This week isn’t the first time Miami Christian has arrived in Lakeland with a talented boys’ basketball team considered to be one the nation’s best.
But 15 years after such a squad that included NBA guard J.J. Barea brought home a state title, the Victors are on course to another championship.
Miami Christian (28-2), which has not lost to Florida team this season, is looking to win its second state title in the past three seasons, and fourth overall, which would tie Northwest Christian for the fourth-most among Miami-Dade County teams.
The Victors are on a 15-game winning streak and will put that on the line when they take on Jacksonville Temple Christian at 2 p.m. Tuesday in a Class 2A state semifinal.
Miami Christian, ranked as high as No. 13 nationally by MaxPreps earlier in the season, has thrived with one of the most balanced and skilled teams it has ever had.
South Carolina signee Felipe Haase, a 6-10 senior center who enters the tournament averaging 19.3 points, 12.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, is the centerpiece.
Haase’s size and agility have made him one of the hardest frontcourt players in the state to slow down.
Haase is complemented in the post by 6-4 sophomore Miguel Diaz, who is averaging 11.5 points, eight rebounds per game.
But while Haase is the largest issue for Miami Christian opponents in terms of size, it’s the Victors’ guards that present even tougher challenges.
Senior shooting guard Eduardo Camacho (5-11), a Central Connecticut signee, and 6-2 junior point guard Neftali Alvarez lead one of the most explosive backcourts in the nation, along with 6-2 senior guard Josh Rosario.
Camacho, who was a catalyst for Miami Christian last season when it reached the regional finals, is averaging 18.5 points and 8.8 assists per game.
Alvarez is averaging slightly less than Camacho in points with 18.3 and has a team-high 9.5 assists per game. Rosario is averaging 15.5 points per game.
Alvarez is being recruited by several schools including South Carolina, Georgia Tech, FIU, Purdue and Virginia.
The Victors’ road to Lakeland included wins over defending state champion Dillard, Class 5A state semifinalist Calvary Christian as well as playoff teams, NSU University School, Mater Academy, Norland, Gulliver, Boca Raton St. Andrews, Champagnat and Westwood Christian.
Miami Christian also avenged last year’s loss to Grandview Prep last week in the regional final. The Victors made 14 three-pointers in that victory.
The other side of the bracket features Melbourne Florida Prep, which takes on Jacksonville North Florida Educational on Tuesday at 4 p.m. and could present a solid test for the Victors if both reach Wednesday’s final scheduled for 8:30 p.m.
Florida Prep is led by 6-11 senior center Mbacke Diong, and junior 7-footer Lahat Thioune, both of whom have offers from Louisville, UConn, Pittsburgh and Florida Gulf Coast.
STATE BOYS’ BASKETBALL FINALS
When: Tuesday through Saturday.
Where: The Lakeland Center, 701 W. Lime St., Lakeland.
Admission: $10 per day; Parking: $10.
2016 state champions – Class 8A: Coral Springs; 7A: Blanche Ely; 6A: Dillard; 5A: Kissimmee Poinciana; 4A: Jacksonville Bolles; 3A: Windermere Prep; 2A: Boca Grandview Prep; 1A: Chipley.
Tuesday’s schedule – Class 1A semifinals: Greensboro West Gadsden vs. Hawthorne, 10 a.m.; Graceville vs. Wildwood, noon; Class 2A semifinals: Miami Christian vs. Jacksonville Temple Christian, 2; Melbourne Florida Prep vs. Jacksonville North Florida Educational, 4; Class 3A semifinals: Hialeah Champagnat Catholic vs. Deltona Trinity Christian, 6; Orlando Christian Prep vs. Fort Myers Southwest Florida Christian, 8.
Wednesday’s schedule – Class 4A semifinals: Archbishop Carroll vs. Jacksonville Providence, 10 a.m.; Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy vs. Seffner Christian, noon; Class 5A semifinals: Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian vs. Marianna, 2; Villages vs. Tampa Catholic, 4; Class 1A final: 6; Class 2A final: 8:30.
Thursday’s schedule – Class 6A semifinals: Jacksonville Ribault vs. Leesburg, 11 a.m.; Palatka vs. Cape Coral Mariner, 1; Class 7A semifinals: Fort Lauderdale Dillard vs. Ocala Vanguard, 3; Orlando Edgewater vs. Lehigh Acres Lehigh, 5; Class 3A final: 7.
Friday’s schedule – Class 8A semifinals: Palm Beach Lakes vs. Tallahassee Lincoln, noon; Tampa Sickles vs. Bradenton Lakewood Ranch, 2; Class 9A semifinals: South Miami vs. Apopka Wekiva, 4; Kissimmee Osceola vs. Wellington, 6; Class 4A final: 8.
Saturday’s schedule – Class 5A final: 10 a.m.; Class 6A final: 12:30; Class 7A final: 3; Class 8A final: 5:30; Class 9A final: 8.