Cardinals and second-year coach Russell Powell, this is the year to make something special happen. Snyder hasn’t won a playoff game before, but is poised to make that happen. A lineup powered by guards Jalen Gilmore, Austin Lewis, Justin Hicks and Trent Walker could be the area’s best. Wing Moise Balungu is a force everywhere. St. Joseph gets a shot at a tough opponent in The First Academy. F/G Mason Sword is the Flashes’ top player, scoring 11.7 ppg.
North Florida Educational (9-16) at University Christian (15-11)
Christ’s Church (14-9) at Impact Christian (16-8)
Region glance: A good chance that one local team from this region plays its way through to the state semifinals. Impact and NFEI have both played for state titles over the last three years, with the Lions going twice and Eagles once. UC reached the state semifinals for the first time in 2019. NFEI started strong this season but stumbled down the stretch in dropping seven of its final eight games. F Calvin Johnson (14 ppg) has been a multi-year standout for Impact. C Ivan Lawson (14 ppg, 7.8 rpg) is a two-way force for the Lions. UC has been led by G Kobe Denmark (11.8 ppg), F Royce Morris (11.3 ppg) and G Joseph Carter (10.9 ppg). For Christ’s Church, G Wallace Grissett and F Noah Cocker pace the Eagles. Impact has beaten Christ’s Church this season once (75-41).