Hawthorne basketball players pose with medals
The Hawthorne Hornets boys' basketball team poses with their medals after defeating Hilliard 42-38 to win the 1A state championship on March 6, 2020 (Michael Kennedy, ESPN Gainesville).

Wildwood Hosts Hawthorne in 1A Regional Semifinal

High school boy’s hoops are heating up in North Central Florida as regional semifinal games commence on Tuesday night. Notably, in Class 1A, the defending state champion Hawthorne Hornets (13-9) will travel 60 miles south to Wildwood to take on the Wildcats (19-7).

A Tough Road Test for the Hornets

When Hawthorne head coach Greg Bowie joined Sport Scene with Steve Russell on Monday, he spoke highly of Wildwood.

The Wildcats’ athleticism begins with senior forwards Alfred Corbin (6’3″) and Joe Poyser (6’4″). Each lead the team in scoring, averaging just over 15 points per game. The lengthy Poyser hounds the boards, too, as he nabs a team-leading 9.1 rebounds per game.

Corbin and Poyser aren’t the only two Wildcats who score regularly. Another tall senior forward, the 6’4″ Oscene “Nate” Mikell puts up 12.5 points per game on his own.

Prioritizing Defense

On the season, Hawthorne averages just 50.9 points per game. Their stout defense allows them to win without scoring big. Wildwood, on the other hand, averages 70.8 points per game.

The Wildcats, a team that can score, will undeniably be a major challenge for Coach Bowie’s defense. And he knows it.

He believes his team can do it, but keeping the game in the 50’s is certainly no easy task. Since 2021 began, Wildwood’s offense has been on a tear, averaging over 76 points per game. In that 15-game span the Wildcats are 13-2.

Hawthorne must rely on their bigs, junior Jamal Nealy (6’2″), sophomore Jailen Ruth (6’5″), and junior Devin Ray (6’2″) to match Wildwood’s size and intensity.

While all these guys provide size and defensive help, it’s senior guard Yarnell McCray who leads the way on the offensive side. The only Hawthorne player to average double-digit points per game, McCray’s 13.1 point per game average sets the attacking tone.

Richard Smith’s Growth

With the bigs providing pressure on defense and McCray conducting the offense, coach Bowie says senior guard Richard Smith has seen the most improvement throughout the season. Smith is second on the team scoring (9.9 ppg) despite spending time playing JV last year.

Smith has been a big part of a Hornets team that has faced some difficult competition.

Battle Tested

Unlike many fellow Class 1A teams, Hawthorne schedules games against teams above their class. Facing teams like Forest (6A), Seminole (6A), Bartram Trail (7A), Eastside (4A) and more teaches players how to battle adversity against bigger, stronger opponents.

In late January, when the (20-2) Eastside Rams came to town, Hawthorne stood tall, falling by just one point to a more than formidable opponent.

Coach Bowie says he wants to play teams of many different styles, sizes and tempos in order to best prepare for anything. And he feels Class 1A is too often is disrespected.

This regional semifinal matchup will tip-off tonight at 7 p.m. from Wildwood High School.

About Will Levenson

Will Levenson is a Journalism and Sports Media major at UF. He produces daily shows for WRUF, including "Sport Scene with Steve Russell," "Harp on Sports," and "The Tailgate." In addition, Will provides weekly sports updates for WUFT News and radio Sportscenters for WRUF radio. Will has been a writer at ESPN Gainesville since September 2019.

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