State Farm City of Palms Classic

2010 Tournament teams

The 38th annual City of Palms Classic has a new title sponsor (State Farm) and one of the strongest holiday tournament fields in high school basketball history, rivaling the 2008 group that included the recent NBA Draft’s No. 1 selection (John Wall), eight McDonald’s All-Americans as seniors and six of USA Today’s top eight preseason teams.

A whopping TEN DEFENDING STATE CHAMPIONS, led by top seeds Alpharetta Milton (Georgia 5A), Las Vegas Bishop Gorman (Nevada 4A), Middle Village Christ The King (New York Federation) and Memphis Melrose (Tennessee 3A) will stuff the star-studded, 16-team national field in 2010.

The tournament also adds a new wrinkle: the debut of a four-team bracket called the “Signature Series.” Those exciting additions include Academy of the New Church (Pa.), High Point Westchester (N.C.), Southborough St. Mark’s (Mass.) and German power Ulm Urspringschule.

Likely McDonald’s-bound seniors Mike Gilchrist (St. Patrick), Quincy Miller (High Point Westchester), Austin Rivers (Winter Park),James McAdoo (Norfolk Christian), Rakeem Christmas (New Church) and Adonis Thomas (Melrose) will be joined by highly touted juniors Shabazz Muhammad (Bishop Gorman), Ricardo Gathers(Riverside) and Omar Calhoun (Christ The King). Two other high-flyers, Westchester’s Deuce Bello and Milton’s Shaquille Johnson, could collide with Muhammad on Dec. 21 in one of the event’s best slam-dunk showdowns in years.

“The City of Palms is probably the most family-oriented tournament in the country.”, December 2008 L

ikely McDonald’s-bound seniors Quincy Miller (High Point Westchester), Austin Rivers (Winter Park), James McAdoo (Norfolk Christian), Mike Gilchrist (St. Patrick), Adonis Thomas (Melrose) and Rakeem Christmas (New Church) will be joined by highly touted juniors Shabazz Muhammad (Bishop Gorman), Ricardo Gathers(Riverside) and Omar Calhoun (Christ The King). Two other high-flyers, Westchester’s Deuce Bello and Milton’s Shaquille Johnson, could collide with Muhammad on Dec. 21 in one of the event’s best slam-dunk showdowns in years. Here is a team-by-team preview of the 2010 Classic (updated Aug. 19):

Alpharetta Milton (29-4)


Milton could easily be the nation’s preseason No. 1 team. Experienced seniors 6-2 Dai-Jon Parker (19 points, 6 rebounds), 6-8 Julian Royal (15 points, 5 blocks) and 6-2 Ohio State commit Shannon Scott(5 assists) led the Eagles past Atlanta Westlake 56-46 in the state-title game, and are joined by 6-7 junior Evan Nolte (offers from Georgia, Ga. Tech, Oklahoma, Wake Forest, South Carolina, Virginia & Oregon State). That’s four high-major recruits who are returning from a roster that had no seniors! And they will be joined by 6-4 junior transferShaquille Johnson, already touted as “one of the most prolific dunkers in Georgia high school history” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Parker is considering Va. Tech, Northwestern, Florida State & Ohio State; Royal’s list includes Ga. Tech, North Carolina, UCLA, Georgetown & Northwestern). Guard Jordan Loyd (committed to Furman). Coach David Boyd, who won his fifth state title, became the first Georgia coach to hang championship banners at four different schools. He also won at Campbell (1982), Tucker (1996) and Berkmar (2000-01), and has gone on to win state titles in all three times his teams have played in a City of Palms Classic. 2009-10 NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 14, No. 19 ESPN/Rise, No. 21 USA Today.

2009-10 NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 14, No. 19 ESPN/Rise, No. 21 USA Today.

Arden Christ School (37-2)


The Greenies became the first boys’ team in western North Carolina to win more than three consecutive state titles with its fourth straight under coach David Gaines (320-70 in 12 seasons, five state titles), beating Charlotte Christian 78-59 for a school-record 37th win. Returning are three prominent seniors – 7-foot, 215-pound Marshall Plumlee (8.4 points, 8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks as a junior), who will join 6-10 brothers Miles and Mason next fall at Duke; 6-5 DeMarcus Harrison (considering BYU, Marquette, Clemson & Florida State), who averaged 11.6 points and 4.2 boards; and 6-4 Trevonte Dixon (9.2 ppg). Additionally, smooth-shooting 6-1 junior guard Rob Gray (22.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.3 apg) transferred in from Forest City East Rutherford, where he had a 38-point game as a sophomore (Jan. 5 vs. Burns). So look for Christ School (136-11 over four years) to remain among the nation’s elite while running its hyper-speed offense that emphasizes only 3-pointers and layups.

2009-10 NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 17 ESPN/Rise, No. 23

Chicago Whitney Young (23-7)


The Dolphins fell a single game short of repeating in Class 4A, but coach Tyrone Slaughter is prouder of his program’s 100-percent graduation rate over a five-year period. “I love who I coach. I love where I coach,” he says. Slaughter’s program sits atop Illinois prep basketball, with two firsts and a second during a three-year span and high-major recruits in every class – 6-7 senior Sam Thompson(committed to Ohio State), who averaged 12.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 3.9 apg and 3.6 blocks, joins 6-8 junior Jermaine Morgan, 6-8, 250-pound sophomore Tommy Hamilton and 6-8, 260-pound freshman Jahlil Okafor, a distant cousin of New Orleans Hornets center Emeka Okafor. Thompson will start alongside 6-foot senior point guard Kwai Pearson, giving Young a college-like look, as either Morgan or Okafor can team with Hamilton and a third returning starter, 6-7 senior Luke Hager, up front. Okafor, who turns 15 in December, has already been offered a scholarship by DePaul and doctors say he could grow to 7-3. The Dolphins overcame a late-season, three-game slide to reach the state-title game, winning the Proviso East Sectional and UIC Supersectional before avenging a 17-point loss to Waukegan in the state semifinals 60-58.

Elizabeth St. Patrick (24-3)

The Celtics will be making a record 10th City of Palms appearance since 1992 and are 21-10 in those trips. This time, they’ll boast’s No. 1-ranked senior, 6-7 Kentucky commitMichael Gilchrist (16.4 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 3.0 blocks) and a chip on their shoulder – St. Pat’s, ranked No. 1 in the nation until mid-January, missed postseason play because of a dispute with its state association. Gilchrist averaged 15 points and 7.3 rebounds for gold medal-winning Team USA at the FIBA U17 World Championships, torching Canada for 30 points and 15 rebounds in the semifinals. The supporting cast includes just five who were underclassmen on last season’s 14-man roster, powered by 6-3 senior wing Derrick Gordon (Western Kentucky), who scored 17 points in an 82-45 rout of Plainfield in the Union County title game. Other impact players include 6-1 juniorDaShawn Suber and 6-foot senior Chris Martin – a pair of transfer guards from New York City and Washington, D.C., powers Rice and St. John’s, respectively – and highly touted sophomores 6-9 Austin Colbert and 6-6 Jason Boswell. The Celtics’ three losses were all to nationally ranked opponents and each by a single point (71-70 to Findlay Prep, 65-64 to Newark St. Benedict’s and 79-78 to Oak Hill Academy).

2009-10 NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 6, No. 6 USA Today, No. 7 ESPN/Rise.

Fort Myers (28-5)


The Green Wave will bring a historic “first” to this year’s City of Palms Classic. After holding off a furious rally by Orlando Oak Ridge 59-57, coach Scott Guttery’s team became the first boys’ state champion from Southwest Florida – Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry, Glades and DeSoto counties – in any classification. However, Fort Myers graduated five of its top seven players, and 6-4 senior Matt Yance – who drained 6-of-12 from beyond the 3-point arc in the 4A Final Four – suffered an ACL tear this summer. That leaves only lanky 6-3 seniorEvin Graham (13.7 ppg, 4.6 apg), the Fort Myers News-Press’ Player of the Year, returning from the Wave’s historic title run. But seniors 6-3James Whitfield and 6-2 Theo Speas should provide outside depth, and 6-10 sophomore Rudy Zahorchak, 6-7 junior David Rowe and 6-5 senior John Therrian give them some size up front.

Las Vegas Bishop Gorman (30-2)


The Gaels rolled to their second consecutive Nevada Class 4A state championship, and fourth in nine years under coach Grant Rice (the school has won 15 state titles since 1960), beating Reno Bishop Manogue 65-52 and Las Vegas Canyon Springs 69-48. Yet Rice thinks his young team “will be better at four positions” this winter. High-flyerShabazz Muhammad (19 ppg, 10 rpg), a 6-6 junior whose list includes North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, Memphis, UCLA, Texas, Kansas & UNLV, has shown signs of becoming basketball’s next megastar, but Bishop Gorman features three other heavily recruited juniors – 6-8 Hungarian-born Rosco Allen (UNLV, Arizona, UCLA), 6-7Ben Carter and 6-7 Ronnie Stanley, a left tackle for the Gaels’ undefeated state football champions (gridiron offers from Arkansas, Cal & Utah) who had 14 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocks in the state semi. Another junior, 6-9 Demetris Morant, transferred in from Mesa Mountain View (Ariz.), where he averaged 11.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg and 3 blocks as a sophomore. Gorman won the prestigious Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., without the injured Muhammad – ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2012 by – playing a single minute.

2009-10 NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 8, No. 10 USA Today, No. 13 ESPN/Rise.

Memphis Melrose (36-4)


The Golden Wildcats had to beat league and district rival White Station an astonishing four times in 36 days before claiming the state title 75-70 in Murfreesboro. In three years, coach Jermaine Johnson has overhauled the Orange Mound community’s four-win program – in his words, “transforming the ’hood for good” at a school that once produced Memphis legends like Larry Finch and William Bedford. Melrose’s inner-city success story is the subject of an upcoming MTV reality series, produced by the makers of ESPN’s “The Life” and “Who’s #1.” Adonis Thomas (considering Memphis, Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee, UCLA & Kansas) – a 6-6 wing who is ranked No. 1 nationally in the Class of 2011 by The Sporting News and is a candidate to be valedictorian of his graduating class – had 19 points, 13 boards and 4 blocks in the Golden Wildcats’ first state-title victory in 27 years. He’ll form a terrific trio with seniors 6-2 Cedric McAfee, (Memphis, Auburn, So. Carolina, Miami, Arkansas & Missouri) and 6-4 Telvin Wilkerson (Arkansas, Iowa State & No. Illinois). But the ’Cats must survive the departures of highly touted seniors 5-9 Chris Jones, who transferred, and 6-4 Bobby Parks, Jr., who returned with his family to the Philippines.

2009-10 NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 9, No. 15 ESPN/Rise.

Miami Dr. Krop (24-5)


The Lightning was held to a season-low and made just 6-of-15 free throws in a 50-42 loss to Class 6A runner-up Orlando Dr. Phillips in the state semifinals, despite a game-high 23 points from tough senior guard Angel Rodriguez (21 ppg). But it was a breakthrough – the school’s first trip to Lakeland in six years under former Florida International head coach Marcos “Shakey” Rodriguez. Yes, that Shakey Rodriguez (579-91 in a 25-year career; 144-29 at Krop), the architect of Miami Senior High’s basketball dynasty, where he averaged 33 wins, won a City of Palms title (1991) and bagged big-school state titles in 1987, ’89, ’90, ’91 and ’93. Keep a very close eye on 6-9 centerTyrone Haughton, whose length and terrific motor make him one of Florida’s top five juniors, according to; promising 6-8 juniorDylan Karell and a trio of impact transfers – 6-foot guard Cody Mann (Miami Pace), 5-11 guard Leroy Rivera (Arlington Country Day) and 6-6 forward Brylan Kerr from (Miami Booker T. Washington). Angel Rodriguez, whose 39-point outburst led Krop’s 79-63 win over Miami Columbus for the 6A-Region 4 title, is the team’s engine. “When the game’s on the line,” says his coach, “he’s not going to let you lose.”

Middle Village Christ The King (28-5)


Despite the Royals’ storied history, a lot of observers think 6-4 junior shooting guard Omar Calhoun (14 ppg) could become the program’s best player ever – as his 20 points and 11 rebounds led CTK past Brooklyn Bishop Loughlin 81-78 in double overtime for its fifth CHSAA title and second in four years. Joe Arbitello (53-9 in two years as CTK’s coach) topped it all off with the school’s first state crown, knocking off Albany Christian Brothers 63-60 and city public-school champ Boys & Girls 52-49 behind Calhoun’s 20-point MVP effort. Seniors 6-1 Corey Edwards (considering Rutgers, St. John’s, Hofstra, Villanova & Auburn) and 5-10 Terrence Curry highlight a strong group returning around Calhoun (early offers from Villanova, Seton Hall, Pitt, Louisville, West Virginia, St. John’s, Rutgers, Virginia, Arizona, Miami, Vanderbilt & Oklahoma State). And look out for sophomores Isaiah Lewis and Jonathan Severe, who led the Royals’ undefeated freshman to a city title.

2009-10 NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 35 ESPN/Rise.

Norfolk Christian (26-4)


The Ambassadors won their last 21 games following a 46-38 loss to Bartow on Dec. 30, driven by James McAdoo, a 6-8 senior ranked No. 4 in the Class of 2011 by and, who averaged 22.5 points and 9.9 rebounds en route to the school’s first state championship. McAdoo strongly considered enrolling early at North Carolina this fall, but surprised coach Michael Allen with his decision to return (he’s still verbally committed to the Tar Heels). Nine of 12 players are back, including 5-9 junior point guard Michael Murray, 6-3 junior Kwontie Moore and 6-1 senior Dontrell Silver. McAdoo was “held” to 17 points in the 47-44 state-title victory over Cape Henry, but he had 34 in a semifinal win against Atlantic Shores. He also has the genes – his father Ronnie’s cousin is NBA legend Bob McAdoo.

North Port (21-4)

The young Bobcats emerged as one of Southwest Florida’s premier programs in coach Curt Allen’s second season, opening 14-1 and earning the top seed in Class 6A-District 8, but showing their inexperience in a lopsided loss at Port Charlotte and giving up 13 threes in a 47-46 district semifinal loss at home to St. Petersburg. Nationally known 6-7 Kasey Wilson (20.5 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 3 bpg) – one of Florida’s top five seniors, according to, and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Player of the Year as a junior – verbally committed to Central Florida after earlier pledging to Virginia Commonwealth, and is joined by seniors 6-4 Daunte Johnson and 5-9 Eric Litvin. Throw in battle-tested, 6-0 junior point guard Larry Taylor, and it’s easy to see why hopes are so high in southern Sarasota County. Wilson scored 17 points in a 76-58 loss to Jacksonville Andrew Jackson in a 2008 City of Palms Sunshine Series game.

Orlando Christian Prep (26-6)


OCP ended Jacksonville Arlington Country Day’s bid for a record sixth straight state title with a dramatic 59-54 victory at The Lakeland Center, the third consecutive 1A title for the Faith Warriors (106-15 during the past four seasons). Tough defender and 6-3 junior Jordan Montgomery (14 points), bouncy 6-4 senior Adonis Burbage (12) and 6-4 junior Isaac Cohen (11) starred in the win, and are joined by 6-1 senior glider Terral Merritt in a lineup that’s short on size but long on experience. It was OCP’s second win over the Apaches, whom they beat 49-47 on Dec. 12. Third-year head coach Reggie Kohn will look familiar to City of Palms fans for a reason – he was on the sidelines for Lake Howell in December 2005 and coached against future pros Brandon Jennings, Wayne Ellington and Gerald Henderson.

Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer (25-4)


Dreams of a Class 5A state title for Palm Beach County came up short after a 54-48 loss to Bartow in the semifinals. But Panthers coach Fred Ross will welcome back 11 players from that team, including leading scorer 6-4 Jacoby Brissett (15.2 ppg), guard Terrell Harris and 6-6 forward Greg Louis, who had 11 points and 11 rebounds in the loss. Rapidly improving wide-body Joell James, a 6-9, 240-pound junior, makes Dwyer a tough matchup for a lot of opponents, and sharp-shooting, 6-3 senior transfer Vic Adams (19.3 ppg) has returned from Cardinal Newman. Brissett’s 27 points powered a 70-57 regional semifinal victory at home over previously-undefeated Pompano Beach Ely, but he could easily miss the first-round City of Palms game – he threw for 1,982 yards and 26 TDs as a junior and could be leading the nationally ranked Panthers in the 4A state-title football game. Stay tuned.

Reserve Riverside Academy (38-6)


You’ll remember Baylor star Demond “Tweety” Carter from the 2004 and ’05 City of Palms Classics, and it was head coach Tim Byrd and 13 players from Reserve Christian’s four-time defending state champions who migrated down the street when the school closed last year to form Riverside’s roster. Two of the Rebels’ breakout stars are 6-7, 240-pound junior manchild Ricardo Gathers (19 ppg, 15 rpg) – who had 23 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 blocks in an 84-61 rout of Jonesboro-Hodge in the state title game – and 6-3 junior Louis Dabney. Gathers (considering LSU, California, Baylor & Ohio State) is ranked No. 15 in the Class of 2012 by’s Dave Telep, who calls him “one of the strongest juniors we’ve EVER seen.” Riverside will return for the ’11 City of Palms.

Santa Ana Mater Dei (32-2)


Since becoming the Monarchs’ coach at age 29 in 1982, Gary McKnight’s basketball dynasty has reeled off 27 league, 20 section, seven state and two City of Palms titles to go with an 860-78 overall record (18-4 COP). Mater Dei reached a No. 2 national ranking before bowing 71-63 to Los Angeles Westchester in last season’s state semifinals, and has reloaded for its sixth visit to Fort Myers despite heavy graduations. Prized 6-1 sophomore Jordan Strawberry or 6-4 junior Josh Cook could join 6-2 senior David Brown and juniors 6-2Eli Stalzer and 6-5 two-guard Katin Reinhardt – a target of many Pac-10 schools, including UCLA and USC – in the starting lineup. But Mater Dei’s next breakout star likely will be 6-6 junior Xavier Johnson, a Temecula Chaparral transfer and an all-CIF selection as a soph. The new wave also includes two fabulous freshmen, 6-5Shaqquan Aaron, described by veteran LA Times sportswriter Eric Sondheimer as “a Kevin Durant in the making,” and 6-6 Stanley Johnson.

NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 9 ESPN/Rise, No. 11, No. 13 USA Today.

Winter Park (29-6)


Two-time unanimous City of Palms MVP Austin Rivers (23 points), now ranked No. 1 nationally in the Class of 2011 by and, led the Wildcats past Orlando Dr. Phillips 76-57 for the school’s first state title. Coach David Bailey (108-21 in four seasons) loses seven seniors, but does return 6-2 Brett Comer, a Florida Atlantic commit, and has added 6-3 sharp-shooting seniorAustin Keel and state top-25 junior 6-4 Billy Williams, who transferred from Winter Springs and Orlando Evans, respectively. The addition of two other juniors, 6-8 Michael Merlano (who logged backup minutes at Raleigh Word of God as a soph) and 6-7 Josh Powell, solidifies a Wildcat team that has beaten five national top-10 teams in two magical years at the City of Palms. The confident Rivers (considering Duke, North Carolina & Kansas), a 6-4 senior and the son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, reopened his recruitment after earlier pledging to Florida. He has already amassed 2,002 points and produced two of the eight highest-scoring games in the 37-year history of the City of Palms – netting 46 in a nationally-televised, 91-87 third-place victory over Marietta Wheeler in 2008, and 45 in a 75-60 semifinal conquest of Newark St. Benedict’s in 2009. His 37 fueled Winter Park’s 82-72 win over Christ School in the postseason ESPN/Rise National High School Invitational at Coppin State. This summer, he led the United States’ U18 national team to the FIBA Americas championship (averaging 20.2 ppg) and Each 1 Teach 1 to the AAU Super Showcase crown, scoring 24 points in the final.

2009-10 NATIONAL RANKINGS: No. 11 USA Today, No. 11 ESPN/Rise, No. 13

Signature Series (Dec. 20-22)

Academy of the New Church (12-12)

Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania

Lions seniors 6-9 Rakeem Christmas (verbally committed to Syracuse) and 6-11, 225-pound Malcolm Gilbert (Pittsburgh), along with gifted 6-6 junior Savon Goodman (Villanova, Penn State, Pitt & Texas) – who had college coaches buzzing in Las Vegas this summer – could easily form the most physically imposing frontcourt in the country. “Philadelphia has a great basketball tradition,” former Memphis assistant Lamont Peterson told MaxPreps. “But I don’t know if this area has ever had a high school frontcourt like this.” New Church, a private Christian school located 15 miles north of Philadelphia, returns as many as 12 of its 14 players and the athletic, shot-blocking Christmas (13 ppg, 7 rpg) – ranked No. 10 in the Class of 2011 by – has a huge upside. Goodman averaged 17.5 ppg, but ANC was denied a fourth straight Friends School League championship, losing 71-64 to Friends Central in the semifinals, despite Christmas’ 22 points. The mediocre record was a product of a brutal schedule – three losses to Friends, and one each to St. Benedict’s, St. Anthony, Penn Wood and Plymouth Whitemarsh.

St. Mark’s (23-6)


The Lions won 19 consecutive games, before falling 55-43 to unbeaten Lawrence Academy for the NEPSAC title. The team’s late-season tear – a 14-1 mark in the Boston-area Independent School League and an 80-78 thriller against Winchendon Prep at the National Prep Invitational – coincided with the improvement of 6-8 Alex Murphy (considering Kansas, Arizona, Ga. Tech & Florida) and increasingly productive 7-foot, 220-pound Kaleb Tarczewski (Kansas, Providence, Georgetown, Indiana, Boston College, West Virginia, Wake Forest, Ga. Tech & Arizona) ranked Nos. 1 and 4, respectively, in Massachusetts’ junior class (New England Recruiting Report). The addition of Grassroots Canada product Nik Stauskas, a 6-6 junior wing, makes St. Mark’s even better, while Eli Lubick, a 6-4 junior, has committed to Colgate. St. Mark’s, with approximately 325 students, was founded in 1865. Coach Dave Lubick’s teams won NEPSAC Class C titles in 2006, ’08 and ’09.


Ulm, Germany

Coach Ralph Junge has built a powerhouse at the self-described “small, tranquil” Urspring Basketball Academy, winning three German U19 titles since 2007, while sending 15 players to American colleges since 2002. Urspring, a five-time national high school champion, has participated in the Iolani Classic (Honolulu) and the Arby’s Classic (Bristol, Tenn.), and split four games at the 2007 Amare Stoudemire Invitational in Lakeland. The team’s most talented players are a pair of wing guards – 6-3 Malik Muller (high-major interest, including UConn) and 6-5 Kevin Bright (Iowa State, Nebraska). Muller, who turns 16 in October, had 21 points, five rebounds and two assists while earning MVP honors in April’s Jordan Brand Classic International game at Madison Square Garden. Muller’s 24 points (5-of-6 on threes), five steals and three boards helped the U17 Germans beat England’s U18 team to win the Haris Tournament in Manchester last December. Up front, 6-7 sophomore forward Gavin Schilling returns from Wilmette (Ill.) Loyola Academy, while 6-2 Mario Blessing is a mid-major level point guard. Urspring beat Paderborn Baskets and Alba Berlin to win last spring’s U19 national crown.

Westchester Country Day (27-2)


Many observers call 6-9 Chicago native Quincy Miller (considering Louisville, Baylor, Kentucky, Wake Forest, Kansas, UCLA, Marquette, Duke & Oklahoma) the nation’s most gifted senior, and he’s ranked No. 2 in the Class of 2011 by and No. 4 by After all, he averaged a robust 14 ppg and 9.8 rpg for the United States’ U18 team at the FIBA Americas Championship. But the truth is coach Pat Kahny’s Wildcats were already loaded, powered by ScoutHoops’ No. 32-ranked senior, 6-4 Quiddus “Deuce” Bello(Louisville, Clemson, Okla. State, Wake Forest & Tennessee) one of the nation’s fastest-rising recruits who scored 18 points in Westchester’s 66-64 upset loss in OT to Victory Christian in the state quarterfinals, 6-2 senior Ike Nwamu and junior guard C.J. Plummer. Two of Bello’s highlight-reel dunks have made their way to ESPN’s SportsCenter – a between-the-legs flush on Jan. 12 at Burlington Christian and a double alley-oop with Nwamu a year earlier.

Fort Myers Bishop Verot (19-11)


Coach Matt Herting has always found a way to win during his 11 seasons at Verot, and he did it again despite a 4-6 start. The Vikings beat rival Fort Myers Dunbar twice – once to win a sixth consecutive district title, again in the 3A-Region 3 semifinals – but were denied a second consecutive trip the Final Four when they were held to five second-quarter points in a 56-53 loss at home to Avon Park. Highly touted guard Quinten Payne has moved back to Illinois, leaving only 6-3 senior Nate Howard (9.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3 apg)) from last season’s top five scorers and meaning a pair of sophomore guards, 5-9 Mark Wagner (3.0 ppg) and 5-11 Brian Reeves (1.7 ppg), will take on much bigger roles.

Thomasville (24-5)


A trio of rising juniors – 6-8 Robert Carter, 6-7 Willie Clayton and 5-7 Trey Gosier – started as sophomores and led the Bulldogs to their second Class 2A championship appearance in four years, but Greater Atlanta Christian’s 77-65 victory ended a storybook season for Ben Tillman’s team. The 230-pound Carter (considering Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Ga. Tech, Texas, USC & Va. Tech) had 20 points and Clayton added 12 in the loss. Thomasville won all of its previous four playoff games by double digits, including a 69-43 dismantling of Jefferson in the state semifinals, in which Clayton had 25 points and 14 rebounds – 11 of them on the offensive glass.

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