Dr. Phillips Season Outlook
Coming off its first state championship in program history, Dr. Phillips looks to build off that momentum this season. The Panthers enter this season as a consensus top-5 public school and a top-25 nationally ranked team. The Panthers return nearly every piece from their state championship team with Ernest Udeh Jr., Denzel Aberdeen, Riley Kugel, Jackson Slater, and Mason Sheffield. Coach Ben Witherspoon understands the expectations facing his program as the season is about to get underway.
"Our number one goal is for us to get better each day," Witherspoon said. "Maximum daily improvement is a phrase that we use a lot. It's just to get better as the season progresses every single day. Where we are now won't be where we are when it's time to hopefully make another run at a state championship. Beyond that, the goal for us is to be the #1 public school in the country. That is what we want.
Dr. Phillips will certainly be the public school team to beat out of Florida. The Panthers will have a target on their back throughout the season as they get ready to play a national schedule. They will be playing in the City of Palms Classic Basketball Tournament and the Montverde Invitational among other showcase events. On the City of Palms Classic, Witherspoon tabbed it as one of the best events in the country and an event he has always wanted to compete in as a head coach.
Another big matchup that the coaches and players will be looking forward to is the "Showdown in O-Town" where they will take on Orlando Christian Prep, also a highly ranked public school. This game will feature many Division I prospects including Aberdeen, Udeh, Kugel, Ven-Allen Lubin, Jayden Chastings, AJ Brown, and Mikel Brown.
"It should be the biggest game in the city this season," Witherspoon said.
This game will also feature travel ball teammates and close friends Udeh and Lubin going head-to-head.
"That's going to be an interesting game that I'm looking forward to," said Udeh. "They have my boy Ven who I played travel ball with this summer. That's my guy, that's my brother, that's my family."
Udeh, who recently committed to Kansas, along with Aberdeen (Florida) and Kugel (Mississippi State) will be expected to lead and carry a large load for the Panthers this season. These are three great players who bring something different to the table, but one major similarity is their unselfishness and willingness to take on whatever roll to reach their team goals.
"We always like to advance on goals and think greater than past goals achieved," Udeh said. "We want to win a state championship again, but ultimately we want to get to Geico (Nationals) and win it all. That's the bigger goal we set for ourselves."
I asked Coach Witherspoon what he needed out of his three senior leaders to end up in a position to reach their team goals.
"I need them to just care," he said. "Every single day caring about every possession and every game no matter the opponent. That will lead the rest of our guys to do the right thing if those three guys are caring."
Aside from those three seniors that a lot of the country is aware of at this point, the Panthers have a solid supporting cast to put around those guys. Sophomore Jordan Tillery is a kid that I am looking forward to watching this season. He has gotten taller and stronger since the travel season and is extremely explosive. I believe this can be a breakout season for him and he can make an impact as a two-way player for Dr. Phillips. The coaching staff is also expecting Tillery to be an impact player for them this season.
"Jordan has been incredible this fall," Witherspoon said. "He's grown, he's bigger, he's stronger, and he is terrorizing people defensively on the ball and off the ball. He is playing in the passing lanes, dunking on people, and finishing in transition. He is going to be a problem for people this year."
Witherspoon also noted their two transfers as players who could make an impact - sophomore Carter McDole from Montverde and junior Jonathan Caicedo from Calvary Christian. Both players are long wings at 6-foot-6.
Slater and Sheffield are two additional returners that were contributors to the state championship team. Slater was the starting point guard in the championship game.
"Jackson and Mason are two senior guards that have been through it with us," said Witherspoon. "They played important minutes for us all last year. We've got a great supporting cast."
Dr. Phillips will officially open the season on November 24 against Lake Highland Prep.