Posted On: 11/9/17 2:15 PM
Mid-way through last season, Miami’s Calusa Prep appeared to be on the periphery of a special era.
Several acquisitions appeared to alter the perception of the SIAA-FL program.
The first step was securing talented but troubled 7-foot-1 Center Zach Brown, a menacing shot-blocker and crafty left-handed finisher.
Brown, a one-time St. John’s-signee who had been drifting from school to school while mired in legal trouble and simultaneously taxing the patience of coaches, was once considered the best defensive prospect in the country.
Then, on Feb. 14, Calusa reaped the rewards of the mass exodus of talent at The Conrad Academy in Orlando.
Arizona State-commit Luguentz Dort, Bradley-commit and 7-foot-1 Center Ari Boya, and 6-foot-8 forward Madiaw Niang. The table looked set for a culture change at Calusa, which had been languishing around the .500 mark.
While the trio of Dort, Boya, and Niang were not eligible to play right away, all three were projected to suit up during the 2017-18 campaign while leading the once ailing program to national prominence.
We all know how that worked out. Brown was arrested on a petit theft charge in Hollywood, Fla. and dismissed from the team. Dort, out of Montreal, ended up going to Athlete’s Institute in Canada. Boya wound up at Scotland Campus Sports (Pa.) under legendary prep coach Chris Chaney.
Niang is now at DME Academy in Daytona Beach, where he’s been a consistent scorer as a multi-tooled forward capable of playing stretch four as well. Meanwhile, Calusa Prep’s head coach and HoopMIA Director Derrick De La Grana, left to take over as head coach at La Salle High School. De La Grana, a widely respected player development ace, is the son of Miami Heat assistant coach Octavio De La Grana.
While the program seemed on the doorstep of a prosperous new era, there are no wistful reminders of what could have been. This weekend, Calusa Prep will face first-year program Inspire Academy (Orlando) in the annual SIAA Veteran’s Day tournament at The Rock School in Gainesville.
While Calusa lost its backcourt in sharpshooter Nathanael Jack and hard-driving 6-foot-2 guard Nathan Mepandy, first-year head coach Bojan Grubisic brings in size with 6-foot-10 Center Pavle Djurisic.
With a deft outside shooting touch and an ability to put the ball on the deck, Djurisic brings a European guard skill-set. He creates mismatches for his ability to bring big rim protectors away from the basket. His shot release and polished stroke makes him hard to guard at this level. Out of Montenegro, Djurisic showed promise as a young talent while playing in Italy.
Grubisic will have help from Doghan Yavuz, who will play off the ball and comes in with the reputation of a deep shooter who can reel off points in a hurry. It is a total rebuilding project for a program which struggled mightily two seasons ago but had sustainable productivity in spurts last season.