During Dillard’s 20-game season-closing winning streak to capture the Class 6A state title, star forwards Jordan Wright and Raiquan Gray selflessly shared the role of Batman and Robin.
Opponents found no answer as coach Darryl Burrows exploited matchups with the diverse yet interchangeable skills of his dynamic duo.
Whether it was the FSU signee Gray running point guard at 6-8, 260, or the 6-6, 200-pound Wright using a deceptive in-and-out dribble and strength to bully opponents inside, the tandem proved the biggest difference in Dillard’s run to its sixth state title under Burrows.
“Turk [Raiquan] and Jordan are so different,” Burrows said. “Turk is more of a ball handler, facilitator, while Jordan is real good at attacking the basket. He is like a train. If you’re 6-5 or even a 7-footer, the idea that you have to be able to stop him is a challenge. If you are trying to key on one, you have to deal with the other.”
The dilemma of defending Dillard’s Big 2 makes it the favorite in Class 7A, and also puts it in position to earn a top 25 national ranking — an accomplishment the team didn’t achieve last season.
Having two difference-makers such as Miami Herald’s Class 5A-8A Broward Player of the Year Wright (19 points per game, 9 rebounds per game) and Gray (16 ppg, 12 rpg), an All-Broward first team selection, gives Dillard a decided advantage.
Although their state championship hardware and superior on-court chemistry give Gray and Wright the nod as the top one-two punch in Broward, fellow state contenders Westminster Academy, University School and Calvary Christian believe they also have game-changing duos capable of catapulting them to a state championship.
After falling short in the Class 3A state championship game, Westminster will rely on the inside outside play of 6-10 senior Paul Atkinson (18.5 ppg 12 rpg) and Zach Scott, a 6-4 junior (21 ppg, 4 apg), who won 2015-16 Broward 4A-1A Player of the year.
With All-Broward 6-4 guard Jerald Butler and his 16 points and 8.3 rebounds transferring to rival Calvary Christian, Lions coach Ehren Wahloff said his Big 2 are ready to assume an even bigger load.
“Coming off the experience last year, Zach and Paul have grown up and kind of look forward to that role being difference maker in tough situations,” Wahloff said. “Zach will be involved in the play one way or another and Paul will be in position to get the rebound. Teams will have to double them to try and stop us. That leads to other players like Chase Johnston and Jason Strong getting good looks.”
Butler’s high-profile transfer to Calvary Christian boosts the Eagles state title chances immensely. Butler, a Butler University signee, pairs up with USC signee Victor Uyaelumno, a 7-footer, who averaged 11 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks last season.
“Victor and I have to set the tone,” Butler said. “Shot-blocking, rebounding, getting second-chance points. I have to get everybody involved and play on both ends of the court. A lot of players don’t want to guard the best player while going at the best player. Well, I do. I believe if we play hard and take care of business, we can go to nationals. We are going to win states.”
University School, Calvary’s biggest threat in a loaded District 14-5A, will go as far as its talented young front line of 6-9 Vernon Carey Jr. and 7-2 Balsa Koprivica takes it. After extending his range to the three-point line, Carey is rated a five-star prospect by ESPN and is being touted as the best big man in Broward
Sharks coach Adrian Sosa minced no words in describing where he believes Carey (15 ppg, 9 rpg) and Koprivica (16 ppg, 10 rpg, 3.5 bpg) stack up as a tandem.
“Most people have Calvary as the best team in our district but we have the two best players on the court,” Sosa said. “I would put my two guys at the top. They complement each other well. They both are so skilled. They can bang and can post it. With Vernon 15 and Balsa 16, it is a situation that every week, month by month they are only going to get better.”
Dec. 2-3: Kreul Showcase; Dec. 8: Hoophall Classic (AmericanAirlines Arena); Dec. 8-10: A-Rod Classic; Dec. 9-10: Hoop Exchange Southern Shootout; Dec. 16-19: Kreul Classic; Dec. 16-21: City of Palms Classic; Dec. 27-29: D-Hop Classic; Dec. 28-30: Junior Orange Bowl Classic; Jan. 7: Coaches v. Cancer Classic; Jan 13, 14, 16: Tournament of Champions, Inc. MLK Classic; Jan 21: R.M.F. Magazine/Florida Prospects “Respect Series”; Feb. 1-4: BCAA Big 8 Championships; Feb. 6-8, 10-11: District Tournament; Feb. 16: Regional semifinals (1A-4A); Feb. 21: Regional semifinals (5A-9A), Regional finals (Class 1A); Feb. 24: Regional Finals (2A-9A); Feb. 28-March 4: State finals.
2015-16 STATE CHAMPIONS
Class 8A - Coral Springs; 7A- Blanche Ely; 6A - Dillard; 5A - Poinciana; 4A - Jacksonville Bolles; 3A - Windermere Prep; 2A - Grandview Prep; 1A - Chipley.
1. Dillard; 2. Westminster Academy; 3. Blanche Ely; 4. Calvary Christian; 5. University School; 6. Sagemont; 7. St. Thomas Aquinas; 8. McArthur; 9. Coral Springs; 10. Northeast.
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS
Victor Uyaelumno Calvary Christian 7-0 Sr.; Balsa Koprivica, University School, 7-1, So.; Vernon Carey, Jr. University School, 6-9, So.; Raiquan Gray, Dillard, 6-8, Sr. Jeffrey Prophete, Fort Lauderdale, 6-3, Sr.; Drew Lamont, American Heritage, 6-8, Sr.; Geremy Taylor, Blanche Ely, 6-3, Sr.; Bryce Sanchious, Northeast, 6-5 Sr.; Jordan Wright, Dillard, 6-6, Sr.; Justin Johnson, Boyd Anderson, 6-5, Sr.; Jerald Butler, Calvary Christian, 6-4, Sr.; Tyler Polley, Sagemont, 6-8 Sr.; Zachary Scott, Westminster Academy, 6-4 Jr.; Paul Atkinson, Westminster Academy, 6-10, Sr.; Jason Strong, Westminster Academy, 6-9, Sr.