The P.K. Yonge boys basketball program has been a model of consistency in Gainesville.
The Blue Wave are seeking their ninth straight state playoff appearance in 2022-23.
Last year, P.K. Yonge (18-10) was a No. 3 seed in 3A-District 2 heading into the district tournament. They defeated No. 2 seed Bishop Snyder (Jacksonville) and nearly upset top seed and 3A regional finalist Providence (Jacksonville), falling 44-43 in the district championship game.
They earned the No. 6 seed in last year’s 3A-Region 1 Quarterfinals. However, they lost at Windermere Prep in the opening round of the playoffs.
Boderick Johnson enters his fifth season as head coach, one year after Billy Blackmon led the Blue Wave to the 2018 Class 4A state semifinals in Lakeland, where they lost to Master’s Academy (Oviedo).
“The expectations remain the same as always, compete for a district championship to advance into the state playoffs,” Johnson said.
The Blue Wave haven’t been in the state championship game since head coach Carlos Villalobos led the Blue Wave to the 3A title game in 2008 where they lost to Pine Crest (Fort Lauderdale), 69-50, and Florida Mr. Basketball Brandon Knight.
It was back-to-back state title game appearances for the Blue Wave, who lost to Florida Air (Melbourne), 68-56, the previous year under then head coach Mark Griseck.
P.K. Yonge, which has been a state runner-up three other times (2003, 1981 and 1980), did win a state title (2A) in 1991 under coach Randall Leath.
In order to return to Lakeland, it may take a team effort.
Following an 18-win season last year, the Blue Wave were optimistic about 2022-23.
However, P.K. Yonge’s top two scorers transferred, along with Seth English who went to Lafayette (IN).
Patton Pinkins led the Blue Wave in scoring at 18.3 PPG. He transferred to Texas when his dad, former UF men’s basketball assistant Al Pinkins, took a job at Texas Tech.
Jordan Richardson, the team’s second leading scorer 8.7 PPG, transferred to Buchholz.
With the loss of its top two scorers, the Blue Wave must spread out the scoring.
“We’re going to have to this season,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be scoring by committee, which I’ll take any day of the week so everybody can stay engaged on the offensive end. We’re going to continue to build that cohesion offensively, as well as defensively.”
Seniors Eli Harris (5.3 ppg, 4.1 assts, 3.5 rpg), Randall Robinson (6.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg), and Isaiah Cooper (4.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg) return after starting last season.
Senior Anthony Delucas, who finished with 12 points and four 3-pointers at Eastside, has worked his way into a starting role, along with senior Caleb Warren.
Plus, they added a key transfer in senior Moses Horne, who averaged 11.3 PPG and shot 37% from 3-point range at The Rock last year.
Horne has led the Blue Wave in scoring in their last two games with nine (GHS) and 14 points (Eastside), respectively.
“Moses has been a great addition, not just basketball-wise but for his character and fitting in with the team,” Johnson said. “We’re still kind of finding our footing and our identity. We’ve got new players stepping into new roles and responsibilities, and we’re getting there. We’re getting there slowly. By the time January comes around we’ll be right where we want to be.”
Robinson, who scored all 11 of his points off the bench at Eastside, gives the Blue Wave a dangerous sixth-man.
Sophomore Aiden Bell (6’5) and junior Alijah Bertrand, who were both on JV last year, provide depth.
Bell played football “so his legs are not there yet,” Johnson said, but Bertrand hit two fourth quarter 3-pointers at GHS.
“We’ve got some of our younger guys who are going to step into new roles, getting their identity, so when you come and see us in probably another five or six games, we’ll be a little bit different,” Johnson said.
After a tough early season schedule which has included losses to Potter’s House Christian (Jacksonville) and Cleveland (TN) at the Florida Get Down tournament in Orlando, and a 57-54 loss at rival Gainesville, the Blue Wave (1-3) defeated city rival Eastside, 52-37, on Tuesday to pick up their first win of the year.
“The guys are kind of relieved to get their first one in the books,” Johnson said after the game. “We looked back at the last couple of games that we played and tried to revisit some of the mistakes and we did better tonight.”
P.K. Yonge has another tough one coming up next as the Blue Wave host defending 3A state champion Florida High (Tallahassee) on Saturday at 6 p.m.
“We’ve still got to get much better in terms of preparation for Saturday’s game against the defending state champion, and they’re loaded again,” Johnson said. “But that’s what we put them on the schedule for to get better and to compete.”
The Blue Wave will also play Class 5A state runner-up Andrew Jackson (Jacksonville), defending 1A state champion Bradford (Starke), and they’ll compete in the prestigious Kingdom of the Sun tournament later this month.
“For this year’s group to be successful, they will have to compete every possession on the offensive and the defensive ends of the floor,” Johnson said. “There will be new opportunities for new roles to be established and our leadership will have to be strong. Once again, we will have a competitive schedule that will be a test every game as the challenges awaits us.”