It could be the marquee matchup of the week.
Ransom Everglades, led by Cal recruit Sam Singer, will challenge Orlando’s Lake Highland Prep and star point guard Joel Berry, a 6-1 junior who has committed to North Carolina.
The Class 4A state semifinal is set for Tuesday night at 7 in Lakeland, where Ransom (29-2) will be making its final-four debut. Lake Highland (22-5) is seeking to return to its second straight state final.
Berry, who last year became the first sophomore to win Florida’s Mr. Basketball award, is ranked in the top 25 nationally in his class - No. 12 by ESPN and No. 22 by rivals.com. He is averaging 26.1 points and is shooting 53 percent from the field.
Singer, a 6-4 senior guard, is unranked by either organization even though he has put up staggering numbers, including 27.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 7.3 assists.
“I don’t think there is anything for me to prove,” Singer said of the rankings snub. “I don’t like to read the rankings. Ultimately, they are meaningless. It’s up to college coaches to decide who’s good.”
Ransom coach Claude Grubair thinks Singer will “open some eyes” in Lakeland.
“For people who don’t know Sam,” Grubair said, “this is their chance to see how good he is.”
This won’t be the first time Singer and Berry meet. They played last summer at the AAU Nationals in Orlando. Berry’s team won by six points, but Singer said the two guarded each other all game and both scored in the 12-to-15-point range.
Don’t expect the two stars to guard each other as much in Tuesday’s game. Berry, who scored 28 points in the regional final and had a high of 49 last season, will want to avoid foul trouble, and the same is true for Singer.
That means Khambrel Roach, a 6-4 senior, will likely draw some Berry duty.
“He’s our best on-ball defender,” said Singer of Roach, who transferred from Gulliver to Ransom for his junior year. “No one is giving him much credit, but he is the biggest difference-maker from last year to this year.”
Grubair said Roach has always been a physical force attacking the rim, but he had to learn how to fit into Ransom’s system, which meant improving his perimeter shot.
Rather than play travel ball last summer, Roach stayed in the Ransom gym, honing his jumper.
“I was in there for six hours a day with (teammate) Julian Marx,” Roach said.
The results have shown as Roach, who is averaging 17.9 points, has helped Ransom breeze through its schedule, losing only once to a Florida school. That defeat came against Class 8A state semifinalist South Miami, 62-42, but Ransom was missing center Trey Mourning at the time.
When Ransom has its full lineup this season – as it will on Tuesday – it is 18-0. It has also won 19 straight games overall.
Similarly, Berry missed some games in December due to a knee injury. When Lake Highland, which is coached by former NBA player Jeff Turner, has its full lineup, it is 19-0. Its win streak stands at 14.
It all sets up to be a tremendous game and a thrill for coaches and players alike.
“I have an incredible feeling of pride for what we’ve accomplished so far,” said Grubair, who is in his 14th season at Ransom. “When this group of seniors was in the ninth grade, I could start to see they had the potential to make a run. They have sacrificed a lot to get here, and they have exceeded my expectations.”
Singer said he is excited to be in Lakeland, but he is looking at this as a “business trip,” which fits with Grubair’s message.
“If our guys handle the moment, we will play (for the title) on Thursday,” the coach said. “If they let the moment overwhelm them, Lake Highland will beat us.”