In his first meeting against his old team, Lakers junior David Nickelberry scored a game-high 21 points to lead Windermere Prep.
WINDERMERE The chant echoed throughout the packed gym at Windermere Prep nearly every time he touched the ball.
Lakers junior David Nickelberry heard the voices of his former classmates from The First Academy, students who'd made the trip to cheer on the road team. The standout forward even admitted to battling some nerves before the game, given it was his first time facing his former team.
Neither that dynamic, a capacity crowd or the fact that the meeting pitted the second and third-ranked teams in the state in Class 3A against one another was enough to slow him down much, though. Nickelberry still scored a game-high 21 points to lead Windermere Prep to a 64-60 victory Wednesday night.
"It was a crazy environment," Nickelberry said afterward. "I know people don't like me because I switched schools, but I don't lose focus on the game."
The Lakers (17-1) led for most of the game and, at times, stretched that lead to double-digits, but the Royals (15-4) continued to battled back. The First Academy cut the lead to two points with just 16.1 seconds left in regulation, but Windermere Prep junior Xion Golding stepped up and made a pivotal pair of free throws to help seal the deal in a contest that had a playoff-like atmosphere.
"We were expecting this — it's a rivalry, it's fun," Lakers head coach Ben Wilson said. "It's just all pride and who wants it the most. ... (The Royals) are one of the best teams in the state."
Golding finished with 11 points and Windermere Prep senior guard Parker Davis scored 19 points on the night. The First Academy was led by 15 points from Malik Williams, while blue-chip recruit Chaundee Brown was limited to just eight points on the night.
Though the programs had formerly been district rivals, Wednesday's game was just about pride and momentum. The possibility exists that the Class 3A heavyweights could meet once more this season — in the FHSAA Class 3A State Final – but for now players like Davis, who lost to the Royals four times a season ago, will be content with this win.
"It was just fun with everyone out here to pull out this win," Davis said. "We lost four straight times (to The First Academy) last year — it was so frustrating and it's just really good to get a win."
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].