The 2017 Wally Keller Classic: One of Florida’s best-kept basketball secrets

PUNTA GORDA – The holiday season into January means a transition from the fall’s main attraction (football), to the winter’s focus which is basketball (and football–recruiting that is), and the holiday season means you can get your fill and then-some with holiday tournaments around the state. There’s a hidden gem of a tourney located less than 100 miles (for most) to our south in the form of the Wally Keller Classic hosted by Charlotte High School.

The tournament takes place on the Friday and Saturday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend and featured six teams from the Tampa Bay area in the 11th edition of this competition. There are fifteen games played in total. Three varsity contests kickoff the weekend on Friday, then twelve games are played simultaneously in connecting gymnasiums on the sprawling campus the following day. In just ten short years the tournament has played host to five current NBA players, along with 10 McDonald’s All- American’s and nine state champions from Florida.

This year’s tournament will certainly have all three of those categories represented again. Although we don’t have a crystal ball readily available, it’s very easy to tell that within due time at least one or two of the young men on the court this past weekend will be professionals at some point in the NBA. With Tampa Catholic’s Kevin Knox being named a McDonald’s All-American this weekend, you can check that off the list for this year as far as best-of-the-best is concerned. And with a handful of squads that are legit contenders for a state championship up-and-down the classifications, come early March we should be able to check off at least one of the twenty-six participants from in-state as kings of the mountain.

With that, we get you right to the recap of our local teams’ action over the course of the weekend:

Westside (GA) 55, Bartow 51

Bartow (10-8) fell to the Seminoles of Westside High School (12-3) from Macon by a score of 55-51 on Friday night. The Yellow Jackets dug themselves a hole they simply could not climb out of by the end of the night. Bartow was involved in a couple of slugfests in-district leading into the contest, having won 67-58 versus Winter Haven on Tuesday, then dropped a tough 66-60 contest to Kathleen the night before. The Seminoles jumped out to a 12-0 lead before the Yellow Jackets could find a bucket, and trailed 19-9 after the first eight minutes of action. Bartow and Head Coach Terrence McGriff adjusted well after the initial quarter and outscored the ‘Noles 15-10 in the second to trail by just five at the break. The ‘Jackets kept nipping at Westside’s heals throughout, but just couldn’t get the game within a one-possession contest in the end. McKinley Harvin didn’t get his fist bucket of the game until 4:30 left in the second quarter, but led all scorers with 19 points. Freshmen PF Josh Simons was crucial to keeping it close for Bartow, finishing with 12 points on the evening. Westside’s Trey Foster and Khavon Moore chipped in with 13 and 11 respectively. Bartow now enters a crucial stretch where they will play Lakeland twice, Winter Haven, and Kathleen in the next eleven days. That was also Bartow’s first loss in the Wally Keller, moving their all-time record to 3-1 in the tournament.

Lakewood Ranch 71, Mariner (Cape Coral) 64

The Mustangs (15-2) put four starters into double-figures against the Tritons (12-5) with Sam Hester and Devin Twenty putting up 17 points each to lead Lakewood Ranch. Damien Gordon and Evan Spiller added 14 and 11 respectively. Mariner was led by the twin (literally) backcourt attack of seniors Sean and Brandon Kostyk. Sean led all scorers with 21 points while Brandon added 12 to keep Mariner within striking distance the entire game. Highly-touted junior forward Jahmel Myers was held to just 13 points by the Mustang Defense. The game featured up-and-down transition offense with Hester hitting 5-of-6 from beyond the arc. Lakewood Ranch’s only two losses come to out-of-state opponents (Peachtree Ridge (GA) and Georgetown Prep (DC)) this season, both of which came at Ocala’s Kingdom of the Sun Tournament. Lakewood Ranch is currently in the drivers seat in District 11-8A and were victorious in their first appearance the Wally Keller. Mariner was playing in their fifth contest (2-3) at the tournament.

Nick Giorgi, Tampa Catholic

Westside (GA) 87, Tampa Catholic 66

There were a study stream of customers coming from all over the place to sneak a peak at TC’s Kevin Knox, but the newly-minted McDonald’s All-American tweaked his ankle this night before in a crucial district game with Clearwater Central Catholic, a game the Crusaders were victorious 76-64, leaving patrons a little disappointed. Earlier in the week, Tampa Catholic defeated Berkeley Prep 95-75 and were trying to make it a 3-0 week, but the ‘Noles behind Khavon Moore’s 24 points and his massive physical presence at 6′-8″ in the post and on the perimeter, it was an uphill battle from the start. Point Guard Trey Foster followed up his 13 point night against Bartow with a 16 point afternoon against the Crusaders. Junior Forward Greg Holloway (6’-5″) also added 14 points for the ‘Noles. It was another junior that led all-scorers, and he was wearing green and white. Tim Carter tried his best to keep TC in it with 25 points, 18 of those coming in the second half. Nick Giorgi finished the game with 14 points. The Crusaders have a district contest vs. Sarasota Military this week and then will play powerhouses West Oaks Academy and Montverde Academy at Berkeley Prep’s ARS Hoopfest this coming Friday and Saturday.

Westminster Academy 69, Winter Haven 53

The Lions from Fort Lauderdale were too tough for the Blue Devils to tame in a contest that looked like it was heading on a one-way ticket for blowout city, but Winter Haven (12- 6) held tough as they could battling back from a 41-18 Westminster Academy (21-3) lead at halftime, to getting within single digits at the start of the fourth quarter. The Lions pulled away in the end with a front court that goes 6-4/6-8/6-9. Zach Scott from W.A. led all scorers with 24 points while Northeastern University commit Jalen Strong pitched in with 18 for the Lions. Yale commit Paul Atkinson was the third member of the frontcourt to hit double-digits with 16. The Blue Devils were led by Wilton Storr’s 13 points, while Camren McSpadden and Timothy Lowery each added 12 points in the loss. Dorian Jones was held to just seven points on the afternoon by the Lions Defense.

St. Petersburg 79, South Miami 77

This game had some records set as South Miami’s Zach Dawson broke the all-time tournament individual scoring record with 43 points in the losing effort. Dawson is committed to Oklahoma State for next season. The Green Devils (8-8) jumped to a 27-13 lead at the half, then led 45-33 after three quarters of play. That’s when the fun started. 80 total points were scored in the final eight minutes with the Cobras (18-3) nearly pulling off the miraculous comeback, outscoring St. Pete 46-34 in the final frame. Dawson’s 43 were accompanied by backcourt teammate Miguel Arnold’s 26 points to combine for 69 of South’s 77 points in the game. Those two couldn’t outdo junior guard Sorrel Smith and his 31 points, AJ Ford’s 18 points and Jahmar Lee’s 14 points for the Green Devils however. Smith’s scoring output put him 10th all-time for the tournament just one point behind Gibbs’ Barry Brown and his 32 point output versus Montverde Academy in 2015. Dawson’s 43 eclipses Keith Stone’s 42 points for Zion Lutheran against the host Charlotte in 2015. The Green Devils dropped a tough district game to Countryside 70-60 the night before, and have a crucial matchup with Seminole this week, who sits just one game behind them.

Cambridge Christian 84, Lemon Bay 72

The Lancers (11-5) were led by Jaylin Jackson’s 22 points and boosted by Chance Jackson’s 19 points, with 18 of those courtesy of the three-ball. Cambridge led by as many as 16 against the Class 6A Manta Rays in the first half, then took an eight point lead into the break. Lemon Bay cut the lead to four coming out of the locker rooms, but it was Chance Jackson spurring a 9-0 run with back-to-back three’s to keep the game firmly in Cambridge’s control. The Lancers have a crucial contest with Tampa Prep this week and their only loss in the district on the season is to Seffner Christian. The Lancers play in arguably one of Florida’s toughest classifications with The First Academy, Westminster Academy, Providence and Tampa Prep all in Class 4A. Head Coach Teddy Dupay does not have a single senior on the roster this season and are certainly a squad to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Other highlights:

Miami Norland were one quarter away from winning their fifth consecutive state championship last season before Dillard defeated them. Head Coach Lawton Williams uses this tournament to get his kids their first taste of “real” competition (his words, not ours) in order to get the Vikings ready for the run-in to Lakeland. Norland (11-5) dropped their contest to Bradenton’s Victory Rock Prep from the Sunshine Independent Conference that features some nationally-ranked teams from the area, so keep your eyes peeled for Norland at the beginning of March. The Vikings are 4-5 all time at the Wally Keller in spite of their insane run of championships, so whatever works for Coach Williams and the crew, other schools take note!

University School has a pair of sophomores that are must-see. Balsa Koprivica (7-0/220) and Vernon Carey Jr. (6-9/245) are a front court that are just as skilled as they are massive. Koprivica has silky moves from the perimeter to the post and will make you wonder if you are witnessing Porzingis 2.0, or perhaps into a category all by himself. Carey, the son of former ‘Canes and Miami Dolphins stardom, is every bit the national 5* prospect he’s been ranked to be. This is a team that will make noise come final four time and are located in a district with Calvary Christian and Cardinal Gibbons, so simply making it out of their district and region alone will be a gauntlet.