Raiders set to defend district title

By Randy Lefko
Posted 11/30/17

ORANGE PARK – Orange Park High basketball coach Derek Kurnitsky is returning to the hardwoods of the Raiderdome with one of the strongest set of backcourt athletes in the county and is expecting to …

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Raiders set to defend district title


ORANGE PARK – Orange Park High basketball coach Derek Kurnitsky is returning to the hardwoods of the Raiderdome with one of the strongest set of backcourt athletes in the county and is expecting to defend his first district title with the same fervor as last year.

“Chuck and duck and run it into the ground,” said Kurnitsky, the defending district 4-6A champion as he watched his Raiders warm up during a preseason clash with Stanton Prep at Episcopal over the Thanksgiving Holiday. “It’s early in the year and we are just trying to find out who we are here.”

Orange Park ousted Stanton 77-37 in the preseason opener with junior John Abate hitting for 20 points and junior Dialo Bryant handing out 11 assists. Senior Ty McBride returns to pair up with the swift backcourt.

“Ty is the veteran being a started since his freshman year,” said Kurnistky. “He’s probably played more game than Wilt Chamberlain.”

In the second game of the preseason tournament, Kurnitsky got stomped 46-36 by a much-taller Nease team with Abate punching in with 20 points.

“Totally my fault, horrible coaching,” said Kurnitsky.

Sophomore Kadin Elmore adds a sixth set of fast legs to the mix for the Raiders with Davontai Crutch and D’Marre Craddock, both over 6’-3” adding some heft underneath.

“We will finally have some muscle underneath to clear boards,” said Kurnitsky. “Marc Calumpang will add some rebounds too.”

Orange Park opens with 7A-Middleburg coming to the Raiderdome on November 28 with the first big clash coming from Fleming Island on December 1.

Fleming Island, with second year coach Traavis Chandler again bringing a strong athletic team to the court, opened with an impressive win over Potter’s House in preseason play before getting rolled by Englewood at Raines High two days later.

“We hit every three pointer we took against Potter’s House in the fourth quarter for 36 points,” said Chandler. “When we get hot, we get hot. It’s staying that way the key.”

Chandler has returner Ian Hines as his front man on the point with newcomers Jordan Miles and Ridgeview transfer Josh DeLeon showing strong presence in the lane against very aggressive Englewood squad.

Whether Chandler gets some help from the recently completed football season is to be seen.

At Ridgeview, height is hard to find with 6’-3” Jaden Roy the middle man for new coach Jerome Clyburn who switched from Middleburg High junior varsity to take the reigns down Blanding Blvd. Clyburn will bring a professional discipline to the Ridgeview bench and whether the boys can respond to a proven player at all levers; as an Orange Park Raider, as a collegian at Austin Peay and as an ABA pro with the Jacksonville Giants will be the measure of success.

Oakleaf lost twice Clay Today Player of the Year Jonathan Bryant to the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga where the strong power forward shooter is excelling as a freshman, and returns with guard Deonte Sherwood and giants Chantz Williams and Jalen Rivers; both 6-4, 6-5 with Rivers tapping the 330 pound mark on the weight scale, as his main weapons.

“Jon was a terrific player who is starting what will be a great college career at University of Tennessee Chattanooga,” said Oakleaf coach Jason Price. “I don’t believe you ever replace players. New teams each year develop there own chemistry and identity. I have never been a coach that fits players in to a rigid system.”

Williams is a shot-blocking phenom while Rivers is just BIG, but superbly agile. Senior Dante Smalls is also a 6-5-er, but light at about 180 pounds.

“Chantz set the school record for blocks in a season last year and even though he is just a sophomore is a leader and a team captain,” said Price.

Sherwood is definitely going to be ringleader of a strong athletic group that can battle in the very tough district 4-8A with Bartram Trail, Creekside and Fleming Island.

“Deonte steers the ship and I am looking forward to him having a terrific season,” said Price. “He is overlooked and under appreciated in the greater area and he is primed to prove he is one of the top players in the area.”

Middleburg, in district 3-7A, returns with Travis Tipton as coach and a new attitiude with some height in the lineup with 6’-5” Bradley Barthlow, a senior and four others over six foot.

“I got the height, now I teach the basketball,” said Tipton, during a recent chat in the hallways outside the Middleburg High gym as Tipton surveyed any future Bronco paint men. “I don’t think we’ve ever had this many guys with height so we shall see.”

Middleburg lost a 70-47 to Atlantic Coast High in their November 21 opener with visits to Mandarin and Orange Park High this week before returning for a Thursday home match against St.Augustine.


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