Led by a dynamic trio, the Windermere Prep Lakers are the No. 2 team in the state in Class 3A.
WINDERMERE Things have changed just a tad over the seven seasons Ben Wilson has presided over the boys basketball program at Windermere Prep.
As a newer program at the time, the Lakers weren’t expected to — and didn’t — win much.
Now, in the midst of the 2015-16 season, Windermere Prep is regarded as one of the best teams in Central Florida — regardless of classification — and perhaps even the state.
“It’s kind of a 180,” Wilson said. “When I first came in here, everybody liked us because everybody was beating us, mercilessly. Obviously, now, we’re competitive and kind of changing people’s opinions about us. We’ve kind of, each year, raised the bar a little bit.”
Already this fall, the Lakers are off to a 6-1 start — and that lone loss came at the hands of nationally ranked Oldsmar Christian. In the first Source Hoops poll of the season, released Dec. 9, Windermere Prep was recognized as the No. 2 team in the state in Class 3A.
Since that loss Nov. 21, Windermere Prep has won five consecutive games — highlighted by a pair of wins over the Thanksgiving break against Class 8A powerhouses Evans and Oak Ridge. For their part, the Class 3A-Lakers have embraced the difficult scheduling early in the season.
“It’s great that we’re getting to play tough teams (early),” junior forward David Nickelberry said.
Nickelberry comes to Windermere Prep after previously playing for the Lakers’ main rival, The First Academy. The highly-recruited junior is a welcome addition to Wilson’s program.
“He’s a guy that can play almost five positions,” Wilson said.
Nickelberry also brings experience in the playoffs. The Royals defeated the Lakers last season in the second round of the Class 3A State Playoffs, advancing all the way to the state semifinals. Nickelberry’s experience on a team that had such success should be a boost for Windermere Prep.
“When I came here, I told the players that if we talk and become more vocal, share the ball more, we can definitely go far,” Nickelberry said.
Another talented junior leading the way for the Lakers is Xion Golding. Golding is one of the Lakers’ four players who, as of Dec. 7, are averaging double-digits in scoring at 14.6 points per game; the others are Nickelberry (15.4 ppg), senior Parker Davis (15.9 ppg) and senior Mitchell Siegel (10.1 ppg).
A forward, Golding may be the most athletic member of the team this year and uses his physicality to his advantage.
“He is just a strong kid who can impose his will (on both sides of the ball),” Wilson said.
The difference between Davis and the other two members of the team’s talented trio is that, as a senior, this is the last shot for the point guard to make it to the state final four at the Lakeland Center.
“There’s a lot of urgency for me,” Davis admitted. “This is it for me — it’s either Lakeland or nothing.”
Davis, who also was the quarterback for the Lakers in football, is playing not just for a ring but also for scholarship. A talented two-sport athlete, Davis has been recruited more strongly on the football side. Davis said he wants to pursue basketball in college, though, and his coach believes once scouts take a better look at him they will like what they see.
“He’s been a kid that’s kind of under the radar,” Wilson said. “Since he’s been here, he’s always been surrounded by kids that can all play.”
Already this season, the Lakers are experiencing what it is like to have a target on their back. Against neighbor West Orange, for instance — another 8A program — Windermere Prep was pushed to the brink and eked out a 81-77 win.
The atmosphere was intense in Winter Garden, and being the team everybody wants to beat is a position the Lakers seem to be embracing.
“I love getting the best shot from every team,” Golding said. “We can’t overlook anybody.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected]rangeobserver.com.