Ridaught: Boys basketball starts Monday

Basketball on the court
Tothzoli001 via Shutterstock

Last year was a rare year for the Gainesville area in boys high school basketball as the three largest city teams — GHS, Eastside, and Buchholz — all missed the state playoffs.

A total of four Alachua County teams (Hawthorne and Newberry in 1A, P.K. Yonge in 3A, and Santa Fe in 4A) made the postseason.

Hawthorne (11-5) lost to Bradford (Starke), 53-35, in the Class 1A state semifinals.

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The Tornadoes (16-10), who advanced to their first final four since 1974, went on to win their first boys basketball state title in school history.

However, last year’s 1A Coach of the Year, Sampson Jackson, will not return as head coach. Plus, the Tornadoes move up to Class 3A and will compete in 3A-District 2 with P.K. Yonge, Trinity Catholic, Taylor County (Perry), and Interlachen.

CJ Ingram
Photo by C.J. Gish Hawthorne’s C.J. Ingram

Could that open the door for the Hornets, who return sophomore point guard CJ Ingram (14.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 5.7 apg, 3.1 spg) — a Mainstreet Daily News first team All-Area selection last year — and senior forward Jailen Ruth (9.3 ppg & 6.4 rpg)?

The Hornets graduated shooter Collin Haas-Parr and “energy guy” Jamal Nealy. Plus, second leading scorer and steals leader, guard DJ Slater, and sixth man sophomore guard Demetrius Brown also won’t return.

“With only two returning starters we’ll need some guys that were varsity role players last year to contribute right away,” said Hawthorne coach Greg Bowie, who enters his 16th season. “Also a few of the top players from JV last year are expected to play major minutes. We’ll have to play up-tempo and apply pressure all game to be successful.”

Don’t count out Williston, which lost a close game at Hawthorne in the last year’s regional semifinals, and return a few key players from last year’s 16-6 team.

For four straight years there has been a new champion in Class 1A (Bradford – 2022, Wildwood – 2021, Hawthorne – 2020 and Madison County – 2019).

After upsetting University Christian (Jacksonville) last season to advance to the school’s first district championship game in head coach Monte Towe’s tenure at Oak Hall, the Eagles are hoping to take the next step and win a district title (2A-District 4) for the first time since 2011 and advance to the state playoffs.

Sophomore forward Andrew Powell (17.5 ppg. and 6.1 rpg), an MDN second team All-Area selection, is one of three starters returning for Oak Hall (14-7), which finished with its highest winning percentage since 2009.

P.K. Yonge, which will compete in 3A-District 2, returns three starters from last year’s 18-10 team that lost at No. 3 seed Windermere Prep in the first round of the 3A state playoffs.

“The biggest challenge will be to replace the offensive production from the loss of our two leading scorers from last year’s team,” said Boderick Johnson, who enters his fifth season as head coach of the Blue Wave. “The expectations remain the same as always, compete for a district championship to advance into the state playoffs.”

Santa Fe, which lost to eventual 4A state runner-up Andrew Jackson (Jacksonville) in the second round of the 4A state playoffs, could be poised for its deepest run since a state runner-up finish in 2021.

Santa Fe's Dontrell Jenkins drives for two of his game-high 18 pointsin the 4A Region 1 quarterfinals against Gadsden County on Thursday in Alachua.
C.J. Gish Santa Fe’s Dontrell Jenkins.

The Raiders (4A-District 5), who won their second straight district title last year, return four starters, including one of the top players in the area in Don’trell Jenkins (17 points, 3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 2.7 steals per game).

However, first team All-Area Mason Brown (10.8 points ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.6 steals per game) left for Dywer High School (Palm Beach Gardens), leaving Santa Fe without a complete starting five.

“We will need someone to fill the void left by Brown,” said Santa Fe coach Glen Banks, who enters his second season. “We have several seniors who are ready to step in and fill that void.”

Eastside (4-17), which was young last year, will be improved and compete in the same district with Santa Fe, along with Keystone Heights, Suwannee (Live Oak), Palatka, and North Marion (Citra).

Columbia (Lake City), which will compete in 5A-District 2, missed the postseason last year.

However, the Tigers (13-13) return three starters, including MDN second team All-Area selection Isaac Broxey, who averaged 16.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, and 2.3 apg as a junior.

“I believe that we will have a much better season than last season,” said Columbia coach Steve Faukner, who enters his ninth season with the Tigers. “We have our core group back with some good young kids to add to the mix. With experience, I believe the young kids will provide valuable depth for our program. If the kids will come to practice and work every day, I think we could have a really good season.”

Gainesville, which will challenge for the 6A-District 2 title, along with Buchholz (13-14), could be one of the top teams in the area.

Last year, GHS narrowly missed the postseason, falling at Fleming Island (Orange Park) in the 6A-District 3 title game.

However, point guard Seth Childers (8.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.8 spg, 4.8 apg), who missed the last month of the 2021-22 season with a torn ACL, is back 100%, along with leading scorer Theo Stephens (17.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2.7 spg).

All five starters return for the Hurricanes (17-10).

“We had a productive summer and fall where we could get our new varsity players used to playing against high level varsity competition,” said GHS coach Mike Barnes, who enters his second season with the ‘Canes. “For our team to have a successful season, we need to practice, prepare and play at a consistently high level. I feel if we do that, can avoid any catastrophic injuries, and take each game one at a time, we can have a great year and accomplish our goals of winning a district championship, make it to Lakeland and compete for a state championship.”

The boys basketball regular season begins this Monday.

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