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Florida basketball gets big boost from NCAA-certified live period events

Ameer Ramadan’s stock seems to be rising among scouting services, with analysts such as Rick Staudt of SourceHoops applauding his all-around skill set and passion for the game in a report he wrote this week.

But this is an age where college basketball programs are overstocked with seasoned players who were granted additional years of play due to the COVID-19 outbreak. That’s made it difficult for Ramadan, Orlando Christian Prep’s 6-foot point guard, to gain a lot of attention from college coaches.

Ramadan has a 4.1 grade point average and was a second-team All-State player for Class 2A runner-up OCP last season, and he is good in almost every phase of the game. But is there a DI or DII school out there who will have room for him on their roster in 2024?

Ramadan is not alone in an era where many high school prospects below the 4- or 5-star level are devalued due to the backlog. That makes him one of many players hoping to impress college coaches with their play in this month’s inaugural Conrad P. Foss Live Period Showcase events at the new Alachua County Sports & Events Center.

Teams from 120 high schools are registered to play Friday through Sunday.

The events, sanctioned by the Florida High School Athletic Association and put on by the Florida Association of Basketball Coaches, are staged in the NCAA Scholastic Live Periods (June 15-17 for girls; June 16-18 and 23-25 for boys), created in 2019 to allow college recruiters to evaluate players in a high school team setting that differs from the individual showcases and travel team tournaments that drive most of the recruiting industry.

Recruiting analysts and high school coaches say Florida’s showcases will open the door to more scholarships.

“No question it will help,” said Scott Golden, who runs the Hoop Exchange scouting service and also puts on showcase events. “More eyeballs on kids means more opportunities.”

Until this year Florida was not allowed to host live period events because it lacked the required sanctioning by the FHSAA.

That meant Florida high school teams incurred more travel costs to participate in out-of-state events, mostly in Georgia. But only the higher-rated Florida teams were invited.

“We didn’t make the cut, so our kids didn’t get seen,” Evans coach Lonza Morgan said after his team completed FABC Week 1 play with a Sunday morning game against Wekiva. “Other teams were going to Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and getting all the perks. We fought for this as coaches and got it. Now we’re getting the perks. We’ll pencil these two weeks in every year.”

The FHSAA’s former executive director, George Tomyn, said the NCAA was heavy-handed in placing responsibility on high school governing bodies in its scholastic period plan. He said the association was not in the recruiting business.

But Craig Damon, who was promoted to the top FHSAA position as Tomyn retired last June, worked with the FABC to green light the event. Damon was on hand when the series launched with a two-day showcase for 55 girls teams on Thursday and Friday last week.

“We fought hard for this for a long time and Conrad was a big part of that,” event director Bob Horodyski said of Foss, a longtime Florida Elite travel team director who died last fall. “It’s only going to get better next year. This facility is made for an event like this.”

Horodyski heads the FABC after 27 years as coach for Buchholz High of Gainesville.

Coaches interviewed by the Sentinel strongly praised the location in the new Celebration Pointe development — which has hotels sitting beside a movie theater and a string of restaurants — including the new Spurrier’s Gridiron Grill founded by the former UF Heisman Trophy winner and head coach.

The only knock on the facility was that it has rubberized courts, unlike typical wooden gym floors.

Players didn’t seem worried about that.

“I’m really enjoying this,” Ramadan said after his team scored a decisive win over a strong Wellington team on Sunday. “It’s similar to what Georgia did. There’s a good amount of college coaches. I’m pleasantly surprised about that.”

Several recruiters watched the game, which showcased Florida Gators commit Isaiah Brown of OCP. Stetson assistant Brett Comer sat close to the Warriors’ bench.

Darius Washington III, now a teammate of Ramadan’s at OCP, played with Edgewater in the 2022 Georgia event and said Sunday that the Florida version measured up.

“I really like it. We’re close to home. You feel more comfortable,” said Washington, a rising junior prospect who grew several inches to 6-3 1/2 in the offseason.

Week 1 for boys had 117 teams with some 50 college coaches taking a look. That included most of Florida’s programs, including UF, FSU and UCF, along with about 20 schools from other states, including Murray State, Syracuse and Texas A&M and Tulane.

The count is 120 teams for Week 2, which begins with games on 10 courts from noon to 9 p.m. Friday. Saturday’s play is 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday’s 8:30 to 4:30. Spectator admission is $15.

Georgia still expects to have more teams and more college coaches this year, but area coaches said the FABC event will grow.

“It’s great to not have to spend $3,000 [to go to Georgia],” Windermere High coach Mark Griseck said after his team rallied on Sunday to beat Tampa Catholic, which played without elite prospect Karter Knox. “It will take time, but this is going to take off. This facility is great. It’s big-time.”

Master’s coach Reggie Kohn said the concept of coaches seeing players in a high school system is a plus.

“Some kids may shine better in travel ball. Others shine better with their high school team,” Kohn said. “To have both of those systems is ideal.”

Two-time Class 7A state champion Miami Columbus, with the highly acclaimed Boozer brothers (Cameron and Cayden), is a notable absentee as is Orlando powerhouse Oak Ridge. Both played in Georgia last weekend and now go to Arizona to play in the massive Section 7 showcase, which dates to 2019. That event, which expects to draw more than 200 teams and upwards of 500 college coaches, is played inside State Farm Stadium, home of the NFL Arizona Cardinals and the Fiesta Bowl.

Oak Ridge, like Columbus, is a recruiter’s smorgasbord with a starting lineup of college prospects, including newcomer Jamier Jones, a 6-6 junior who played for IMG Academy of Bradenton last season. He is ranked by Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 10 prospect in the Class of 2025.

Windermere Prep and Lake Highland Prep were among 30 Florida teams, including a number of state contenders, that joined Oak Ridge in Georgia but both are booked for the Gainesville event this weekend.

Windermere Prep went 1-3 against Georgia teams but Lakers coach Brian Hoff said his two highly regarded sophomores, guard Brandon Bass Jr. and 7-footer Sinan Huan, gained scholarship offers from Illinois.

Lake Highland went 2-2 and its top returning player, senior Julian Clarke, picked up an offer from UNC-Asheville.

Jones also left the state to play in Kentucky last weekend. The Tigers are in Gainesville this weekend.

Golden said Florida has the potential to rival any scholastic showcase, including Arizona’s and California events, which are new this year.

“If you get all the top Florida teams here every college in the country will come,” Golden said.

Area teams registered for both FABC boys weeks are OCP, Windermere, and Olympia, which went 3-1 last weekend, along with Edgewater, Hagerty, The Master’s Academy and Wekiva.

The Week 2 list includes Lake Minneola, Pine Ridge and Ocoee.

Eustis coach Wesley Green said paying the $350 entry fee and booking hotels for three nights last weekend was worth the cost because several of his players have already been contacted by college coaches who saw the Panthers go 3-1 in Gainesville. But he said his program can’t afford another weekend away.

Leesburg, which went 4-0 last week, will be playing in a team camp Wednesday-Friday at Springstead High School. Yellow Jackets coach Sean Campbell praised the Alachua facility for last weekend but said he would have preferred tougher matchups.

Seminole went 3-1 in Gainesville. This week the ‘Noles played in a Fellowship of Christian Athletes team camp at Lake Brantley that includes a long list of area teams.

The First Academy went 2-2 last weekend but played without its prized newcomer, Mikel Brown Jr., who was playing in the Adidas EuroCamp event in Italy. Brown, a 6-0 rising junior guard, transferred from Orlando Christian Prep to national powerhouse Sunrise Christian of Kansas last year and played a limited role.

Last week’s field also included Apopka, Central Florida Christian Academy, Cypress Creek, Deltona, Dr. Phillips, Foundation Academy, Lake Howell, Lyman, Orangewood Christian, Orlando University and Winter Park.

The girls showcase included Bishop Moore, Colonial, DeLand, Dr. Phillips, Hagerty, Lake Highland Prep, Lake Mary, Lake Minneola, Master’s, Ocoee, Timber Creek and West Orange.

A strong program not partaking in the live period events is Kissimmee Osceola, which played at the UCF Team Camp Showcase, June 10-12 (going 6-0), and in the Polk County Summer League.

Varsity Content Editor Buddy Collings can be contacted by email at bcollings@orlandosentinel.com.