The recently concluded 2014-2015 Florida High School championships, held in Lakeland, Florida, from February 17-21 and sanctioned by the Florida High School Activities Association (FHSAA), may have been seen the combined best collection of individual and team talent in the recent history of the championships. The event featured several teams that have received national recognition during the season as well as two 2015 McDonald's High School All-Americans. Below will be presented our nominees for top players (in all cases here from the winning side) in each of Florida's eight classes at the event and a few others of many that showed well.
Immediately below, players are listed by FHSAA class designation with height, position, graduation year and school.
Beatrice Mompremier, 6-4, center, 2015, Miami High School (Miami, Florida)
Mompremier carried a heavy load for the defending state 8A champs on the road to repeating for the title. In the two games at Lakeland she had 39 points and 33 rebounds. In just the semi-final win over Boca Raton, she posted six blocks. The McDonald's All-American (and Baylor signee) has improved her offensive skills over the last year. She is considered one of the top post players nationally in the 2015 class.
Kayla Thigpen, 5-8, point guard, 2015, Palm Beach Lakes High School (West Palm Beach, Florida)
Thigpen, a University of Central Florida signee, led her team in scoring (41 points) at the event. On top of that, she had to run the offense as the school won its first state championship in the sport.
Ty'Quandria Purifoy, 5-0, point guard, 2015, Pine Forest High School (Pensacola, Florida)
Purifoy, an unsigned senior, did a terrific job only turning the ball over once against intense pressure defense by Winter Haven in the semi-final (won 50-44). She combined good handles, speed with the ball and good on-court decision making. In the final, she led her team in scoring with 17 points.
Jacaira Allen, 5-11, forward, 2016, Dillard High School (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
Allen is considered one of the better players at her size and position in the South. She combines a good motor with above average athleticism. Her 14 points and nine rebounds in the final helped lead Dillard to its ninth state championship.
Destinee Walker, 5-10, shooting guard, 2015, Lake Highland Prep (Orlando, Florida)
A strong case can be made for Walker, a North Carolina signee, as Florida's best player this season. This McDonald's American posted 54 points in Lakeland including the three-ball that sent the final versus Fort Myers Dunbar into a winning overtime from the waning seconds of regulation. She is considered one of the top shooting guards nationally in the 2015 class.
Channise Lewis, 5-8. point guard, 2017, Miami Country Day School (Miami, Florida)
A good athlete and slick ball handle, Lewis won the point guard battle in the final with a 22 point, eight assist performance against Seffner Christian. She is considered one of the best point guards nationally in the 2017 class.
Jazmine Jones, 6-0, shooting guard, 2016, FAMU High School (Tallahassee, Florida)
Jones, ill during the event, "only" went for 39 points in Lakeland. A strong penetrator and good mid-range shooter, she appears to be adding three-point range to her arsenal. Highly athletic and unselfish (good passer) as shooting guards go, she is considered by many the lead candidate for next year's Florida Miss Basketball and various prep All-American honors.
Katie O'Neal, 5-5, point guard, 2015, Freeport High School (Freeport, Florida)
In the semifinal win (72-49) versus Paxton, Katie and sister Megan (5-5, shooting guard, 2016) combined for 56 points [27 and 29 respectively] including nine threes in what was the shooting display of the event. In the final victory over Wildwood (46-36), Katie, a University of West Florida signee, posted 19 points while still being the primary ball handler.
Below, players are listed alphabetically with height, position, graduation year, school and FHSAA class designation.
Other strong performers
Rennia Davis, 6-0, shooting guard, 2017, Ribault High School [4A] (Jacksonville, Florida)
In semi-final defeat (66-54) versus Lake Highland, Davis posted 18 points and 10 rebounds. Considered one of the top players at her position in the 2017 class in the South, she is steadily adding poise and range to her game. Davis should help Ribault's young team make a strong run to Lakeland next year.
Jordan Lewis, 5-7, point guard, 2016, Lake Highland Prep [4A] (Orlando, Florida)
Lewis was like a closer in baseball saving her best four fourth quarters and overtime (15 versus both Ribault in the semi-final and Dunbar in the final). For the two games combined, she posted 47 points, 20 rebounds and nine steals showing herself to be a strong game-long competitor.
Peyton Walker, 5-10, forward, 2015, Seffner Christian Academy[3A] (Seffner, Florida)
Walker, a Wofford College signee, came away with a runners-up trophy for the second year in a row but it wasn't because of a lack of her efforts. For the two games in Lakeland, she posted a total of 42 points and 17 rebounds.
A few new faces to watch
Maria Alvarez, 5-4, guard, 2019, Miami Country Day School [3A] (Miami, Florida)
Alvarez posted 19 points at the event including knocking down five threes. The word in the arena was that she can handle the ball but for now, with point guard Channise Lewis still having two years left in high school, Alvarez's role will likely continue to be more shooter than ball distributor.
Ja'Miah Bland, 6-0, power forward, 2018, Dunbar High School [4A] (Fort Myers, Florida)
Bland showed quite the ability to score around the basket (30 points) and rebound (23) at the event. She has good hands and is willing to fight for the ball in tight quarters.
Destanni Henderson, 5-7, shooting guard, 2018, Fort Myers High School [7A] (Fort Myers, Florida)
Henderson's team lost (60-50) to Palm Beach Lakes in the 7A semi-final. However, her 20 point performance on nine for fifteen from the field turned a lot of heads. She showed an amazing ability to change directions with the ball eventually scoring in the lane. Her name is in the conversation for one of the best 2018 guards not only in Florida but the entire country.
Rachel Levy, 6-2, small forward, 2017, Boca Raton High School [8A] (Boca Raton, Florida)
Levy was kind of an unknown beyond the southeastern portion of Florida before the event. A true perimeter player with size, she showed an ability to both drive the lane and shoot the perimeter shot in scoring 13 points in her team's semi-final loss (63-51) to Miami High School. On top of that she was credited with blocking four shots.
Koi Love, 5-11, forward, 2019, Lake Highland Prep [4A] (Orlando, Florida)
Love was huge (16 points and nine rebounds) in her team's 66-54 win over defending 4A champion Ribault. She showed fight and strength well beyond her years and with continued development could be Lake Highland's next special player.
Kari Niblack, 5-11, power forward, 2018, Wildwood High School [1A] (Wildwood, Florida)
Niblack's team lost in the final (46-36) to Freeport but the freshman gained a lot of respect posting 20 points and 32 rebounds in Lakeland. She has a nice ability to get near the rim with a dribble or two as well as catch and shoot a mid-range shot. She is one of the better freshman in the state not just in 1A.
Swish Appeal Awards for Florida High School Girls Basketball 2014-2015
Player of the year: Beatrice Mompremier of Miami High School
Destinee Walker had more help in winning the 4A championship than Mompremier had in winning the 8A title. It's close to a coin flip between two outstanding high school players.
Coach of the Year: Chris Godwin of Pine Forest High School (Pensacola, Florida)
When you maximize what you have and your players play as hard as they can on every possession, that is quality coaching. Pine Forest was not close to the most talented team in Florida but the team performed greater than the sum of its parts in posting a perfect 29-0 record in winning the 6A title (a first for the school). Godwin represents what the game needs more of. She played high school ball at Pensacola Washington under the outstanding leadership of Ronnie Bond (won four state titles), went off to college finishing her playing career at South Alabama and returned to coach in her native Pensacola. She demands discipline on and off the court and this year had her team playing as an efficient, well-oiled machine.
Team of the Year: Dillard High School (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
In winning its ninth state title (all under legendary coach Marcia Pinder), Dillard was the only Florida team to defeat Miami Country Day and had an undefeated record in-state. The Panthers posted a 3-1 record in the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona where the team lost its only game to a strong Desert Vista team from Phoenix.
FHSAA Rural Division solves a big in-state issue
For years, Florida administrators and coaches from rural areas have complained about competing against similar sized schools from urban and suburban areas. They perceived that these schools could tap into the much larger talent pool of their area giving them an unfair advantage. The belief was that size of school (most widely used as the criteria to determine who should play for what state title classification) should not be the only determining factor in setting parameters for state championship competition. Bottom line, they wanted to compete against like communities.
While at the event, I had the opportunity to sit down with FHSAA's Justin Harrison, Associate Executive Director for Athletic Services, to discuss the evolution of the Rural Division. The 2015 season marked the fourth year for the Rural Division (designated as 1A). Mr. Harrison explained how a few private schools can even fit into the Rural Division.
"Some private schools do fit and can qualify in there. The school must lie within the bounds of an area within the "Rural Areas of Opportunity" (RAO) established by state law to determine the rural communities of the State of Florida. If a high school falls with one of those rural communities and the enrollment is 600 and less [grades 9 through 12], they are able [public or private] to commit to the Rural Division. Dependent on the size of the school, the private school has the option of playing in 2A (161 enrolled or less) or 3A (162-465) [or in a few cases 4A for those 466-600 enrollees]."
The majority (about 75%) of the Rural Division fifty schools are in the Florida Panhandle which lies west of Tallahassee. Recently Fort Meade, Frostproof and Pahokee (Central and South Florida-based) have been added to the division. Marathon High School in the Florida Keys would qualify but [probably due to distance] has chosen as of now not to join the Rural Division. Currently the Rural Division exists for football, volleyball, boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball. When a school commits for the Rural Division, it must commit for all six sports assuming the school offers the sport.
As best as Mr. Harrison could determine, the Rural Division as constructed is unique to Florida. Several states have classes set apart for public and privates schools with enrollment considered. Florida has properly added the nature of location (here rural) of the community to this equation. Other states may wish to consider this plan.