TAMPA — This could have been a “down” year for Wharton High boys basketball.
The Wildcats graduated seven seniors, four of them starters, from last year’s Class 8A final four team. Among those to graduate were the team’s top two scorers in guards CJ McGill and Sir Patrick Reynolds and the team’s best defender, guard Jaken Grier.
Yet here they are, 13-2 overall, ranked third in the most recent 8A state poll and tied for first in Class 8A-District 7. The Wildcats won the Northeast Holiday Tournament during the Christmas break and defeated previously undefeated St. Petersburg in the championship.
Wharton boys basketball coach Tommy Tonelli knew entering the 2013-14 season he had a team capable of contending for another district title.
“I put value in how we go about things in the spring, summer and fall, our workouts and the coach’s summer league,” Tonelli said. “We lost in the (summer-league) final to Gibbs. How well we do that translates to the regular season. The one thing I knew about our guys is that they’ll come out and play hard, they’re coachable guys and they love to play together.”
The biggest surprise for the Wildcats has been the play of senior guard Jack Taylor, the team’s leading scorer who moved to Tampa last year from the Middle East and served as McGill’s backup.
“He’s more than filled the bill of production,” Tonelli said.
TC wins $2,000 prize at MaxPreps tourney
Tampa Catholic may have lost each game in which they played at the MaxPreps Holiday Classic in California in December, but they didn’t return to Tampa empty handed.
Coach Don Dziagwa was one of a handful of coaches at the tournament to win breakfast with former NBA coach Mike Dunlap, and the Crusaders won a new set of uniforms valued at $2,000. Dziagwa said the 15 black uniforms with kelly-green trim he ordered could arrive in time for the district tournament.
Games to watch
Tonight: Jesuit (11-6) at Tampa Catholic (12-6), 7:30 p.m. — Jesuit has won six of the last eight meetings, and 12 of the last 16 dating to 2006.
Saturday: Berkeley Prep (15-1) at Tampa Prep (13-2), 2 p.m. — This game, as always, marks the finale of the annual Headmasters’ Challenge. Tampa Prep has won the last eight games.