The inaugural North Florida Boys and Girls All-Star Basketball Classic was set to take place on Saturday, March 21 at Forest High School in Ocala.
But like many other sporting events around the country and the world, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a postponement when Marion County Schools were shut down on March 12.
There was still hope to play later in the spring, but when the pandemic caused schools to have distance learning only for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, the Basketball Classic was officially canceled.
But we still honor the players and coaches for the four boys and four girls teams who were selected by the North Florida All-Star Classic panel to participate in the inaugural games.
Starting with the boys teams we look first at the East squad, which consists of Clay, Putnam, Volusia, and Flagler counties.
The East team was to be led by co-coaches Travis Tipton of Middleburg and Adam Holmes of Creekside (St. Johns).
Palatka, Spruce Creek (Port Orange), and Middleburg placed two players apiece on the team, as well as Keystone Heights. Palatka advanced to the 4A playoffs and was led by guard Malik Beauford, who led the Panthers with 18 points and 10 rebounds a game, and guard Wesley Roberts, who almost 16 points and nine rebounds a contest.
But neither player was the leading scorer coming in for the East. That was Beacon of Hope (Jacksonville) forward Zach Moore, who averaged nearly 24 points and 16 rebounds this season and was named to this inaugural game.
The North squad, representing Duval and Nassau counties, was due to be led by Coach Henry Robinson of Westside (Jacksonville).
Robinson led his Westside Wolverines team to the 5A playoffs this season, where they were eliminated by eventual state champion Rickards (Tallahassee).
Robinson had two of his seniors named to the North team, J’cobie Henderson, who averaged 14 points, 6 assists, and 3 steals this season, and Diamontaye James, who went for 13.5 points and nearly 9 rebounds in 2019-2020.
Mandarin (Jacksonville), who won the District 1-7A title, and Baker County (Glen St. Mary) also placed two players on the North team as did 1A state runner-up Hilliard. Shemar Melton and the runner-up for 1A state player of the year Jacob Crews represent the Red Flashes, who lost to Hawthorne in the state title game in their first state semifinal appearance since 1979. Crews led Northeast Florida in scoring with a little over 22 points a game and also added 10.4 rebounds a contest.
Now we head out West to check out a team that is dominated by Columbia (Lake City) Tigers.
After advancing the 6A state semifinals, their first boys basketball state semifinal appearance in 52 years, Columbia had four players named to the West team and was also to be coached by Tigers head coach Steve Faulkner along with Isaac Selva of St. Francis (Gainesville).
Columbia won 18 in a row at one point and finished 28-3, losing a heartbreaker in double overtime to Dillard (Fort Lauderdale) in the 6A state semifinals in Lakeland. D’andre Jefferson, Marcus Owens, Kenny Gaines, and Darrien Jones were all named to the team.
It was definitely a balanced effort as the four Columbia players averaged between 6.8 and 11.5 points a game. Gaines averaged 11.5, Jones was next at nearly 11 points a game with 4 assists, and Owens averaged almost 7.5 points and 5 rebounds. Gaines and Jones were the Gainesville Sun Big School co-players of the year along with KJ Bradley of Eastside (Gainesville), who was also selected to the West squad after scoring 18 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists a game.
Also named to represent the West was Hawthorne’s Torey Buie, the Sun’s Small School player of the year, who led the Hornets to their first boys state basketball title since 1987 while scoring 19 points and four rebounds a game, including 58 points in the state semifinals and state championship game in Lakeland.
St. Francis and Jefferson County (Monticello) also had two players named to the West, which covers Alachua County all the way around the Big Bend to near Tallahassee.
The final boys team is the South All-Stars. The South team was due to be led by Spencer Ashley of host Forest (Ocala) and Bob Hoffmann of Belleview.
Ashley led Forest to the 6A playoffs this season and was to coach the team that was representing Marion, Lake, Sumter, and Citrus Counties.
Highlighting the South team was to be Ole Miss signee Marcus Niblack, who led Wildwood back to the 1A playoffs by scoring 21 points, five assists, and four rebounds a game. Akiem Nickerson and Jyre McCloud of Leesburg, who both scored over 20 points a game, were also selected along with Ocala Star Banner’s Boys Basketball Player of the Year Jake Charske of Forest and Eustis’s Bradley Douglas, who led the Panthers back to the playoffs while averaging 22 points, six rebounds, and four assists a game.
Four girls teams were selected as well by the North Florida All-Star Classic panel.
Starting with the North team, who was to be coached by Renee Howell of Terry Parker (Jacksonville).
The Braves just missed out on the postseason after losing in the District 3-5A tournament championship game to Middleburg.
Ribault (Jacksonville) leads the way with three players selected to the North team, while Raines (Jacksonville), who knocked out Ribault before losing to eventual 4A state runner-up Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) in the regional final round, placed guard Nyla Allen and center Kyla Wilson on the team. Allen averaged 13.5 points and 4.7 steals, 2.7 assists, and 2.5 rebounds for the 28-2 Vikings.
Fernandina Beach also had two players named to the North squad.
Next up the East girls team, which celebrates a banner year for Orange Park girls basketball.
The Raiders won 20 games and were selected for the 5A playoffs. They were eliminated in the opening round by eventual 5A state champion Pine Forest (Pensacola).
But for this game, Orange Park coach Fred Cole was tapped to lead the East team. And four of his players were named to the squad as well.
Guards Macie Faucett, Nayelli Williams, Trenity Gilford, and forward Sha’mia Kapers were the Orange Park representatives. Faucett led the Raiders in scoring in 2019-20 with 12 points a game and steals with nearly three and a half a contest. Capers scored 9.3 points a game and averaged nearly five rebounds.
Trinity Christian (Deltona), who advanced to the second round of the 2A playoffs, placed three players on the East, including center Kyana Johnson, who scored 15.6 points and an eye-popping 23 rebounds a game. Forward Marissa Reulbach scored 19.4 points for the Eagles.
Next up the West, who was to be led by co-coaches Jimmy Blankenship of Lafayette (Mayo) and the retiring head coach at Bell, Mark Kenney.
Blankenship, who has taken Lafayette to three Final Four appearances, led the Hornets to their sixth straight regional final this year where they came up just short at Madison County.
Blankenship’s team was to be led by his star 5-6 guard Renee Clines, the Florida Dairy Farmers 1A Player of the Year and Gainesville Sun Small School Player of the Year who led the state in 1A in scoring at 23.4 points a game along with 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3.5 steals a game.
Guard Courtney Moore of P.K. Yonge (Gainesville), who advanced to the second round of the 3A playoffs, was another highlight of the West team. The East Tennessee State signee was the Sun’s Big School Player of the Year, averaging 16.6 points, 4.5 assists, and 4.5 steals for the Blue Wave.
Also selected for the West team was Antania Mason of 1A state champion Hawthorne, who won their first state girls basketball title in school history.
Finally, we take a look at the South girls team, who was to be coached by North Marion (Citra) coach Stephanie Brown. Brown led North Marion to a 19-9 record, district title, and the 4A playoffs this season.
This team was to be led by Sydney James of West Port (Ocala), a McDonald’s All-American who has signed with Furman who filled up the stat sheet with 21 points, 11.7 rebounds a game, 3 and a half assists per game, 3.3 steals, and 2.5 blocks per contest. James had 19 double-doubles and three triple-doubles as a senior and was named the Ocala Star-Banner’s player of the year.
Also named to the South team were Carsen Bridges and Lakeria Ingram of Leesburg and Analexy Ortiz and Josiany Canales of Lake Minneola. Bridges averaged 20.5 points and 9.5 rebounds a game, while Canales filled up the stat sheet with 17 points, 7.5 RPG, 4 assists, 4 steals per game.
One final selection for the South squad was center Kiana Bennett of 2A Real Life Christian Academy (Clermont) in Lake County near Orlando. Bennett averaged 11 and a half points, 3 assists, 3 and a half steals, and an eye-popping 15.7 rebounds this season for the 15-8 Raptors.
So that is just some of the talent chosen for the inaugural North Florida Boys and Girls All-Star Basketball Classic. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has had other ideas for our area, country, and our world, however, we want to send our congratulations to all the senior players chosen and good luck to them on graduating and in their future endeavors.