Winter Park Wildcats bounce into final four

Isaac Babcock

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Two years after an epic nosedive after the graduation of a superstar, one year after an inspiring turnaround that turned them into district champions, the Winter Park Wildcats are in the state boys basketball final four.

Friday night they’ll be as close as they’ve been to a state championship in four seasons. The last time they made it to the Lakeland Center, they had NBA-bound phenom Austin Rivers at point guard. Now they have a corps of shooters who spread the ball around and a freshman, Wyatt Wilkes, who grabbed 14 rebounds against a St. Petersburg team that had only lost one game all season going into the regional championship.

The Wildcats edged St. Petersburg by just a basket in an 80-78 nail-biter on Feb. 22. And they owe those deciding points to another kid named Rivers. Spencer, younger brother of Austin, tossed three free throws in the final minute of overtime to close out a win for the Wildcats that would launch them into the final four. In that game DeAndre Turner would have 28 points, leading the Wildcats.

The Wildcats will take on Palm Beach County’s John I. Leonard in the state semifinal. That tips off at 7 p.m. Friday at the Lakeland Center.