By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — The 11th annual Wally Keller Classic begins tonight with 16 games over the next two days at Charlotte High School.
“I just think it’s a great opportunity for our local area to see a lot of great talent that’s out there in the basketball world,” Charlotte coach Tom Massolio said. “I’ve always been a basketball guy as it is, and just love to see the games. To have it in our backyard here, it means a lot that we can put on something this special and watch these guys grow.”
Tonight’s marquee matchup is between the host Tarpons against rival Port Charlotte.
Last time out, Charlotte upset the district’s top seed with a 52-36 win at Port Charlotte. The Pirates, who have not lost a game since, will look to return the favor, with a scheduled tipoff for 7:20 p.m.
That’s just one of two tough games for the Tarpons this weekend. Their game against Fort Myers will be the last of Saturday’s 12 games. In the lone matchup last year between the Tarpons and Green Wave, Fort Myers won 71-63.
“We’re going to play the toughest schedule we can possibly play,” Massolio said. “That’s the way it’s been for us for a long time. Our philosophy is to get ready for the postseason and hopefully make a run. “This weekend is no different. Two great opponents and two great rivalries.”
Area teams Port Charlotte, Lemon Bay and North Port all will play games on Saturday as well. The Pirates are scheduled to begin at 4:20 p.m. against Southwest Florida Christian, North Port follows behind against Golden Gate, and Lemon Bay faces Cambridge Christian is after that. All three of those games are in the Fish Tank (side gym) at Charlotte, and will begin following the conclusion of the previous game.
Charlotte’s game against Fort Myers is scheduled for 8:20 p.m., and that will be in the main gym.
The Classic released a list of “Wally’s Sweet 16” players, including a few who have already committed to Division I colleges, like Winter Park’s Wyatt Wilkes (Florida State) and Westminster Academy’s Paul Atkinson (Yale).
Of the 16 players on that list, the only area player is Port Charlotte’s Sean Price, who is averaging 20.0 points and 9.5 rebounds per game this season.
In total, 27 teams will participate in the 16 games. Five of those teams are ranked in the top 25 in the state of Florida, according to Maxpreps’ rankings. Those teams are: South Miami (12), Westminster Academy (15) Lakewood Ranch (21) and Tampa Catholic (23).
Random fact: Charlotte 6-foot-6 forward Will Batts is the tallest player on the court most nights, but he’s the 15th tallest player in the Wally Keller, behind players like 7-foot-1 sophomore Balsa Koprivica (University School) and 6-foot-8 8th-grader Tripp Burdgess (Tampa Cambridge Catholic).
WALLY’S “Sweet 16” TOP PLAYERS
Name School Ht. Gr,
Jonathan dos Anjos Victory Rock 6-8 Jr.
Paul Atkinson Westminster Acad. 6-10 Sr.
Darius Banks St. Petersburg 6-5 Sr.
Vernon Carey Jr. University School 6-10 So.
Zach Dawson South Miami 6-4 Sr.
Latravian Glover South Miami 6-8 Sr.
Amari Haynes Mariner 6-8 Sr.
Mayan Kiir Victory Rock 6-9 Sr.
Kevin Knox Tampa Catholic 6-9 Sr.
Balsa Koprivica University School 7-1 So.
Khavon Moore Westside (Macon, Ga.) 6-8 Jr.
Jahmel Myers Mariner 6-7 Jr.
Sean Price Port Charlotte 6-3 Sr.
Jason Strong Westminster Acad. 6-8 Sr.
Jadrian Tracey SW Florida Chr. 6-5 Fr.
Wyatt Wilkes Winter Park 6-7 Jr.
FORMER WALLY KELLER PARTICIPANTS IN THE NBA
Name High School NBA Team
Jaylen Brown Marietta Wheeler Boston Celtics
Joel Embiid Montverde Acad. Philadelphia 76ers
Rodney McGruder Arlington Country Day Miami Heat
Austin Rivers Winter Park LA Clippers
Ben Simmons Montvedre Academy Philadelphia 76ers
FORMER STATE CHAMPIONS AT THE WALLY KELLER:
Arlington Country Day
Fort Myers High
Lake Highland Prep
Orlando Christian Prep