Standing 6-foot-6 with an athletic build, Jeff Merton could have continued to dominate in the post like he did the past few years at Seacrest.
After transferring to Community School this year, Merton developed his skills outside the paint on both ends of the court. The junior worked on his shooting range and his perimeter defense, and in the process became one of the most complete players in the area.
Merton’s scoring, rebounding and defense led Community School to a 28-3 record and its second trip to the state semifinals in Lakeland. With contributions in nearly every area, Merton is the Daily News Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
“We didn’t really play him in the post too much,” Seahawks coach Greg Donahue said. “He’s going to play a wing in college, so we got him out there. It created a lot of mismatches, and he shot it pretty good.”
Merton’s stats are not surprising. After scoring 21.4 points a game as a sophomore at Seacrest, he averaged 16.8 this past season at Community School.
However, the way in which Merton got his point changed. He took jumpers, he knocked down 3-pointers, he drove to the basket. Merton sank 22 3s, more than his first three varsity seasons combined (he played as an eighth-grader at Seacrest).
Despite stepping out for 58 3-point attempts (and shooting 33 percent), Merton still shot 61 percent overall from the field.
“That was my biggest point of emphasis in the offseason,” Merton said. “Shooting 3s, pullups off the bounce. ... I was in the gym a lot before the season started.”
Donahue said Merton’s biggest, and most overlooked, asset was defense. Most nights, Merton guarded the opponents best player, whether that be in the post or the perimeter.
In the Class 3A regional finals, Merton drew Sarasota-Cardinal Mooney’s Antonio Blakeney, a 6-4 guard ranked among the best sophomores in the country. Merton held Blakeney, who averaged 24 a game, to 15 points, including just six in the first three quarters.
Merton led the team with 8.4 rebounds a game, while also averaging 1.7 steals and 1.5 blocks. He set the school’s single-season record with 44 blocks and had the second-most rebounds in a season with 252.
With another year of high school left, Merton looks forward to continued development before he hits college. He said Florida Gulf Coast University, Palm Beach Atlantic and Lynn University already have offered scholarships.
“This was by far my best year,” Merton said. “This summer, I want to work on (ball) handling and foot speed. I want to just keep improving my all-around game.”