The last thing opponents wanted to see after American Heritage’s backcourt of Keyshawn Evans and Kobe Eubanks led the Patriots to its first state final four appearance was more offensive fires to put out.
As the Patriots (ranked No. 4 overall in the Sourcehoops poll), go from hunter to hunted this season, Evans’ challenge is to find enough shots for Eubanks and a potentially 10-deep Patriots roster bolstered by the arrival of 6-4 wings Jason and Justin Massey from North Broward Prep.
“Jason and Justin are two real good pickups,” Evans said. “Jason is more athletic, he can get to the basket. And Jason can spread the floor out and can shoot very well. That is what we really needed; shooters and that big guard to attack the basket and get easy buckets.”
Besides Eubanks, a 6-5 swingman who averaged a career-high 18 points last season, and the Massey twins, there will be plenty of mouths for Evans to feed, including 6-9 center Drake Lamont, Josh Borders and 6-7 forward Lucas McCormick, who has showed signs of becoming a breakout star.
Heritage coach Charles Stephenson said the added talent plays right into the Patriots’ desire to turn games into a track meet.
“We will try to push up [the tempo] this year and play a lot quicker than we have been playing,’’ Stephenson said. “If you notice at the college and pro level, everybody is talking about the speed of the game, speed of the game. The only way I am going to get players into the game and keep them happy is to press up as hard as we can play. I’m asking them to come in and go as hard as they can, go for two to three minutes, raise their hands to come out, and we will put somebody else in.”
Everything fell into place last season when Evans and Eubanks led an improbable trip to the Class 5A state semifinals.
Heritage (25-6) proved it was no fluke by knocking off five-time state champion Dillard for the district title before its title run ended with a 75-44 drubbing by eventual state champion Lake Wales in the state semifinals.
Outclassed in every facet of the game, Eubanks said that loss serves as the motivation to get back to state and make things right this season.
“States taught us it’s more intense, a fast-paced game,” Eubanks said. “We were not ready. We went up there joking instead of taking it very seriously. Next time we go up there we will come back with the ‘W.’”
To find out just how much tougher his team has become since being pushed around by Lake Wales, Stephenson has beefed up a schedule that already featured Dillard on Dec. 15 and Jan. 9 with perennial state power Montverde Academy and the City of Palms, Hoops Mountain and Kreul tournaments.
Of course, for everything to work, Evans will have to be an even better conductor than last season, when his clutch shooting and savvy ball-handling in the postseason established him among the top point guards in the state.
“Having all those scorers will only help,” Evans said. “I’m not going to have to worry about getting my buckets. I’m going to have to sacrifice my points.