The boys basketball season tipped off this week.
Wesley Chapel opened up with Anclote.
Wharton, winners over Strawberry Crest in its first game, travels to Wiregrass Ranch tonight for a neighborhood showdown in the Bulls’ season opener.
Freedom heads over to Leto tonight for the Patriots first game.
Here’s the season preview capsules:
FREEDOM BOYS BASKETBALL
Head coach: Cedric Smith
Last year: 22-7
District record (7A-8): 10-0
District outlook: Freedom will be reunited with rival Wharton in district play this season, making the two meetings between the teams this season must-see basketball in New Tampa.
Key returners: G Sheldon Odunna (Sr., 6-3), G Nasir Cole (Sr., 6-0), PG Dylan Angel (Sr., 6-1), C Alex Rojas (So., 6-8).
X-Factor: F Chase Creasy (Jr., 6-4).
Season Outlook: Last year, the Patriots spread the ball around, as 17 different players scored. Well, 15 of those players were underclassmen, giving Smith the most experienced team he’s ever had. It could prove to be his best team, as well. Odunna continues to show great improvement year-to-year and is the team’s best player, averaging a team-high 16.1 points last season. Smith says he is one of the best guards in the county. He shares the backcourt with Cole and Angel, and guard play is one of the Patriots’ strengths. Freedom has a host of long wings to fuel the defensive side, like senior Jamal Byrnes and Quenden James, and Smith said Creasy is good enough to be a starter but he needs his offense off the bench. After reaching the regional final in 2013-14, Smith and his Patriots are ready for the next step.
The schedule: Freedom opens up on the road with a game at Leto (Nov. 18) before the home opener Nov. 20 vs. Sickles. Oh, and then it’s Wharton on Dec. 1.
WESLEY CHAPEL BOYS
Head coach: Doug Greseth
Last year: 17-10
District record (5A-7 in 2014-15): 8-6
District outlook: Greseth said he expects the Wildcats to fight for the district’s top spot, and the teams that he thinks will be in his team’s way are Zephyrhills, Ridgewood and maybe Pasco. The Bulldogs, who lost in the title game last year, lost only three seniors.
Key returners: F Theo Williams (Sr., 6-6), G Malik Dillard (Sr., —), PG Sam Schneidmiller (Jr., 6-1), F Reggie Jennings (Jr., 6-3).
Season Outlook: Greseth really likes this team. He thinks his starting five can hang with anyone, but the Wildcats will need to avoid the injury bug because the bench is not very deep. Williams, who averaged 13 points to lead the team and was second with 7.6 rebounds a contest, made a big jump from his sophomore to junior season, and if he does the same this year look out. Pairing Wiliams with Jennings (8.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg) gives Wesley Chapel one of the best forward combinations around. Schneidmiller could be the key. He was felled early last season by mononucleosis and never recovered to 100 percent but should be a big weapon in 2015-16. The Wildcats will try to push the ball up the floor as usual, using spacing and ball reversals to work the ball inside or produce open shots, and the defense will play man-to-man almost exclusively with lots of pressure. At full strength, Greseth has high hopes. “Injuries decimated us last season,” Greseth said. “If we stay healthy I expect big things.”
The schedule: Wesley Chapel opens up with 10 straight district games, including a road game at Zephyrhills Nov. 24. Its schedule is currently made up of all Pasco County teams, with the exception of a game against Tarpon Springs at the Ridgewood Holiday Tournament on Dec. 21.
WIREGRASS RANCH BOYS
Head coach: Jeremy Calzone
Last year: 13-13
District record (7A-8 in 2014-15): 5-4
District outlook: The Bulls were in the middle of the pack last season and considering the roster losses would do well to remain there this season. The district is markedly tougher with the addition of Wharton and Plant, two playoff regulars the last decade. The Bulls probably face their longest playoff odds since 2009.
Key returners: G Jordan Miner (So., 6-2), F Valentin Garcia (So., 6-3), G Mekhi Jarvis (Sr., 5-10, F/C Kem Asomba (So., 6-4).
X-Factor: G Devin Wilson (Jr., 6-2)
Season Outlook: The Bulls had two players average over 20 points last year, and another averaged 10, but they are gone. Graduation gives Calzone the youngest team he’s had yet, with just one senior. To get a picture of just how young the Bulls will be, consider that the four key returners combined to score 85 points last season. But teaching a young group the frenetic shoot-quick style the Bulls play has been a treat so far. “It’s so nice, you have no idea,’’ said Calzone. “We’re having a lot of fun right now. It takes me back to when the school first started. The difference is, we have a lot better players.” Calzone will rely on Jarvis to lead the way, but there is good athleticism there with Miner and Garcia as well, and Asomba showed some good stuff last season. Wilson will be crucial as well, and the coach has high expectations for a breakout season. He is also high on freshmen Dorien Green and Elijah Howell, a pair of quick 6-foot guards. The Bulls beat Springstead 68-65 in their preseason game, and Calzone said he will be looking for steady improvement as the year goes on. “As long as we’re playing well in February, I don’t care what our record is,’’ the coach said.
The schedule: How’s this for a tip-off – the Bulls open the season with two district games, the first Wednesday night against Wharton at home, and then on the road at Leto, who boast David Jones, a guard that averaged 31 points in two preseason games. The schedule gets a little easier the rest of the way.
WHARTON BOYS BASKETBALL
Head coach: Tommy Tonelli
Last year: 24-5
District record (8A-7 in 2014-15): 9-1
District outlook: The Wildcats’ new District 7A-8 will be even tougher this year, with the addition of a Sickles team that is probably the District’s favorite. But, the Wildcats and Freedom should both be in the playoff race.
Key returners: G/F Evan Trice (Sr., 6-2), F Josiah Crawford (Sr., 6-3), G Matthew Tonelli (Sr., 5-11), F Devontres Dukes (Sr., 6-4), PG Tray Gildon (Jr., 5-10)
X-Factor: F Dae’Son Barnes (So., 6-3).
Season Outlook: Since returning for his second stint as Wharton head coach in 2009, Tonelli has averaged 23.6 wins a season. The Wildcats should approach that mark again this time around, too. Trice (12 ppg, 4 assists, 4 rebs) and Crawford (9 ppg, 6 rebs) will lead the way after a big offseason in which Wharton captured the Southeast Basketball Academy (SEBA) Summer League title. Gildon will run the point and Tonelli said the shifty guard has shown tremendous improvement this offseason. Gildon will be backed up by the coach’s scrappy son Matthew Tonelli, and Dukes can be a force inside. Barnes could be a special find for the Wildcats as he moves up from junior varsity. In fact, Barnes could be one of a few jayvee players from last year’s 15-1 squad to have on impact on varsity.
The schedule: The Wildcats open the season Nov. 17 hosting Strawberry Crest, and also play Nov. 18 (at Wiregrass Ranch), 20 (at Plant) and 21 (host Newsome).