Today a total of eight boys basketball games are scheduled to play at Forest High School in Ocala for the third annual MLK Classic.
“It’s the deepest field in the three years that we’ve had it,” said Forest coach and tournament organizer Spencer Ashley. “Columbia (Lake City), East Lake (Tarpon Springs), and Paxon (Jacksonville) were in the final four last year. It’s going to be a really good day for North Central Florida basketball.”
It wasn’t easy to put together the schedule. A total of three teams dropped out this week due to COVID-19, including Santa Fe (Alachua) and North Carolina State signee Ernest Ross, which canceled late Friday afternoon.
However, Trinity Catholic (Ocala) was able to replace the Raiders to keep the schedule intact.
Chiefland is facing Belleview in the opening game this morning. That will be followed by St. Francis Catholic Academy (Gainesville) and Dunnellon at 11:30 a.m.
West Port (Ocala) faces Lake Minneola at 1 p.m., and at 2:30 p.m. Trinity Catholic plays Wildwood.
At 4 p.m. it’s a pair of final four teams from last year’s Class 6A state tournament. Columbia (Lake City) will play East Lake of Tarpon Springs.
Columbia advanced to its first final four in over 50 years last year, while Tarpon Springs is currently the number one team in Class 6A.
“East Lake has some incredible shooters,” Ashley noted. “Columbia probably has some D-I football players that are playing for them.”
Vanguard (Ocala) plays Eustis at 5:30 p.m.
Then, at 7 p.m., University of Florida guard Tre Mann’s younger brother Nasir Mann leads The Villages against King (Tampa).
The final game of the day is host Forest (Ocala) against 4A state semifinalist Paxon (Jacksonville).
Forest (10-2) is led by 6-foot-8 junior Brenen Lorient, who has three Division-I offers “and a bunch of D-I interest” according to Ashley.
“He’s a 3-star on Rivals and he’s climbing the rankings,” Ashley said. “People keep coming to watch him. I get texts from high-majors every day about him.”
Elijah Russell, another 6-foot-8 junior for the Wildcats, has D-I offers in football.
The Wildcats’ opponent is ranked sixth in the state in Class 4A by MaxPreps. Forest is ranked 10th in the state in Class 6A.
“We’re off to a good start,” said Ashley, whose team missed some games in December when they had to pull out of the Battle at the Villages due to COVID-19. “We lost to two really good teams—Providence (Jacksonville) and East Lake.”
That’s why Ashley noted the importance of Saturday night’s game against a state-ranked team that advanced to Lakeland last year. There are no moral victories in their two losses.
“We played with both of them,” said Ashley, who noted the Wildcats have tough games coming up against Santa Fe (to air Tuesday on 106.9 FM “I am Country”), Columbia, Osceola (Kissimmee), and Palatka. “But we need to start winning some of these games. “If we’re going to make a run like everyone wants us to, like we want to, we’ve got to beat some of these teams, and I think it starts this Saturday against Paxon.”
The tip between Forest and Paxon is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.
Tickets are only $7 for eight games. No passes are allowed except the FHSAA state series pass.
Third Annual MLK Classic at Forest High School in Ocala – Saturday, Jan. 16
10 a.m. – Belleview vs. Chiefland
11:30 a.m. – St. Francis Catholic Academy vs. Dunnellon
1 p.m. – West Port (Ocala) vs. Lake Minneola
2:30 p.m. – Trinity Catholic (Ocala) vs. Wildwood
4 p.m. – Columbia (Lake City) vs. East Lake (Tarpon Springs)
5:30 p.m. – Vanguard (Ocala) vs. Eustis
7 p.m. – King (Tampa) vs. The Villages
8:30 p.m. – Forest (Ocala) vs. Paxon (Jacksonville)