Boys basketball preview
Saturday, November 17, 2012
by Jeff Greer
Lake Worth's tiny basketball gymnasium felt even tinier two winters ago, when nationally ranked Dwyer brought Jacoby Brissett, Joel James, Greg Louis and company for a district game.
North Carolina hoops coach Roy Williams, who eventually signed James, stood in one corner of the gym. Miami football coach Al Golden wasn't far away. Fans from all over the county spent more time gawking at Golden and Williams than the 41-point Dwyer destruction of Lake Worth on the court.
Expect a lot more eyes to be trained on Lake Worth's floor this winter. A lot's changed.
Murray Smith, a three-time state champion and one of the state's most revered coaches, will be pacing the Trojans' sidelines, armed with three 6-foot-5 starters and one of the area's best scorers in Aaron Horne, a transfer from John I. Leonard.
Suddenly the team that always shared the court for other teams' big moments -- the Dwyer game, a headline-making 99-95 loss to John I. Leonard, Palm Beach Lakes' return to playoff prominence last season -- has a chance to make some of its own special scenes.
"I'll be honest," Smith started, "we'll be a lot better in a year than we are now. That's natural with a new coach coming in and making changes. These kids lost three games at the buzzer (last season). They lost to Lakes by five in that playoff game and missed 19 free throws. They're not far away. There are some pieces here."
And that's part of what drew Smith to a public-school coaching job after 15 seasons on the private circuit at Cardinal Newman and seven more at Summit Christian. It helped that Lake Worth hired George Lockhart, Smith's good friend, to be its principal before last school year, and that Smith wanted to teach high school math again.
"I struggled with it so bad," Smith said, particularly of leaving his coaching post at Summit Christian, where he tutored Chattanooga guard Farad Cobb and won a state championship in 2011. "I get somewhere and I stay. I don't hop around. But it all worked together. That's the hard, bottom truth."
Horne and Smith's arrival at Lake Worth make the District 14-7A race with the area's best large school, Atlantic, a must-follow story this season. There are several others, too.
Big-name area coach Rob Long took over at Royal Palm Beach, another 7A school, which will take its rivalry with a loaded Palm Beach Lakes team to a new level. Former Royal Palm Beach coach Drew Quinn is at Park Vista, which will be more competitive with a new coach at the helm. Long left Boca, but not without talent, as former player Max Spinner returns home to lead the Bobcats' talented returning core.
Jupiter, with FAU-bound 6-foot-10 center Grant Pelchen and high-flying wing Mike Edgely, should be the team to beat in 8A, though District 9-8A should be as tough as it always is, with Dwyer, Palm Beach Central, Palm Beach Gardens and Wellington each possessing quality players.
Not all's lost at Summit Christian, either, even without Smith leading practices and games. Senior Josue Levy, a 6-foot-3 wing, has the best hops in the county, and could put on a highlight show almost every game.
Meanwhile Grandview Prep, with Division I prospects Ivan Canete and Eric Mance manning the backcourt, will try to make it seven consecutive state semifinal trips.
And speaking of state-minded programs, Benjamin's returning talent has the Bucs thinking about Lakeland, and it's not far-fetched. All-Area first team guard Isaiah Hobbs is back, along with fellow guard Austin Rosenthal and 6-5 center Jon Pavlov, making the chances for the school's first trip to states since 2006 look pretty good.
The Special Six
Isaiah Hobbs, Jr., G, Benjamin: Dynamic scorer who doesn't force anything.
Aaron Horne, Jr., G/F, Lake Worth: Transfer with length and inside/out ability.
Josue Levy, Sr., G, Summit Christian: Explosive athlete with big-time potential.
Eric Mance, Sr., G, Grandview Prep: Streaky shooter can score quickly.
Jamal Palmer, Soph., G, Atlantic: Already physical as a sophomore, does everything.
Grant Pelchen, Sr., C, Jupiter: Steady 6-foot-10 shot blocker and rebounder.
Five Games to Watch
Atlantic vs. Grandview Prep, Charger Classic at Suncoast, 4 p.m., Nov. 25
Palm Beach Lakes at Atlantic, 7 p.m., Dec. 13
Palm Beach Gardens at Jupiter, 7 p.m., Dec. 14
Atlantic at Lake Worth, 7 p.m., Jan. 8
Weston-Sagemont at Grandview Prep, 7 p.m., Jan. 23
Post Preseason Top 10
1. Grandview Prep
3. Palm Beach Lakes
6. Lake Worth
9. Royal Palm Beach
10. Summit Christian
In the running: Boca Raton, Palm Beach Central, Palm Beach Gardens, St. Andrew's, Wellington.