Wellington Basketball Boys In Pursuit Of Another State Title

Wellington’s Starting Five — (L-R) Manny Hernandez, Shawn Cineus, Reggie Reinhardt, Erick Perez and Jeremy Tovar. Photo courtesy Matt Colin

If there’s one word to describe the annual standard of play of Wellington High School’s varsity boys basketball team, it’s excellence. Under head coach Matt Colin, the expectation for the team is to win at least 20 games each year and to have a deep post-season run.

In fact, for the last nine seasons in a row, the Wolverines have won at least 20 games. And during Colin’s time as head coach, the program has won seven district titles, four regional titles, advanced to three state championship games and won the state championship during the 2014-15 season.

Colin is cautiously optimistic that his current squad will conclude its season in late February at the Florida High School Athletic Association’s (FHSAA) Class 7A Final Four in Lakeland.

While this year’s boys basketball team is strong, athletic and talented, the biggest hurdle it must overcome is the inexperience factor.

“Our biggest obstacle during the season is getting this young group to grow up and mature. We start two sophomores and have two sophomores that come off the bench and contribute,” Colin said. “Most of our juniors, besides Reggie Reinhardt, have no varsity experience, so we will have some growing pains I’m sure throughout the season. I hope by February that we will be playing our best basketball.”

Wellington’s starting five this year are Manny Hernandez, Shawn Cineus, Reggie Reinhardt, Erick Perez and Jeremy Tovar. Colin is looking for this group to lead by example. After the team’s first seven games, WHS has a 6-1 record. The only blemish was an 84-81 loss at home to William T. Dwyer High School on Dec. 6. For Wellington, that three-point defeat was a learning experience.

“It was a double-overtime loss that ended with Dwyer hitting a buzzer beater,” Colin said. “I think what we learned is we have to mature and take care of the ball to win games like that one. We had multiple opportunities to win the game and didn’t make the stop, execute the play, or we had a turnover. The positive is we didn’t have much time to sulk over it, as we had to get ready for one of the top-ranked teams in our area — Park Vista. We showed some growth by being able to put that game away and take care of the ball. We only had eight turnovers, which is very good for high school basketball. We won 78-62.”

Every great basketball team must have a proven point guard, and the Wolverines have one in Manny Hernandez. Colin said Hernandez is a great fit for his team.

“Manny does a great job setting his guys up and putting them in scoring position,” Colin said. “He’s a very strong athletic guard.”

Shawn Cineus, one of the team’s co-captains, is tall, talented and a proven scorer. He is averaging 14.5 points and a team-leading 7.8 rebounds a game.

“Shawn is our biggest guy. He plays inside and outside,” Colin said. “He has great post moves and an excellent pivot. He can also step outside and shoot the three-pointer or drive past his defender and use that body to get to the rim.”

Reggie Reinhardt, the team’s other co-captain, would probably start on any boys varsity basketball team in the state. Colin is delighted that Reinhardt, who averages 15.5 points and 2.3 assists a game, is a Wolverine.

“Reggie is a tremendous combo guard,” Colin said. “He runs the shooting guard position, and, on certain substitutions, he becomes the point guard, as well. He can really shoot the ball. He’s the strongest guy on our team, and he can physically impose his will on the opponent. He does a great job of mixing up his outside shot and driving opportunities.”

Erick Perez’s biggest role is to play a suffocating defense. Colin said Perez is a true defensive specialist.

“Erick is an athletic wing and also our best defender. He usually takes on the other team’s best player,” Colin said. “He has a knack for shooting mid-range shots and can stretch the floor with his three-pointers or use that athleticism to get to the rim.”

Perez is averaging 13.2 points and 4.7 rebounds a game.

For Jeremy Tovar, his attitude is his biggest attribute, and he brings mental toughness to the team.

“Jeremy is a very crafty scorer, super tough and fearless,” Colin said. “He finds ways to get to the rim and is very shifty if cut off on his way there. He can also shoot from the outside.”

In addition to a talented starting five, Colin’s bench is deep. He won’t hesitate to insert fresh legs into any game.

In basketball, it’s always nice to have a tall player who can score. Sean Standifer fits that description.

“Sean is one of the best shooters on the team,” Colin said. “At 6-foot-4, he has the height to shoot over defenders, and he has a quick release.”

Dakota Salvatore-Izard brings energy to the team, both in practice and in games.

“Dakota is a super athletic wing who can shoot,” Colin said. “He can play above the rim. He works extremely hard and never stops moving.”

When Toney Collins enters the game, it’s noticeable. His ability to play defense makes him a valuable member of the team.

“Toney is a big-body forward who can physically dominate the area around the rim and step outside and shoot,” Colin said.

Elyjah Freeman is strong, smart, tall and athletic.

“Elyjah is a 6-foot-6 wing who is also a varsity baseball player,” Colin said. “He defends at a high level and is very long. He makes it tough for teams to score on his length. He also is a very good decision maker.”

Kareem Khaliq is expected to be a regular part of the rotation when he becomes 100 percent healthy.

“Kareem is a senior point guard. He has a great ability to score and knows how to run everything we do,” Colin said. “He has been battling injuries to start the season. We hope to get him back by the holiday break.”

While Wellington has many players who can score, the team’s biggest strength will be its ability to defend. Through the team’s first seven games, the Wolverines are giving up an average of less than 50 points a game. If that trend continues, Wellington has an excellent chance of finishing its season in Lakeland.

The Wolverines will be looking to improve their record to 7-1 on Friday, Dec. 16 when they host rival Royal Palm Beach High School. The tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.