Florida’s Nightrydas Elite will be making their Nike Elite Youth Basketball League debut in 2019, fresh off a Final Four appearance at last season’s E16 Peach Jam Championships. The majority of their lineup returns and they add a number of talented pieces, which means expectations will be very high in their inaugural 17U EYBL season. The Nightrydas join E1T1 United as the second EYBL representative from Florida, replacing Nike Team Florida at the 17-and-under level.
They add Nike Team Florida’s best underclassman, superstar junior Scott Barnes, an addition that has the Nightrydas thinking about Peach Jam glory. They also add Isaiah Todd, a superstar junior and top 20-player in America. Much like Phenom University and the Texas Titans, the ‘Rydas will have mighty-high expectations in their first season on the circuit, but they have all the talent needed to back it up. Their experience from last season should come in handy, and their team chemistry should be amongst the best on the circuit.
The aforementioned Barnes (247 composite No. 4) is one of the most versatile players in the country, and he’ll be a dynamic force for the Nightrydas after averaging 14.5 points. 8.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists in the 2018 EYBL. Listed at 6-foot-8, 215 pounds, Barnes is capable of beating the opposition in a number of different ways and his game is constantly evolving. He can score and rebound at an elite level, but it’s his passing ability that most noticeably stands out amongst his peers. Barnes is skilled with the ball in his hands and always has his eyes up, and his motor and athleticism make him a tough assignment on both ends of the floor. Barnes has Peach Jam experience from a year ago, but unlike last year alongside top five 2019 big man Vernon Carey Jr, Barnes will be the go-to option on the Nightrydas. The University School (FL) product will make a case for best point-forward on the circuit and will be borderline unstoppable if he improves his jump-shot. Expect the versatile Barnes to put up some jaw-dropping stat-lines, and don’t be surprised if he drops a triple-double or two.
In a move at the 11th hour, the Nightrydas added junior superstar Isaiah Todd to the fold. A 6-foot-10 super-skilled and athletic forward, Todd was named to the NCISSA 2A All-State team after a standout junior season at Trinity Academy (NC). Todd might reclassify to the 2019 class, but before he does, he has his eyes set on a Peach Jam title, and his addition to the roster turns the 'Rydas into an odds-on favorite to win it.
Nightrydas guard Dudley Blackwell (
In the half court, Barnes will have the ball in his hands quite often and his playmaking ability should open things up for his teammates. 6-foot-1 junior guard Naseem Khaalid joins the fray from the adidas Gauntlet, and the Florida State verbal commit will start at point guard for the Nightrydas. A do-it-all floor general at First Coast Christian School (FL), Khaalid (247 composite No. 63, ESPN No. 40) is a strong, gritty point guard and an excellent passer. Khaalid is dynamic with the ball in his hands and is a blur in transition, two traits of his game that perfectly suit the EYBL’s new rules.
Junior Dudley Blackwell (247 No. 85) will see huge minutes for the Nightrydas, and the 6-foot-6 combo guard will operate as one of the top athletes on the circuit. The uber-athletic Blackwell is at his best when he’s attacking the basket, and he’s also a gifted passer. Blackwell transferred to prep powerhouse Huntington Prep (WV) in late January and made an immediate impact on a loaded Irish squad. Junior guard Antwan Burnett returns after starring for the Nightrydas a year ago, and the 6-foot-4, 205 pound combo guard is a strong, physical prospect that excels on defense. Also a star wide receiver on the gridiron with offers from the likes of Alabama, Florida and Georgia, Burnett employs a physical, no-nonsense playing style that should suit him well on the circuit.
Junior Kam Woods (6-foot) will each see big minutes in the backcourt. Woods is a proven winner, fresh off leading Pinson Valley (AL) to their first state championship in school history. Woods took home Alabama 6A Player of the Year award and will be a major sparkplug for head coach Boobie Francis. Woods is a big-time shooter and hit a ton of clutch shots in their preseason wins over AOT and Game Elite. Reclassifying guard Myles Samuels rounds out the rotation, and the 6-foot-5 swingman provides a solid rebounder and overall competitor off the bench.
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Blackwell and Burnett will likely see time at the small forward position, but the frontcourt is led by big man Moussa Diabaté. A 6-foot-10 sophomore from DME Academy (FL), Diabaté (247 No. 11) played a huge role in the Nightrydas success from a year ago, and he figures to be one of the best underclassmen on the circuit. Diabaté became the first underclassman to win SIAA Player of the year during the 2018-19 high school season, putting up some monstrous statistics including a 21-point, 30-rebounds, 7-assist performance against Superior Collegiate. With his size and length, Diabaté is a force on defense, and his ability to protect the rim will be crucial to the Nightrydas’ success.
6-foot-8 junior Jalen Haynes is a big-time athlete and will play significant minutes alongside Diabaté, and he’s got a lot of tools in his bag. Haynes was named 9A-7A 2nd Team All-State, and he’s just starting to tap into his potential. The Nightrydas will star a pair of elite football recruits in their frontcourt. 6-foot-8, 280-pound behemoth Gervon Dexter provides size and strength in the middle, and the dual-sport athlete is more than capable of bullying the opposition in the EYBL. Dexter (247 No. 36) is a 4-star recruit heading to Florida, as is fellow dual-sport athlete Leonard Manuel (247 No. 49). Manuel, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound swingman, is obviously a terrific athlete, and he brings a level of toughness and competitiveness that Francis should love. The frontcourt will feature up to five players, and there won’t be too many teams that can match their size, athleticism and overall strength on the interior.
Francis’ 17U Nightrydas squad will have some lofty expectations, and for good reason. They will feature seven ranked recruits in their rotation, including five top 100 players and two 4-star football recruits. The majority of this squad played together a season ago, so their team chemistry should be further advanced than most programs. The Nightrydas will be one of the biggest teams on the circuit, as their rotation includes eight players over 6-foot-5. This team has Peach Jam Championship aspirations in their first 17U season in the EYBL, and after looking at their roster on paper, there’s no reason to think they can’t realistically contend in mid-July.