By Matt Wiley

High school basketball soon will soon return to New Tampa, as the teams from both Freedom and Paul R. Wharton High gear up for the tip-offs to their respective 2012-13 seasons.

Coming off of yet another winning (24-4) season last year, Tommy Tonelli’s Varsity Wharton Wildcats are sure to once again be a strong squad.

Tonelli, a former USF point guard, has been coaching at Wharton for more than a decade and led the Wildcats to their third consecutive Class 8A-District 7 title last season.

“Our strength this season is our experience,” says Tonelli. “We have a lot of guys returning from last year.”

Among those, Tonelli expects impressive performances from seniors C.J. McGill and Sir Patrick Reynolds.

“McGill has been on varsity since he was a freshman,” explains Tonelli. “We’re going to see some great leadership out of him.”

McGill, a 5’10” point guard, averaged 13.7 ppg last season.

Reynolds, is a 6’3” guard and Tonelli says he’s “dangerous,” due to his versatility on the court. Reynolds averaged 9.5 ppg last season.

“He can play pretty much any position,” the coach says. “He plays wherever he needs to, but is best at shooting guard. He had some huge moments for us last year.”

Another player to watch, he says, is 6’7” Drew Vanderbrook, a Freedom transfer who averaged 7.8 ppg and 2.9 rebounds per game (rpg). Tonelli says Vanderbrook’s height and skill set make him valuable as a forward and defender.

Tonelli says that first and foremost, the Wildcats are focusing on winning their District games, especially against Plant and Bloomingdale, which is key to getting into the state playoffs.

“We’ve got a tough schedule,” Tonelli says. “We’re playing some good non-district opponents, as well.”

Among those are the Strawberry Crest Chargers, the Chamberlain Chiefs and the Freedom Patriots (District 7A- 9). “We beat (Freedom) last year (72-43),” Tonelli says. “But, they’re as improved as any team I’ve seen. They’ve made some tremendous progress. It’s going to be a dogfight.”

Freedom coach Cedric Smith agrees that this year’s Wharton-Freedom matchup could be a close one.

“They’ve been the team to beat for a long time,” he explains. “We just want to compete and play well against them. I think we’ll match up pretty well this season.”

Smith, who is entering his second season as the Patriots’ head coach, also was a guard for the USF Bulls (1997-2001) who is looking to build on last season’s less-than-stellar 8-14 record.

“Our team is pretty set,” Smith explains. “We’ve got a good group of guys. They showed some serious improvement in the (Tampa Bay Basketball Coaches Assn.) summer league. It was like a light bulb went off.”

Freedom seniors Brandon Patchan and Antwan Bradley will be among the team’s players to watch this upcoming season, Smith says.

Patchan, a 6’6” power forward, finished the previous season averaging 10.7 ppg and 6.3 rpg.

“He’s a double-double kind of guy,” Smith says. “We’re going to see some big things out of him, for sure.”

Bradley, a 5’10” point guard, averaged 9.3 ppg last year.

“He’s our most seasoned player,” Smith says. “He’s a great leader who never takes a possession off.”

Smith says some big defensive plays will come out of 6-foot senior small forward Marcus Butler. “He’s a great wing defender,” says Smith.

In addition to Wharton, Smith says that Freedom is facing some other tough competition in its District, as both the Steinbrenner Warriors — who beat the Pats twice last season — and the Chamberlain Chiefs, who were 3-1 against Freedom last year.

Wharton starts the season at home against Wesley Chapel High on November 16, while Freedom’s tip off will be at Chamerlain on November 29. Be sure to check out both the Freedom and Wharton basketball schedules at so you don’t miss a game this season!

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