The 25th edition of the Junior Orange Bowl Basketball Classic will feature its widest array of basketball talent ever when it tips off on Dec. 27 at Reagan High School in Doral.
Not only will it showcase top talent from Oklahoma, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida, but for the first time a European school, Gimnazija Bezigrad School from Ljubljana, Slovenia, will travel to Miami on Christmas Day to join in the festivities.
Several college prospects already have indicated their preference for the next level of play. Omega Harris (Putnam City West High School, Oklahoma City, OK) has verbally committed to UTEP, Jordan Abdur- Ra’oof (Gonzaga, Washington, DC) has given his nod to Cornell University. Joseph Lopez (South Miami) has committed to Winthrop.
On the girls’ side, Jade Owens and Maya Garland (both from Fenwick, Oak Park, IL) have committed to Creighton University and UAB, respectively. Bernadette Devaney (Nova) has committed to Lehigh University.
Many other recruits from the boys’ field are still waiting to make their choices and will come to Miami with decisions still on hold. Derrick Brooks Jr (Bartow) has multiple Division I offers and was to visit UMass. Haanif Cheatham (Pembroke Pines Charter) is mulling offers from Miami, Georgia and Alabama among others.
Underclassmen such as Bryant Crawford (Gonzaga, Washington, DC) may be among the most highly recruited point guards for the 2015 class with offers from Connecticut, Georgetown, Indiana, Maryland, Texas and others. He was poised to be the starting guard on the USA U16 team in their trip to Uruguay this summer until some minor swelling in his knee forced him to take some time off to rest. He is back as strong as ever and impressing scouts across the country.
Tony Bradley (Bartow) is a long, lean 6- foot-8 sophomore who is popping up on radar screens all across the country. He currently has offers from Miami, UMass, Auburn, Clemson, Tennessee among others.
Girls’ up and coming talent is plentiful. Jada Graves (Thomas Edison, VA) led her team to the state quarterfinals as a freshman, averaging over 20 points a game in the playoffs. Beatrice Mompremier (Miami High) is getting visits from major programs around the country. Latest visits to the Stingarees gym have been North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida State and UM. More will come to see the 6-foot-5 junior.
Possibly one of the most intriguing opportunities in the tournament will be the Slovenian team. Three players (Jan Novak, 6-foot-4 senior shooting guard; Jure Span, 6-foot-3 senior point guard, and Jan Dolensek, 6-foot-8 senior power forward) played for their national U18 team in the recent European Division Achampionships in Latvia.
Two other players (Sandi Grubelic, 6- foot-3 junior shooting guard, and Matej Kavas, 6-foot-7 junior small forward) played on the 2012 U16 European championships for Slovenia. Anchoring the middle of the lineup will be 6-foot-10 junior center Luka Pirc. This should make their first trip to the U.S. an interesting one.
In the boys’ field, Gonzaga finished last year with a 27-5 record that included a clean sweep (18-0) in the always tough WCAC that includes Dematha and Paul VI. From the Florida group, South Miami finished as Florida 8A runnerup, Bartow reached the final four in Florida 7A, Pines Charter lost in the Regional Final in 6A against eventual state champion Norland and American lost a tough district final to Hialeah Gardens after topping them twice in the regular season and finished the season 20-6.
The top team prospects in the girls’ field are many. Miami High brings back a full lineup from its Florida 8A runnerup finish from last season. The same is true for Nova in Florida 7A where they finished second to Gainesville Buchholz. Flanagan lost in the Florida 8A Regional finals and looks to advance farther this year, while South Miami and Ferguson both figure to be battling Miami Senior for 8A leadership in Miami Dade County.
Fenwick brings back most of its roster from a 21-7 season and is usually ranked in the top 10 among Chicago area teams, being led by David Power who coached the 2009 McDonald’s All America West team and currently has an 829-win coaching record.
Thomas Edison was a Virginia 3A quarterfinalist with mostly freshmen and sophomores leading the way. Mt. Lebanon returns to the Junior Orange Bowl after capturing the 2011 championship and has 2010 and 2011 Pennsylvania state championships under Coach Dori Oldaker. Games will be played at Ronald Reagan High School on Dec. 27, 28 and 30. More information on the Junior Orange Bowl Basketball Classic can be found at www.jrorangebowl.org. Additional information requests can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org