Even as Zion Lutheran 6-8 forward Keith Stone poured in 28 points a game while showing the versatility of a Swiss army knife and playing four positions last season, he couldn’t shake the tag of “best-kept secret” in Florida boys’ basketball.
Stone’s under-the-radar status, however, changed when University of Florida coach Billy Donovan, a master of finding hidden gems, offered Stone a scholarship this past summer.
For Stone, receiving an offer from a perennial top-20 NCAA program and two-time NCAA champion coach made all the hard work he put into his dramatic transformation from late bloomer who only started playing organized basketball at age 12, to top prospect in Class 2A, well worth it.
“Everybody kept saying this person was better than me or that person was better than me,” Stone said. “Although they were playing longer than me and playing with state-of-the-art equipment, I didn’t want to feel second to anyone. I still play with a chip on my shoulder.”
The edge that Stone plays with bodes well for a Zion Lutheran team poised to make a serious run at the Class 2A state title.
Stone has returned bigger and stronger from a breakout junior season when he averaged 28 points and eight rebounds and led Zion (21-7) to a school-best No. 2 rank in 2A.
Add in rising guard Brandon Bornelus, Edwin Louis, Tevin Daily and Shimoore Stern, and Zion believes it has enough talent around Stone to challenge Grandview Prep, its biggest roadblock to a final-four berth.
Although Orlando Christian Prep, the defending state champion, and Grandview have the pedigree, Stone levels the playing field against those perennial state powers with his ability to excel at four positions.
That versatility was on full display last season when he scored 36 points against Lake Worth Christian, thoroughly outplayed Ransom Everglades 6-10 star center Trey Mourning, outscoring him 33-6, and pouring in 29 points in a regional quarterfinal loss to Miami Champagnat.
“Just being able to put Keith at multiple positions, find a mismatch in the way he is able to attack it at this point is endless because of his size, ball-handling and shooting ability,” Zion coach John Guion said. “At 6-8, Keith is able to handle the ball and he makes the right play. I am a very fortunate coach to have a kid that is so versatile.”
Early returns look favorable as Zion beat Sagemont 56-52, and Stone outscored Lions star Prince Ali, a UCLA commit, 29 to 19 in the Sagemont Tip off classic last week.
Yet few could have predicted Stone’s meteoric rise to arguably the biggest mismatch in the state. As a freshman Stone stood only 6 feet and played an undersized power forward role for Guion as a varsity starter. But in the process of Stone sprouting eight inches in three seasons, Guion moved him out from the post to develop his perimeter skills.
With all the extra work Stone has put in and the trust Guion has in his star player, Stone has earned the privilege to exploit whatever mismatch he sees on the court.
“It’s been like a process for Keith,” Guion said. “He has put forth the hard work, and that hard work has paid off for him. He is an absolute gym rat. I can’t keep him out of the parks or extra practice. He is a kid that is internally motivated like no other. He just wants to continue to get better. He has always seen the bigger picture.”
Stone said he is driven to make a better life for his parents, Micky Stone and Julia Nero, through basketball. Keith Stone said watching his now retired father work in dirty conditions at a water-treatment plant gave him the impetus to put in the long hours necessary to land a Division I scholarship.
With that in hand, the next goal is to keep improving at the college level and ultimately take care of his parents financially through a professional basketball contract.
“Basketball has given me a lot of opportunities,” Stone said. “It has given me a way I can make it out of Deerfield and go to places I never thought I would be going. Seeing how hard my mom and dad worked every day motivates me. I want them to have an easy life when I am done.”
Nov 21-22: Coaches vs. Cancer Classic (Cypress Bay, Archbishop McCarthy).
Dec. 5-6: Kreul Showcase (Monarch).
Dec. 6: Source Hoops Panhandle Showcase (Godby).
Dec. 12- 13: Hoop Exchange Southern Series (Cardinal Gibbons).
Dec. 18-23: City of Palms Classic (Bishop Verot).
Dec. 18-22: Kreul Classic (Coral Springs City Gym).
Dec. 19-20 and 22: Battle in the Blue Dungeon (Gulliver Prep.
Dec. 27, 29 and 30: Rock Holiday Classic (Windermere Prep).
Dec. 27-30: Junior Orange Bowl Classic (Ronald Reagan).
Jan. 1-2 and 3: Adidas Holiday Slam (Miami Florida Christian).
Jan. 1- 2 and 3: Boca Raton High School Tournament (Boca Raton).
Jan. 9- 10: Treasure Coast vs. Florida Tournament (Stuart Martin County).
Jan. 16-17: Wally Keller Classic (Punta Gorda Charlotte).
Jan. 16-17 and 19: MLK Showcase (Jacksonville Ribault).
Jan. 17-19: TOC MLK Classic (Ransom Everglades).
Jan. 24: RMF Magazine/Florida Prospects “RESPECT” Series (Miami Norland).
Jan. 29-31: Montverde Academy Invitational.
Jan. 29-Feb 1: BCAA Big 8 championships (Fort Lauderdale).
Feb. 2-4, 6-7: Districts tournaments.
Feb. 12, 17, 20, 21: Regionals.
Feb. 24-28: State finals (The Lakeland Center).
2013-14 STATE CHAMPIONS
Class 1A: Malone; 2A: Orlando Christian; 3A: Weston Sagemont; 4A: Lake Highland Prep; 5A: American Heritage; 6A: Miami Norland; 7A: Oviedo; 8A: Winter Park
TOP 10 TEAMS (8A-5A)
1. Blanche Ely
3. Cardinal Gibbons
4. Pines Charter
6. Coral Springs
8. Boyd Anderson
9. Cypress Bay
10. Deerfield Beach
TOP 10 TEAMS (4A-1A, INDEPENDENTS)
2. Zion Lutheran
3. Coral Springs Charter
4. Coral Springs Christian
5. American Prep
6. International School of Broward
8. Calvary Christian
9. University School
10. Westminster Academy
FIFTEEN PLAYERS TO WATCH (8A-5A)
Laquincy Rideau, Ely, 6-0, Sr. G; Therrell Gosier, Ely, 6-7, Sr. F; Haanif Cheatham, Pines Charter, 6-5, Sr. W; Diandre Wilson, Ely, 6-2, Sr. G; Jose Morales, Cardinal Gibbons, 5-9, Sr. G; Maverick Rowan, Cardinal Gibbons, 6-7, Jr. W; Keavon Mitchell, Flanagan, 6-1, Sr. G; Derric Jean, McArthur, 6-2, Sr. G; Cedric Wright, Dillard, 6-7, Sr. F; Mike Green, Dillard, 5-11, Sr. G; Keion Farrington, Dillard, 6-5, Sr. F; Dajour Joseph, Boyd Anderson, 6-5, Jr. F; Melvin Brooks, Cardinal Gibbons, 6-7, Sr. F; David Moya, Archbishop McCarthy, 6-1, Sr. G; Lewayne Grant, Deerfield Beach, 5-10, Sr. G.
FIFTEEN PLAYERS TO WATCH (4A-1A)
Keith Stone, Zion Lutheran, 6-8, Sr. W; Jeffrey Prophete, Coral Springs Christian, 6-2, So. G; Alaowei Talent, Coral Springs Christian, 6-5, Sr. W; Antonio Vrankovic, Pine Crest, 6-11, Sr. C; Andrew Boynton, Westminster Academy, 6-2, Sr. G; Prince Ali, Sagemont, 6-4, Sr. G; Keyshawn Evans, Sagemont, 6-1, Sr. G; Daejour Adderley, Calvary Christian, 6-4, Jr. G; Austin Vaughn, Coral Springs Charter, 6-5, Sr. W; Josh Borders, Coral Springs Charter, 6-1, Sr. G; Leandro Allende, Chaminade, 6-5, Jr. W; Benjy Dumornay, Chaminade, 6-7, Sr. F; Jonathan Isaac, Int. School of Broward, 6-9, Jr. F; Nikolas Bonitto, University, 6-4, Fr. F; A.J. Jurko, Sagemont, 6-3, Sr. G.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH
American Prep Academy: Chris Sawyer, Jerrell Avery, Anthony Formeza, Jonathan Brown.
Archbishop McCarthy: Travis Scott, David Moya, Cory Talbot, Rafael Davis.
Blanche Ely: Keonn Scott, Javon Heastie, Trevor Goodrum, Mark Houston.
Boyd Anderson: Juwon Thompson, Ibrahima Diallo, Jef Moise, Danny Harris.
Calvary Christian: Juan Rossello, Malik Morrow, Khaleel Martin, Milan Ciudad-Real, Elochukwu Eze.
Cardinal Gibbons: Richard McIntosh, Greg Kacprazak, Jason Strong.
Chaminade: Josh Sanchez, Nikita Orap, Brandon Jai Jai Ram.
Coral Springs Charter: Kajuan Kinsey, Trevor Lee, Karl Hylton, Jean Evans Cinevert.
Coral Springs Christian: Abule Abule, Samir Stewart, Sherack Malowku.
Cypress Bay: Zach Levine, Kevin Rostamian, Leo Joson, Jake Londos, Brandon Bulengo.
Deerfield Beach: James Labadi, Kris Shaw, Raynard Robinson.
Dillard: Jordan Wright, Charles Malone III, Raiquan Gray.
Flanagan: Randall Ferdinand, Kenny Watson, Kishon Watson.
International School of Broward: Chris Joseph, Azeez Abiodun, Brian Perez, Anfernee Munning.
McArthur: Majestic Tejada, Corey Brown, Terrell Turner, Sandro Noel.
Miramar: Andre Barbary, Desmond Snow, Joshua Lewis, Trent Rolle.
Nova: Levitz Similien, Zane DeSouza, Nathan Griffin, Nick Barlatier.
Pine Crest: Chris Marcouza, A.J. Sacks, Nick Nolting, Chandler Pollack.
Pines Charter: Matthew Johnson, Marcel Denbow, Dimitri Harper, Josh Ferguson.
Posnack: Marc Spier, Joey Levy, Jason Brandwein.
Sagemont: Luis Hurtado, Tyler Polley.
Sheridan Hills: Josiah Smith, Sam Athouriste, Jason Ketcherside, Daniel Lopez.
St. Thomas Aquinas: Brandon Marshall, Henry Hunter, Matthew Maturah, Michael Akuchie.
Taravella: Tim Tigner, Anthony Biggs, Roshaun Black, Khashaun Edwards.
University: Balsa Koprivica, Michael Moore, Gaquez Melvin, Robert Livingston.
Western: Jacob Nunez, Chris Radler, Josh Royes, Casey Lopes.
Westminster Academy: Zach Scott, Solomon Uyaelumno, Leslie Dalger, Nate Tividijian.
Zion Lutheran: Brandon Bornelus, Edwin Louis, Tevin Daily, Shimoore Stern.