Saturday, January 21, 2017

Uno En Uno With: Thomas Fortier, TCA Basketball

ZS: How long have you been in the United States and how have you adjusted to the vastly different American style of play? What are some of the key differences in these two brands of basketball?

TF: I've been in the United States since September, so almost five months now. Here, it's fair to say my game changed. First of all, the American game is so much different than the style played in Europe. The game here is more selfish so I had to adapt my game style and I understand it because everyone who can score wants to shine. So, I had to get my teammates the ball more and give them confidence. I had to change into a facilitator and make sure my teammates knew I could make them better. It's been a great transition because I've had to push it to my limits and try to kill myself to make my name, win their confidence and get respect. It has all made me work harder and want it more, knowing the increase in competition.

ZS: On this particular team you are a bigger guard and capable of playing the small forward position. How do you utilize your strength and physical traits to your advantage at this level?

TF: Nowadays, I try to crash every time for an offensive rebound. I try to take my opponent full court in defense. However, the game here is much faster-paced and much more built around strength. So, I try to use my physique and go to the basket more. One of the key things coach Brad (Traina) emphasizes is how to finish at the rim with contact, how to score plus the foul.

ZS: How has coach Brad helped cultivate an all-around threat in you and allowed you to shed the "shooter" tag and therefore become more multi-dimensional?

TF: Coach Brad is the kind of coach I like. He knows how to hoop and every time he shows us where are mistakes are. He really wants us to get better and get a scholarship. He wants me to play as hard as I can, apply full court defensive pressure on the point guards and knock down my 3-pointers. He really wants me to be better finishing at the rim after a drive. I've gotten better at this compartment of my game but we are still working on it because I need it. I try to bring some European skills such as moving the ball quickly. Also, I try to help my teammates shine, so as much as I like to put the ball in the rim I like to drive and get the assist and find out who is left open.

ZS: What are the central areas of focus for you in this post-graduate year? What are your aspirations with basketball moving forward?

TF: I'm here to improve my basketball skill-set and also improve on my athleticism. I want to improve everyday because I'm look for a scholarship opportunity to play in college. I want to study in America and of course play basketball in college to develop my game more. Then, following college, I wish to be a professional in Europe.

ZS: What's the identity of this team right now and how do you hope to improve collectively as you move forward and move into the stretch run of the 2016-17 campaign?

TF: Coach Brad is an American but he played professionally in Europe as well. He knows which are the key qualities in both continents, so he tries to combine it and teach us. I think the team overall is good, everyone can jump and everyone can hoop...At the beginning of the year, we struggled with selfishness but we've worked on it and now it is not an issue. Prep is a bit different because everyone is trying to get a scholarship so oftentimes there is selfish play.

We've had a lot of tight games where we've had to be tough in the late minutes and I think we've become better and closer because of this. We can trust each other and this is the key to our future success. We know how to handle the pressure at the end of the game, we've been tested for that a lot of times this season.

ZS: What was the competition level like you played at in France and who were some of the toughest foes you faced?

TF: In France, I played against good teams like Strasbourg with the German Muchidi, Nancy, or L'INSEP, which typically gathers the best players in France. You must probably know Sekou Doumbouya. Last year, I had the chance to play against top local guys but we are a national team. The opponent I began to appreciate as we played against them more was Paul Djoko.

 They won the 3 x 3 FIBA U18 European championship with France. When I was younger, I played against guys like Kevin CHam, Renathan Ona-embo. I also played with and against one of my best friends, Wilfried Gantswa who I've known since I started playing basketball and who I respect a lot because he's helped my game grow over the years.

ZS: There's been no shortage of guys from France or guys who speak French fluently at TCA. How have you built bonds here and how have you guys benefitted from each other's presence?

TF: I love putting in the extra hours and having more freedom of time on the prep schedule, because I really want to be better. I've been putting in extra work with guys like Mel Esso, Freddy Zotchi, Adrien Audoin, Luguentz Dort, and Shawn Barthelemy. If I need their help or advice, it's always there. We feed off each other. I put in the most work in the unseen hours with Turkay Barutcuoglu. He's my roommate and a real brother I can trust. Every night we try to do something to add on to our game, especially with dribbling drills. He's a great player who played on the Turkish national team. He is fast with the ball, he's got very good handle and he can hit crazy 3-point shots.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Now A Freshman, Newman Proves He Is As Advertised

Early born success doesn’t occur so simply in today’s hothouse, hyper-competitive prep basketball landscape.
Especially not in Orlando, where basketball is quickly shaping into the city’s favorite pastime.

With a slew of powerhouse high school/prep school basketball programs in the area and surrounding area, hoops has become the uppermost winter attraction.

While some may show promise as inexperienced freshman and sophomores, the player development process as well as the road to impactful minutes is often a process. 

For Downey Christian’s Julian Newman, this is clearly not the case.

Now on the periphery of 2,500 career points, the ahead-of-his time point guard has played varsity since fifth grade.
A relentless gym rat with an unprecedented motor, Newman’s story is as unique as it is unheard of.
Once a pocket-sized guard scoring at will over defenders nearly three feet taller than him, Newman’s story garnered national publicity.

Newman became a pioneer for those of the advanced skill-set. His story resonated with those who wanted to sidestep age-appropriate levels and play against bigger, stronger opponents.

As a 4-foot-5 and 70-pound fifth grader, Newman was shockingly fit for the physical challenges of playing Varsity.
Possessing rarified quickness and ability to blow by defenders and create space, Newman did the unheard of.

 Schools throughout the country have rules prohibiting middle schoolers play varsity minutes. In a lot of cases, a maneuver of this type would be frowned upon. 

“Our main thing was that we needed another ball handler and we figured we would give it a try and throw him into varsity minutes,” said Jamie Newman, Julian's father and head coach at Downey Christian.
 “He didn’t start the first few games. People persuaded me not to do it at first, but then everyone was like 'wait a minute, he’s actually producing.' Suddenly it was like, he's scoring, he’s getting by people, this is actually working."

Newman added, “Julian’s always played four to five to six years up in age, and I allowed that to happen. What you see now is a result of him rarely playing age appropriate. He’s progressing now by playing against Division-I guards every night.”  

Arduous workouts prepared him for the rigors of being an undersized guard among towering upperclassmen thirsting to expose him.

Worldwide eminence, which many depicted as too much too soon, rendered Newman a household name even before his freshman season.

A collection of Youtube videos, a New York Times feature article and his status on ranking services have put him under a microscope.

“The pressure and the attention from the publicity I got early on really never bothers me,” said the 5-foot-6, 130-pound Newman, who is on target to score 1,000 points this season alone and will likely eclipse the 2,500-point milestone this year.

“It helps me go out there and prove people wrong if I have to. And there’s nothing I like more than proving people wrong, so it keeps me motivated.”

There's been commotion of a too-early hype machine on Newman. There's also been talk of Downey playing a lack of competition, and Newman having a green light to feast on meager competition. 

 Newman has done his work to defy doubters, putting up numbers in the talent-laced SIAA.

The conference features Division-I bound players all across the roster with teams such as (defending champion) West Oaks, Oldsmar Christian, The Rock, Potter’s House, Conrad Academy, DME, Arlington Country Day.

This assortment of high-level prep programs traditionally churn out Division-I talent on the high school and post-graduate level.

“There’s isn't a competition level in the country that’s better the SIAA,” Julian Newman opined. 

“The guards are strong and talented, they can shoot it. Playing against Division-I guys every night, it’s only getting me better.”

According to his father, Downey Christian’s transition from a softer schedule to the SIAA has evoked a monstrous new work ethic in Newman.

“He’s just a tremendously hard worker. I know everyone considers themselves a hard worker, but this kid is making 500-700 shots a day, doing 1200 pushups a day, 500-600 situps a day without fail. He hit the weights 5-7 days a week leading up to the season. You can see it in his game now, you just can’t push him around. Now he’s taking the bumps, he’s finishing through contact.”

Newman scored his 1,000th point as a seventh grader. This season, Downey has upgraded its roster while Newman has remained the facilitator and the offensive focal point. 

The addition of Zavien Smith, a left-handed sharpshooter, has taken some of the scoring weight off Newman's shoulders. 

“I liken it to the Jameer Nelson-Delonte West tandem at St. Joe’s (in 2004),” Newman said.

 “You’ve got Julian whose more of a scorer, like Jammer was, and Zavian whose a lefty and a shooter like Delonte. They just feed off each other. He’s catching double teams now. As soon as he catches the ball, they throw two at him.”

Coach Newman saw no foul in showcasing his son early on, feeding a potential hype machine which could be overwhelming for a young kid.

“He’s playing college level guys and Division-I players everyday,” he explained.

“You can’t say he’s beating up on lesser competition because we’re in the SIAA. So, when he plays in showcases or tournaments against kids his own age, there could be some games where he might score 50 points. That’s because of the competition he plays against. His learning ability and his evolution have come along.”

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sloan Picks Up Offers Following Mustang Madness

The Conrad Academy senior guard David Sloan has picked up a pair of offers from Bradley and IUPUI. 

Both offers result from the crafty 5-foot-11 guard's performance during Grind Session's recent Mustang Madness tournament in Paducah, KY.

On a massive stage against one of the country's top-shelf programs in Wesleyan Christian Academy (N.C.), Sloan turned in a 28-point effort.

 He found his touch in the second half, drilling pivotal 3-pointers and helping TCA slice down a 21-point deficit.

Sloan, whose game is more predicated on skill-set and IQ than flash and athletic ability, even got free for a rare two-handed dunk.

Sloan faced a lot of question marks after abruptly transferring from Taylor County (Ky.), where he emerged into a high-scoring guard.

Immediately following his junior season, he transferred to Ballard High School.

The objective was to be closer to his Louisville home and have the opportunity to play before family as a senior.

In the midst of a frustrating experience with the Kentucky High School Athletics Association--which stalled in granting him eligibility--Sloan promptly transferred to the Orlando-based TCA.

"We're extremely proud of (Sloan) because he's as hard-working a kid as there is out there," said TCA head coach Shaun Wiseman, adding that Sloan is a McDonald's All-American nominee.

"He's risen to the challenge on several big courts, in several big tournaments this season. He's answered to the high-pressure stakes as good as anyone on our team. He's deserving of the recent accolades and he's going to continue to generate mid and high-major Division-I interest."

Wiseman knows a thing or two about Bradley, which jumped into Sloan's recruitment and immediately heaped a scholarship offer on the table.

He coached current Bradley freshman guard Jayden Hodgson and freshman forward Koch Bar just last season at Arlington Country Day School (Jacksonville, FL).

Sloan, initially among the favorites for Kentucky's prestigious Mr. Basketball award, averaged 20 points and 4.4 rebounds under coach and former guardian Richard Gatewood during his stay at Taylor County.

Gatewood, 31, authored quick-hit success with Sloan and Quentin Goodin in his emergence at Taylor County, becoming one of the state's reputable young coaches.

He wound up taking the vacant head coaching position at 22 Feet Academy.

At Conrad, a first-year program, Sloan's become more of a facilitator.

He's operating a frenetic-paced offense featuring 6-foot-4 bulldozing guard Luguentz Dort, 6-foot-3 sharpshooter Malcolm Farrington, and 6-foot-8 power forward Madiaw Niang.

Averaging 16.5 points and 7.0 assists during the Charlotte Hoops Challenge, Sloan inherited the quarterback responsibilities on a team flooded with guards.

He scored 19 points and dished out six assists during a win against the aforementioned Gatewood and 22 Feet Academy (S.C.) last month.

"David has continuously shown expertise in the way he finds his teammates and also knows how to create his shot and make the right shot in the half-court set," said head coach Shaun Wiseman.

"With his handle and ability to see the floor and defend, he's just an energizer that keeps us in line. We're extremely happy for him. This year he's grown as a scorer and a facilitator. His handle and his passing game gives Luguentz freedom to roam off the ball and David really at excels at finding him in the open court and alley oop situations.

Sloan initially had interest from Louisville, Florida, and Memphis. Schools such as Texas, Florida Gulf Coast, Western Kentucky, and Eastern Kentucky have all been in pursuit of the smooth and heady class of 2017 guard.

Uno en Uno With: Turkay Barutcuoglo, TCA Black

ZS: What was going through your mind when you hit that dagger 3-pointer to put away a pesky GOTR team in Saturday's 91-83 win?

TB: To be honest, I'm not afraid to shoot the ball. I came here as a shooter, that's the role my teammates are comfortable with me having. Coach Brad (Traina) puts a lot of confidence in me being able to shoot the ball, because it is the compartment of my game which I really excel at. So, hitting shots like the deep three in the first half and the 3-pointer late in the game, I don't think about missing or worry about missing. You can't play scared out there.

ZS: Being from Turkay, the basketball buzz clearly isn't similar to what it is here in the United States. How did you get into the game and who helped persuade you to pursue basketball at a higher level?

TB: My father was a respectable basketball player in Turkey. He wasn't a professional, but he was often playing the game with other decent players throughout the country. He showed me everything about my shooting. He showed me how to get my form down, he showed me how to follow through, he showed me how to not get frustrated if I miss a couple in a row because I could also come back and nail a few in a row and get hot. So, we would go outside and shoot everyday and every night and I picked up on it and made it a real hobby of my own.

ZS: In which ways has your game improved since you've been here? As effectively as you can shoot the rock, you are still working at becoming more athletic and explosive, to prepare you for the greater stages of play. How do you go about doing this and really readying yourself for the rigors of NCAA hoops?

TB: We are in the weight room almost everyday and every night with Brad. Coming here to the United States, I've learned just how important adding strength is to my game. As a shooter, you have to have strength. You have to be able to get through picks and fend off defenders with muscle so you can get your shot off. Brad has really taught me a lot and instilled confidence in my game.

ZS: You've had moments where you've been quiet, but you've also had moments where you can shoot open a game if you catch the hot hand? How do you get into this zone? Does the basket keep getting bigger and bigger after each shot you hit, once you start feeling it?

TB: I think it's just about having confidence and patience and knowing I have to hit shots when my number is called. If I could get a few in a row, you bet if I get a good clean look at the rim the next shot is going up.

ZS: Which aspects led you to take your game to the United States and who were some of the influential figures who helped you choose to take your basketball career to the next level?

TB: It was my goal to become a college basketball player in the United States. I watched guys like Hedo Turkoglu in the NBA and that inspired me. When I was a young kid he was on the Sacramento Kings with Chris Webber and I used to try to watch his games and look at highlights.

One person who really helped me with my shooting is my coach in Turkey, Cavit Altunay. He is actually 86 years old now, yet he is still shooting. He is the guy who taught me how to dribble and create my shot, we spent a lot of time shooting between me him and my father and those were the good old days as they say. Vassalis Spanoulis is my favorite basketball player in Europe. I like his pick-and-roll concept and his leadership so I kind of tried to be like him.

ZS: How did you find you find your niche as a shooter here in the U.S.? How did it all come about?

TB: Well, at first, I went to a school in D.C. I had a good time but I don't think my game was improving or I was being used the right way. That summer, I worked really hard at shooting the ball and earned a spot on the Turkey U-18 National Team. I was playing point guard and shooting guard for them, but unfortunately our tournament was cancelled as threat of war took over the country.

Tamir Turkman, he helped me find this school. So I am eternally grateful for that. He helps foreign students who aspire to study in the U.S.A. find schools that cater to them. He helps me every time I need him and is a very trustworthy guy. So, I am extremely appreciative that he is in my life.

ZS: What's your relationship like with fellow guard Thomas Fourtier like and how does it benefit your play on the court?

TB: Thomas is my best friend and he's my roommate, so we spend a lot of time working on our games even outside of the school and the schedule. Sometimes we will go up to UCF and shoot against each other and dribble against each other and really push each other to our extreme. Thomas is a big, strong guard and he can shoot from distance too, so it's like having a challenge everyday. Our chemistry off the court leads to chemistry on the court, he always knows how to find me open for a shot or cutting.

Uno En Uno With: Jamari Wheeler, The Rock Basketball

ZS: Which aspects of Duquesne's program had most appeal to you, and how do you feel your game will best fit their style of play?

JW: Man, I just love all of the coaches up there. I love how they play, the fact that they run it and get up and down the floor. Plus, they in the A-10. So I feel like I'm going to go there and have an opportunity to play my game right away and then play at the next level after college. Right now, getting better everyday until I get there on campus is keeping me motivated.

ZS: You guys are now 18-1, all of sudden in the realm of basketball relevance in not just Florida but the entire country. What do you attribute the success to and what does Coach (Justin) Hardin preach to you guys, in order to sustain this effort?

JW: Defense, defense, defense! Coach Hardin really emphasizes defense and the importance of talking and communicating on defense so we see everything on the floor. That's his number one priority. That's what coach preaches to us 24/7. It's all about the defense with him.

ZS: Getting a lengthy, versatile 6-foot-9 forward in Daniel Mading has really helped you guys this season. How much of an addition has he been?

JW: Everybody who knows basketball knows how good he is. He's a top wing in the nation in the Class of 2017. I think his offers (Pittsburgh, Cal, Texas Tech, Providence, Butler, Georgetown, Iowa State) really indicate just how good he is.

ZS: What's the goal for this team and how do you feel you are being represented throughout the country and in the state of Florida?

JW: Just to be honest, we feel as The Rock basketball team as a whole is under-rated and we should be ranked throughout the nation in the upper echelons. Darius and myself, we both feel like we should be ranked in the nation. That's the type of confidence we got. Antrell feels like she should be Top-25 in Florida.

ZS: Which other schools offered and recruited you throughout the process and how did you narrow it down and eventually decide that Duquesne was the right place for you?

JW: Oh man...First, I had Bowling Green University and Chattanooga University. Then James Madison, Duquesne, University of Texas-San Antonio, Stetson, Buffalo, Jacksonville U, Georgia Southern, and finally VCU.

I originally narrowed it down to five schools and I was set on visiting all five. But when I visited Duquesne the players were comfortable to be around and I really got to know the coaches. They put academics first and made sure I knew I had to work for everything I was going to get. Plus, I wanted to play in a big conference.

ZS: Your younger brother, Antrell Charlton, has come a long way in a short period of time. He most recently stood out with a 17-point effort during the win over Oldsmar. How do you push him being the older brother and what's your relationship like?

JW: It's a really good relationship, I love playing with him to be honest. At practice, we make sure we always on the other team so we can go at each other. We just want to feed off our energy, like our competitiveness. That's why I want Duquesne to offer him and have him come play college ball with me.

The Rock Jumping Into National Spotlight

The Rock's Darius Days entered this season without generating the same buzz, lofty aspirations, and regal rankings as other formidable class of 2018 players in Florida.

Shouldering the weight of leader on both sides of the floor and barreling to the rim like a train, it's clear to say the perception of Days has changed.

The 6-foot-6 Days, known for bulldozing strength and an explosive vertical, has installed a funky cock-back jumper to his arsenal of offensive tools.

The improved touch on Days, which gives him a bird's eye view of the rim, has been instrumental in The Rock's 18-1 start this season. While developing a consistent shot from 18-feet out, he's also become more adept at creating his own shot and scoring effectively in the one-on-one game. It's a surprisingly soft touch which he can get off without difficulty, despite the fact that he's still evolving as a shooter.

"His shot has continued to progress and what Darius needs to do is continue to understand he can score on all three levels," said The Rock head coach Justin Hardin, who is constantly holding Days to a high standard.

"He can post up at times, he can knock down the mid-range, which is probably his best shot. His 3-point shooting has improved tremendously as he's now leading our team in 3-pointers made and percentage."

Days has offers from Virginia, Virginia Tech, VCU, UAB, and most recently Southern California have plunked down scholarship offers. Florida, which is in The Rock's backyard, Maryland, Wake Forest, Tennessee, and Georgia appear to be waiting in the wings.

The Rock returned arguably the league's top point guard in Duquesne-bound Jamari Wheeler. The catalyst in The Rock's 69-62 over Conrad Academy (which features the backcourt of Luguentz Dort and David Sloan), Wheeler shredded through the teeth of the defense for 22 points. During an 83-63 win against Oldsmar Christian, Wheeler finished with 12 points.

The emergence of Wheeler's younger brother, Antrell Charlton, has been pivotal. According to Hardin, the junior guard has improved drastically from his sophomore to junior year.

"I'd say Antrell is the most improved on our team, even if you include the growth of Darius and Jamari, I think he's come along the furthest," Hardin explained.

"Last year, he could barely dunk. This year's he's got about seven or eight in-game dunks. He had a monster one on an alley oop against Oldsmar. He's just made that extra push in his game. Against Conrad on Tuesday, he had about eight points. But hey, he knocked down a big 3-pointer in the second half and a couple key transition layups."

Hardin continued, "He's just a really active player at all times, just like his brother."

Little brother played to the level of big brother in The Rock's aforementioned win over Oldsmar, submitting a team-best 17 points. He authored a personal 7-0 run at one point and bagged three 3-pointers.

"I think everybody is starting to see how good he is and his name's getting out there more," said Wheeler of Charlton. "He feels like he should be one of the hottest wings in his class in Florida. As a team, we feel we're underrated so we always got that chip on our shoulder."

Also working in The Rock's favor is the return of Daniel Mading. The towering, long presence of Mading has helped The Rock jump into America's top 50 (they're now at no.46) nationally.

A wiry inside-outside threat with guard capabilities, Mading is being recruited by Pittsburgh, Cal, Texas Tech, Providence, Georgetown, Iowa State, and Butler.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Oldsmar's Weaver Is One Of The Nation's Prized Players

Elijah Weaver and the word “underrated” should not be found in the same sentence. Ever. 

From an outsider looking in, that would almost seem criminal. How could he possibly be pegged as underrated?

"Weaver" and "underrated" shouldn't be found in the same book, the same chapter, the same page, or even the same tiny blurb that vows to accurately depict high school basketball in America.
An electrifying lefty game-changer and multi-tooled talent at Oldsmar Christian High School (FL), Weaver has done enough to stake his claim as one of the Class of 2018 as well the country's most proficient guards.

And yet with averages of 18.2 points, 6.2 assists, 4.2 boards, and 2.0 steals on a national schedule, Weaver actually does go unsung and underappreciated.

Yes, a group of “experts” and “gurus” out there have failed to equate the blur-like 6-foot-5, 195-pound guard with the same blue chip status as other national household names.

Weaver hasn't paid any single iota of mind to it at all. Winning and an insatiable thirst for competition seize the Florida native's attention like nothing else in this world.

Since inheriting the reins of a traditional hoops breeding ground, Weaver has invested most of his focus on heavily-hyped matchups and this level's grandest stages.

 He’s the kid who dropped 37 points, doled out five assists, and ripped six boards to go with four steals during Oldsmar’s 63-61 win over Cannon School (NC) back during Thanksgiving. 

Weaver loudly announced his go-to presence this season, instantly filling the scoring gap left by since-departed L.J. Figueroa (West Oaks/New Mexico State) and Troy Baxter (UNLV). 

Weaver dropped 31 points on defending champion and nationally ranked West Oaks Academy in Orlando.

During a victory over The Conrad Academy in Orlando, with Rick Pitino on hand, Weaver scored 22 points and dished eight assists. 

In defeating Tennessee Prep during Grind Session's prestigious Mustang Madness, Weaver poured in 25 points en route to earning MVP honors.

And to think Weaver entered this season as Scout’s 37th ranked Class of 2018 prospect...Where was his name listed among ESPN's  Top 20?

“I would say he’s underrated still, that’s solely my opinion and yeah, it may be a bit biased,” said Oldsmar head coach John Bianchi, who has green-lighted Weaver with some ownership of this year's team.

“I’ve seen some of the guys who happen to be ranked above him and I don’t see how he’s not ranked above those guys.”

At Oldsmar Christian, rankings don't have much weight amongst the players. In fact, Weaver’s maturity and decision-making has given him his own privilege of rank on this oceanic-deep team.

“I would say his IQ is so high that he just knows when to either take a jump shot or get to the rim or go get a floater or go for the mid-range pull up,” Bianchi said.

“He knows what to get at all points of the game and nobody’s going to take that away from him. He’s grown this year just by making his teammates better off and on the court. In addition, he’s still staying humble and working as hard as he’s had to work to get to where he is now.”

For quite a while now, Oldsmar has been synonymous with gritty, in-your-grill defense. We're talking pressure all across the court.

Weaver has improved on that end as well, while also displaying scoring abilities at all three levels and becoming a headier game-manager.

Louisville, Villanova, Florida, Wake Forest, and Maryland appear to be putting in the most work for the SIAA’s most hotly-pursued recruit.

“I would say Maryland is starting to pick it up,” Bianchi added. “UCLA has been here once every couple of weeks even though they haven’t offered yet. So I would say those schools right there and also USC and UConn."
And, as effective as Weaver's been, he's clearly not alone.

D.J. Mitchell, who would be the focal point on a majority of the nation's superpower preps, is averaging 17.7 points as a supplementary piece. While Mitchell's been sidelined four games, Jhakeem Smith has filled in with a 24-point performance and a string of 15-point games.
Oldsmar features a frontline that matches up well in an SIAA loaded with 7-footers and wide-bodied rim protectors.
"The trio of bigs Stefon Fisher, Alex O'Guinn, and Mike Durr, they play major roles and they are all performing at a high level right now," as Bianchi noted. 

"(Class of 2018) Akiel Shakoor, he's had 14-point, eight-assist nights, 11 and eight, 12 and eight."
Bianchi is cognizant that the road to the championship will likely make a heavily anticipated stop through  reigning champion West Oaks or 18-1 The Rock.

"I would say the strength of our schedule is helping us improve as a team and getting us ready for the SIAA tournament coming up at the end of February," explained Bianchi. "The goal, of course, is nothing less than a state championship."

The somehow underrated point guard will play a significant role in leading them there.