The Apopka Blue Darters are in last place in Class 9A’s District 3 — a boys basketball district that also includes the West Orange Warriors, Wekiva Mustangs and Evans Trojans — with a 1-3 record within the four-team district so far this season.
Though Darters head coach Scott Williams, who won a state championship in 1998 with Mount Dora, does not like to lose much, he actually doesn’t mind acknowledging that his squad is in last place with two games remaining on its district slate.
After all, maybe 9A-3 is just that good.
“I’m okay if people say we’re the worse team in the district,” Williams said, noting that teams in 9A-3 have won 80% of their non-district games. “Top-to-bottom, I don’t think there’s (a district that is) better. … There’s no easy out — there’s no easy night.”
Indeed, Apopka — which has a 14-4 record, overall — is a striking 13-1 in games that are not against the Warriors, Mustangs or Trojans.
Combined, the district is 44-11 in games against non-district opponents, good for a winning percentage of 80.
What that means is that the four-team district of teams in west and northwest Orange County is, under-the-radar, one of the best in the state. There is no bottom-feeder, no team that is an easy win. Wekiva and Evans are ranked in the top-10 in the state in Class 9A in the latest Source Hoops poll — No. 6 and No. 8, respectively.
It is a district with four very good teams, only two of which will advance out of the district tournament.
And, for the two that do, there’s no telling how far they might go in the state playoffs.
“I think the other three teams in our district, if pieces fall the right way for them, all three of them should very easily say that have a great chance of playing in (the Final Four in) Lakeland,” Williams said. “Our job is to crash that party.”
The Darters took a step toward crashing the party when they topped the Warriors 63-58 Jan. 11 in the first game of a televised double-header at Wekiva High. It is a reflection of the parity of the district that the Blue Darters have beaten the Warriors who have defeated the Mustangs who have topped the Trojans who have beaten the Blue Darters.
All of which makes the seeding at the district tournament, which begins Feb. 8 at West Orange High, less consequential than normal.
"It doesn’t matter who’s the one-seed or who’s the four-seed going into the district tournament — everybody can beat everybody,” said West Orange head coach Eric Jones.
As for the secret to why there has been a shift in power within the Metro Conference to these teams in the northwest quarter? Well, it probably has something to do with staffs that are dedicated to the long view.
“There’s four really, really good coaching staffs — player development goes on in those programs,” Williams said.
The two district semifinals that will take place at 5 and 7 p.m. February 8 are going to be a ton of fun. Four very good basketball teams are going to take the floor at West Orange High and, by the end of the day, two will have earned playoff berths, and two will be packing their bags for the season.
The stakes are going to make for a tremendous day of basketball.
District tournaments are not always great theater, but then this is no ordinary district.