The starting lineup features several newcomers, but the Eagles are once again led by guard Dante Treacy and primed for a big season.
OCOEE There is a quartet of new faces, a high-profile schedule and a target on the team’s back that is larger, perhaps, than the one it wore last season.
And yet, there is familiarity that pervades this season’s CFCA boys basketball team, even as the Eagles have sprinted out to an 11-2 start and are seen as a legitimate state-title contender in Class 2A.
The team still is coached by Jonathan McClintock — now in his fourth season at the helm in east Ocoee — and its pressing defensive style and disciplined approach to offense reflect as much.
Then, of course, there is Dante Treacy. Finally the elder statesman on the roster, the senior guard and Army West Point signee has grown up before McClintock’s eyes.
“His emotional maturity has continued to develop — Dante has learned to own his stuff in public and that he’s not going to be perfect every night,” McClintock said after the Eagles beat district rival Victory Christian 55-45 Jan. 4. “The boys look to him for leadership, and he’s really grown as a leader.”
That CFCA already has reached double-digit wins is impressive considering the challenging slate McClintock put together. Already, the Eagles have played the nation’s top high-school program — Montverde Academy, which handed CFCA one of its two losses — and in events in Gainesville, Miami and Pennsylvania.
After going 24-6 last year — bringing the Eagles to 63-25 since his arrival — McClintock is more than aware that his squad isn’t sneaking up on anyone.
“You can sense that teams get up to play us,” McClintock said. “It doesn’t matter the classification — 9A, 2A, 5A — teams get up to play us.”
Normally, graduating a trio of college-bound seniors that included De’Lazarus Keys, Zen Goodridge and Sebastian Brown would mean a rebuilding year. Instead, a wave of newcomers — all of whom are juniors — have the Eagles right on track.
“You can sense that teams get up to play us. It doesn’t matter the classification — 9A, 2A, 5A — teams get up to play us.”
— Jonathan McClintock
Headlining the group is Jordan Preaster, who came to CFCA from Evans and is the top-scorer (18.9 points per game) and rebounder (81) for the Eagles.
“He’s a kid who can be coached really hard, and he’s passionate about the game,” McClintock said of the former Trojan. “He wants to get better.”
Bryce Street, who came to CFCA from Montverde, brings an intelligence and poise to the guard position that McClintock has praised. Despite being a newcomer, Street has emerged as one of the team’s more vocal leaders, behind Treacy.
Ant Washington has stood out as the team’s second-leading rebounder behind Preaster and is recognized by McClintock as a player who is only “scratching the surface” of his potential.
Lorenzo Burdon brings a feathery touch from beyond the arc and an elite athleticism.
Altogether, the four newcomers have invigorated a lineup of returners that includes Treacy, sophomore Visual Russell and juniors Reece Gustafson, Daniel Rivera and Smith Elize, along with freshman Torey Keith.
“This team is different, because we come to practice every day wanting to learn and wanting to get better,” Treacy said. “These kids all want to play Division I basketball, and I believe all of them can.”
Treacy said he is relieved to have his recruitment completed — he signed a National Letter of Intent to play for the Army Black Knights. That has allowed him to focus on being a better leader and taking one last shot at getting the Eagles to state as a senior, he said.
That focus hasn’t gone unnoticed. Treacy has used the platform of his his team’s tough schedule to continue to show what he can do.
“He was the best player in a game with six or seven Division I kids,” McClintock said, referencing a game during the team’s trip to Pennsylvania. “He just dominates.”
The four-and-one-half weeks that stand between CFCA and the beginning of the District 2A-5 Tournament, which it will host beginning Feb. 12, will see several more stress tests for the Eagles. Just in the coming days, CFCA will play larger classification foes in Auburndale (11-3) in a Martin Luther King Jr. event Jan. 13 and Ocoee (5-7) in the annual Metro vs. Florida Challenge Jan. 15. Other big games remaining include a date with Lake Highland Prep — a top-5 team in Class 5A — Windermere Prep and West Orange.
Through it all, McClintock said consistency will be key if his Eagles are to gather momentum ahead of the playoffs.
“We have got to really have a consistent expectation of ourselves,” McClintock said. “We know what we want to do defensively and offensively. The boys have to become their own standard.”