This year’s Junior Orange Bowl boys’ basketball tournament at Reagan High features a 6-9, 290-pound center who has signed with the University of North Carolina — and his coach at West Charlotte (N.C.) has strong ties to South Florida.
The recruit is Kennedy Meeks, and he’s a big reason why West Charlotte (7-0) is ranked No. 1 in North Carolina and No. 18 nationally, according to MaxPreps.
Baronton Terry, who coached Northwestern and Chaminade before taking over at West Charlotte in 2008, said Meeks was heavily recruited by Kentucky, among others.
“John Calipari came on a private jet,” Terry said of the Kentucky coach’s home visit to Meeks.
“He told Kennedy he had coached 15 pro players in the past three years. Even his sixth man makes the NBA.
“He also told [Meeks] that … he is a dollar sign and that the day after he commits to the NBA Draft he can make $300,000 selling his autograph on campus.”
If Calipari, North Carolina’s Roy Williams — who won the recruiting war — and others think Meeks is NBA-bound, it will be interesting to see what the massive center can do against the Junior OB field, starting with Thursday’s 1:30 p.m. game against Palmetto (10-2).
If West Charlotte beats Palmetto, it would play Friday at 6:30 p.m. against either Coral Reef or Bishop McNamara (Maryland).
Coral Reef (11-0), ranked fourth in Florida’s Class 8A, is perhaps the best team in Miami-Dade this season. The Cudas are led by 6-4 senior guards Cedric Hankerson (Boston University) and B.J. Glassford (Stetson).
Bishop McNamara (5-3) is led by 6-2, 205-pound combo guard Stephan Jiggetts, who averaged 15.8 points last season and has signed with Siena.
The favorite to come out of the other side of the bracket is defending 8A state champion Hialeah Gardens, which won this tournament last season.
Hialeah Gardens (10-3) will open its defense of its Junior OB title with a 6:30 p.m. game Thursday against 5-0 Ironton (Ohio).
Ironton’s top players are 5-10 senior guard Zac Carter, who averaged 21 points and 4 assists last season, and 6-5 senior forward Trey Fletcher, a lefty who averaged 20 points and eight rebounds.
Both players have been starting since their freshman seasons, and Ironton has made it to a regional final in two of the past three years.
Coral Gables (7-7) will challenge Bullis (Maryland) on Thursday at 8 p.m.
Bullis (6-4) is led by 6-10 junior Andre Walker, who has an offer from DePaul.
In addition, 5-10 senior guard Anthony Thompson has signed with Holy Cross.
Still, despite the various solid teams in the tournament, West Charlotte appears to be the favorite, especially if 6-9, 220-pound senior forward JaKeem Yates is back after missing four games because of a sprained ankle.
He did, however, practice twice this week.
Terry, who led Northwestern to state four times in a five-year span at the school, said his return to South Florida doesn’t mean a lot to him personally.
“The coaches I competed against when I was down there are all gone [from high schools] — Frank Martin is at South Carolina, Anthony Grant is at Alabama, Mark Lieberman is [an assistant] at FIU,” Terry said.
“The reason I’m coming to Miami is so that our kids can get scouted. For example, my [6-0 junior] point guard, Trey Foster, is being recruited by the University of Miami. This will give him great exposure.”