The Rock School to Host Boys Basketball State Championship
The 2014 State Tournament for the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association is right around the corner. Some, or possibly many, would argue that this will be the most competitive state tournament in the state of Florida and possibly in the country. The level of talent on the court and sidelines puts this year’s event in the “Must See” category.
The Florida High School Athletic Association has a great state tournament for boys basketball. But when they expanded and added two more divisions (7A and 8A) several years back, the density of talent and competition in each classification got diluted. That will not be the case for the SIAA.
With only 9 teams in the association participating in boys basketball, it doesn’t sound like a deep or talent filled pool. But the regular season competition throughout the season suggests that this will be the most competitive state tournament in the SIAA’s short history.
Last year, The Rock was able to claim their first boys basketball state title, but the field only included 5 teams. But the league experienced some expansion and now boasts of the addition of several solid programs including Elev8 Sports Institute, Liberty Christian Prep, Tampa Bay Christian Academy, and Life Christian Academy. Of the 9 teams currently in the tournament, only Life Christian has a record below .500, meaning all of the other teams have fared well against opponents outside of the league within and outside of the state of Florida.
“The SIAA State Tournament is loaded with talented players and terrific coaches,” says Russ Wood of Rivals.com. “It’s your chance to check out tomorrow’s stars today.”
The event boasts of talented teams made of talented players. Of those players featured in the tournament, senior guard Brandone Francis of Arlington Country Day is the highest rated. Francis is a future Florida Gator and in ranked in the top 4 in the state of Florida (#3 ESPN.com, #3 sourcehoops.com, #4 Floridahoops.com) and is the #28 prospect in the country according to ESPN.com.
Among others ranked nationally in the ESPN100 are center/forward Anas Osama (#69) from West Oaks Academy and Dante Buford (#72) from ACD. Osama is a 7’2 big man that can move well and step out and knock down jumpers from behind the arc. Buford is a 6’8” high-flying combo forward that is bound for the University of Oklahoma. Osama is ranked the #4 prospect and Buford is the #5 prospect in the state of Florida by ESPN.com.
The 2015 class does not boast of a tone of top rated talent this year, but the sophomore class has one of the top 10 players in the country in the 2016 class. The Potter’s House center Udoka Azubuike has established himself as one of the best big men and players in the country this year after a summer of growth and maturity. Azubuike is ranked #10 nationally in the ESPN25 and #1 in the state by ESPN.com (#3 by sourcehoops.com and #4 by floridahoops.com).
The SIAA has several talented teams that all have a legitimate shot at winning the state title this year. Of those always in the discussion is ACD, “ACD is excited as we attempt to win our 7th state championship,” says head coach Rex Morgan. “This year’s state field has the best teams 1-8 in the USA. Last year’s state championship final had 11 (NCAA) Division 1 players.” Not too many associations can speak to that level of talent in an entire event, let alone one game. And what is exciting about this year’s event is that you don’t have to wait until the final in order to see quality Division 1 talent squaring off.
Here is a list of players within the SIAA who have already signed to play Division 1 basketball next year: Troy Holston – South Florida (#14 in state sourcehoops.com), Isaiah Manderson – Oregon State (#17 ESPN.com), Mitchell Willbekin – Tulsa (#29 ESPN.com), Brandone Francis – Florida, Dante Buford – Oklahoma, Dan Manzi – UT-Pan America (#18 sourcehoops.com), Nate Mason – Minnesota (#12 ESPN.com), DJ Clayton – Western Kentucky (#25 sourcehoops.com), KJ Maura – Abilene Christian (77 floridahoops.com) and Sidy Ndir – Texas A&M (#27 ESPN.com).
But that list only includes the players who have signed early. The list does not include the following players who are among those from the SIAA ranked in the top 100 in the state of Florida for the 2014 class by a variety of scouting services: Terrell Miller- ACD (#22 ESPN.com), Pape Diatta – The Rock (#19 ESPN.com), Malik Carter – Potter’s House (#35 sourcehoops.com), Jeff Garrett – Oldsmar Christian (#37 sourcehoops.com), Ladarius Chester – ACD (#40 sourecehoops.com), Chris Shields – ELEV8 (#45 sourcehoops.com), DeVaughn Jenkins (#18 ESPN.com), Keondre Dew – ELEV8 (#8 sourcehoops.com).
“If you are looking for high major talent, great coaching and national caliber teams, there is nothing like the SIAA State Tournament, “ states Sante Fe College associate head coach Carlos Villalobos. “It’s a must see.”
Among those from the class of 2015 ranked among the best in the state include: Eric Cobb – Potter’s House (#16 sourcehoops.com), Lamonte Turner – ACD (#13 floridahoops.com), and Reggie Reid – ELEV8 (#17 floridahoops.com). Those joining Azubuike among the best in the 2016 class include: Troy Baxter – The Rock (#6 ESPN.com), Eric Hester – Oldsmar (#6 sourcehoops.com).
“The participating programs consist of some of the best coaches in the state and a great depth of talent from across the world,” adds associate head coach Martin McCann of Palm Beach College. “A great location and 8 high level teams makes the SIAA State Tournament a hotbed for college coaches at all levels.”
Of those not mentioned are 7’4” – yes, seven feet four inches – Tacko Fall from Liberty Christian. The junior is enormous and learning to play at a high level. “He makes our centers and forwards, who are 6’7 or 6’9, look small,” says Justin Harden, head coach of The Rock School.”But the thing is, he has a real chance to be good. I am not excited to face him next year.”
Coach Harden may not want to face Fall next year, but he may have an even taller task this year as his team prepares for the state tournament. “I truly feel that there are 6 teams that can get hot and win this thing, and I may be unfairly discounting two other teams. But when you assess the talent of the players, the depths of the teams, the level of the coaching, I cannot foresee a winner – it’ wide open,” adds Harden.
The State Tournament kicks off Thursday March 6th at 230p with the 1 seed taking on the 8 or 9 seed (play-in game March 4th). The 4 and 5 seeds will face off at 4p with the 2 seed and 7 seed squaring off after that at 530p. The night will be concluded with the 3-6 match-up. It is expected that all four games will be competitive and likely decided by single digits.
It is also expected that this will be the best 3 days of basketball in the state of Florida – possibly the country.