In past summers, if local basketball players wanted a shot at the best players from around the country, they had to find an AAU team from elsewhere in Florida to travel with to national tournaments. Loren Christian Jackson, a 5-foot-7 point guard with Division I aspirations, went through this in 2014 and settled in with Florida Elite to make an initial splash on the national radar.
For 2015, he had a new team primarily composed of athletes who play in Bradenton and along Florida's west coast. Jackson's father, Loren Jackson, a former IMG Academy coach and founder of Victory Rock Prep, began the Florida Sons this year, and this past weekend the Sons concluded their biggest week yet, winning twice in the Adidas Uprising Gauntlet Series' 17U Silver bracket in Atlanta and twice more at Elite 32 Session 2.
Next week, the Sons will be in Las Vegas for the Adidas Uprising Summer Championship from July 22-26.
"It's been a good first summer for us," Jackson said. "A lot of kids have gotten a lot of good scholarship opportunities and looks, and it's been good for our kids."
The majority of the Florida Sons, including Jackson, come from Victory Rock. VRP's Khadim Gueye and Gorjok Gak, a pair of four-star centers according to 247sports' composite rankings, are the two biggest names on the roster.
But the team also includes Southeast High School's Gregory Alexandrea and Palmetto High School's Willie Clark Jr. In the Sons' final game of Uprising, a 92-82 loss to Oregon's Team Fast Elite on Fri
day, Clark scored seven points and grabbed four rebounds. In an Elite 32 against SE Elite from Alabama the next day, the Palmetto guard scored 12 and dished out three assists.
The breakout star of the weekend, though, was Jackson. He's undersized for a Division I point guard, but has drawn interest from University of South Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University, Eastern Kentucky University and Virginia Commonwealth University. At Uprising, Jackson was the 13th most prolific scorer at 19.8 points per game, ranked eighth with 2.2 steals and his 6.5 assists were second behind only Team Loaded North Carolina's Dennis Smith, the top point guard in the country.
"He did this last year as a junior. He took Florida Elite to the final four in the Gauntlet," Loren Jackson said of his son. "From a point guard perspective, he's top (13) in three different major categories, which I think going against anybody that's good."
Palmetto wins sectionals
Palmetto has a history of Little League softball success and this weekend the league added two more banners with two section IV championships in Lake Wales.
Palmetto sent both its senior softball All-Stars and its 9/10 All-Stars to Lake Wales for the sectional championship and both ran through the tournament field to win their latest titles and advance to this weekend's state tournaments. The 9/10 team will open its tournament Friday in Seminole while the seniors travel to Fort Myers for their tournament Friday.
Florida District 26 also sent two baseball teams to the section IV championship. In the intermediate division, Palmetto won its first game before losing in the championship and in 9/10 Manatee American went 0-3 to finish its All-Star season.
Next weekend in Lake Wales, Manatee West will compete in the junior division and Lakewood Ranch will contend for the section IV majors title. Both teams' first games will be at 8 p.m. on Friday.
Manatee 10U regroups
A loss to Orlando on Saturday sent Manatee, the reigning 9U South Florida State Tournament champion, tumbling into the losers bracket of this year's 10U Babe Ruth tourney. Needing three straight wins over the next two days to defend its title, Manatee's title shot almost ended short of the final two.
But Sunday, top-seeded Manatee, the only team to receive a first-round bye, pulled out a one-run win against Palm Beach Gardens to get its shot at revenge on Orlando. After losing by one 24 hours earlier, Manatee forced a winner-takes-all game by pounding Orlando for 19 runs in a blowout. Monday morning, Manatee claimed the championship for the second straight year with a 12-2 win against Orlando.
Manatee will now have a week off before traveling to Glen Allen, Va., on July 22 for regional tournament as they vie for a spot in August's World Series.
The Freedom Softball Adult Tournaments were at G.T. Bray this weekend and a team from Winter Haven returned home the winner. Brute Force put together a 5-0 weekend at the Lower Bat Giveaway to edge out Shutdown from Cedartown, Ga., and the Disciples from Pennsauken, N.J., and win the local tournament.
The Sarasota Rangers went 2-2 during the weekend and finished in a tie for fifth place.
David B. Wilson, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow him on Twitter @DBWilson2.