The FHSAA’s 2023-24 basketball season opened on Nov. 20, and Hernando High School wasted no time traveling to the Keys for a pair of games. The Leopards stopped in Key Largo on opening day to take on the Hurricanes of Coral Shores in what would be the first tipoff of the season for Monroe County high schools. 

The game was set to be played at Coral Shores, but the Nov. 15 storms caused some damage to the gymnasium, moving the matchup to Key Largo School instead. Senior Isaac Holmes led the charge, scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Junior AJ Putetti had 12 points, a pair of assists and 3 rebounds. Sophomore Donovan Thiery scored 7 with 5 assists and 4 rebounds. Isaac Rivera and Ayden Lane scored 5 each and AJ Johnson added 2 more for the ’Canes, giving them their first win of the season, 45-40. 

“Like any first game of the season, I saw some really great things, but the team has some work to do as well,” said first-year head coach Tony Simmons of the hard-fought contest. 

The following night, the Leopards traveled to Key West, where they met a young Conchs squad on the hardwood. Key West’s roster is without a single senior, and though young, coach Dexter Butler’s Conchs are already seasoned, with a majority of his bench earning substantial playing time last season. 

The Leopards pulled ahead early, outscoring the Conchs 16-11 in quarter one. They were ahead by 10 at the half when Key West began to come alive. The Conchs put up 29 points to Hernando’s 18 in the second half for the big opening win.

Junior Kameron Roberts was the top scorer on Nov. 21, earning a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Roberts was also credited with a pair of assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks. James Osborne had a double-double of his own, with 18 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists and a block. The rest of the Conchs’ points came from Josue Thanus and David Aviles with 4 each and Jaxen Cabrera with 2. Aviles added 10 rebounds while Cabrera grabbed 6 rebounds and added 3 steals to his stats. Key West edged the Leopards 49-48, giving the team some early-season confidence. 

Both boys and girls from all three Keys schools have packed schedules this season, especially in the next two weeks before the holiday break. The first in-county play will occur on Dec. 12 when Marathon plays at Coral Shores. Tipoff for the girls is 5 p.m. and the boys will follow at 7.

Tracy McDonald fled to the Keys from the frozen mountains of Pennsylvania hours after graduating from college and never looked back. She is a second generation coach and educator, and has taught in the public school system for over 25 years. She and her husband met at a beginning teacher meeting in 1997 and have three children born and raised in Monroe County. In her free time, McDonald loves flea markets, historical fiction and long runs in the heat.