Two years ago, Armand Shoon was a young man without a team.
He attended Key Biscayne’s MAST Academy, which does not have a basketball program. He would walk instead to Norwood Park in Miami Gardens and play pick-up basketball against all comers, including adults.
Shoon said he would play from 3 to 10 p.m. every day, and the self-taught player quickly realized he had skills.
“The guys in the park would call me ‘Kobe’ [Bryant],” Shoon said, referring to the Los Angeles Lakers star.
Last season, Shoon transferred to Westwood Christian in Kendall, and it was a perfect match. Shoon, a player looking to make a name for himself in his favorite sport, had joined forces with a program that had the same collective goal.
Now a 6-3 senior with a great vertical leap that allows him to touch the top of the square on the backboard, Shoon is averaging 17.3 points and is confident he will earn a Division I scholarship in April.
Saturday night at 7, Westwood Christian (24-5) will play host to Zion Lutheran (22-7) in a Class 2A regional final. A victory would send Westwood to its first state final four in Lakeland. The only disappointment for Westwood is that its opponent is not Champagnat, which eliminated the Warriors in last year’s regional final.
Westwood’s highlight in that game came when Eugene Joseph, then a 6-3 freshman, dunked on 7-footer Tonye Jekiri, who now plays for the University of Miami. The play reportedly got 20,000 views on YouTube.
Shoon, whose dunk attempt on Jekiri in that game rimmed out, said Joseph’s slam on the ex-Champagnat giant was a “clean poster.” And even though they lost the game, the Warriors had still made it to a regional final for the first time in the school’s 50-year history.
The Warriors also lost to Champagnat during the regular season this year, fueling an already intense rivalry and building anticipation for what many believed to be an inevitable regional final matchup. But Zion spoiled those plans.
“I was shocked when I heard [Champagnat] lost,” Shoon said. “I had to look at the bracket to be sure. Honestly, there is a little bit of disappointment there for us because we were looking forward to the rematch.
“It’s a big rivalry. When we play them, there are people lined up to get into our gym.”
Shoon and Joseph said they had “never heard of Zion Lutheran” before last week but were confident Westwood coach Jose Amat would give them the proper scouting reports.
Zion, who hadn’t advanced past districts since 2001, will have to contend with more than just Shoon and Joseph.
Westwood’s leading scorer is 6-0 senior point guard Daniel Ramis (23.0) and its top rebounder is 6-6 senior Thiago Conceicao (15.0 rebound average). Both transferred in after last season – Ramis from Columbus and Conceicao from Mourning.
Zion must also try to silence what is sure to be a noisy crowd inside Westwood’s 50-year-old home court.
“It may not be the best-looking gym, but it has sentimental value,” Shoon said. “Our fans are amazing, and it really gets loud in there.”
It certainly beats playing at Norwood Park.
FHSAA HALL OF FAME
Former Miami Palmetto track and field star Holly Thompson and former longtime Fort Lauderdale Dillard coach and athletic director Robert Green were among the Florida High School Athletic Association’s 2013 Hall of Fame class announced Thursday.