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TAMPA — His emergence was preceded by resistance. Disillusionment arrived before his double doubles. Chamberlain senior Eric Storts didn’t take the local basketball scene by storm until he and his new coach nearly took each other by the collars.
A 6-foot-3 swingman, Storts was content to play for longtime Chiefs coach Doug Aplin the rest of his life. But Aplin retired at the end of Storts’ sophomore year. His replacement, Christopher Snyder, had been alive as many years (31) as Aplin had coached the Chiefs.
To Storts, everything about Snyder — from his practices to his playbook to his pregame dress code — seemed foreign.
“I love Coach Aplin and I’d do anything for that guy,” Storts said. “And (Snyder) came in and it was like a different philosophy. Both philosophies are right, but we kind of bumped heads because I wanted to do things Coach Aplin’s way and he had this new way.”
The philosophical tug-of-war reached its climax at halftime of last year’s Jan. 20 game at Hillsborough. His team down by eight, Snyder chose that moment for a heated heart-to-heart — in nose-to-nose fashion — with his headstrong star.
“I know spit was flying all over his face,” Snyder said, “but it was one of those moments.”
The Chiefs lost that night, but are 31-4 since.
And Storts? He has emerged as arguably the county’s most valuable player.
“Nobody,” Snyder said, “puts in more time than Eric Storts.”
A self-professed gym rat with a 5.94 GPA who plays the trumpet and has an affinity for pregame meals from Subway, Storts ended the regular season averaging a double double (17.6 ppg, 11.1 rpg) for Chamberlain (23-2). Tonight, he faces Sickles for the fourth time this season in the Class 5A region semifinals.
He entered the playoffs leading the Chiefs in points, rebounds, assists (4.2), steals (3.3) and blocks (1.7). In a playoff-opening 64-51 win against Port Charlotte, Storts scored a game-high 26, including 17 in the first half when the rest of Chamberlain’s offense struggled.
Long and left-handed, his shooting touch is more prolific than picturesque, and he lacks consistency at the free-throw line. But his hustle possesses few peers. Storts’ trademark: swooping in from the lane to crash the offensive or defensive glass.
“He is, by far, on and off the floor, the type of kid you want to coach, because of the work ethic, his stubbornness, his competitive side, and it’s his senior year,” Snyder said. “He knows this is his chance and this is his team, and he’s going to carry them as far as he is.”
To this point, only a handful of small colleges have shown interest in Storts which, to Chiefs fans, may be as astounding as the snub he sustained in recent player of the year voting.
Last week, Hillsborough County’s coaches voted Blake point guard Andre Smith MVP of their FACA district, which came as no surprise. The fact Storts didn’t finish in the top four did.
“I’m not going to be gun shy and I’m not going to be politically correct about it,” Snyder said. “I don’t care. You have got to be kidding me that a kid on a team that’s 23-2 that averages a double double …who else is going to be better than that?”
Such is the evolution of Chiefs basketball. A year after fighting with his top player, Snyder is fighting for him.
“Definitely since (that confrontation with Snyder), my confidence has grown, and my confidence in what my coaches do and what all my teammates do has grown,” Storts said. “So it’s made it easier for me to be a good player.”
Let’s play four
Five Hillsborough County playoff games Tuesday night involve teams squaring off for the fourth time this season. Here’s a closer look at those matchups, and what happened in the previous encounters.
Sickles (23-6) at Chamberlain (23-2)
2010-11 series record: Chamberlain leads 2-1
Last meeting: Sickles won 45-43 in Class 5A, District 9 final Feb. 11
Average margin in three games: 11 points
Tampa Catholic (19-8) at Berkeley Prep (20-7)
2010-11 series record: Berkeley leads 3-0
Last meeting: Berkeley won 62-52 in Class 3A, District 10 final Feb. 11
Average margin in three games: 8.7 points
East Bay (18-9) at Durant (20-4)
2010-11 series record: Durant leads 3-0
Last meeting: Durant won 39-38 in Class 5A, District 8 final Feb. 11
Average margin in three games: Four points (including two one-point games)
Seffner Christian (13-13) at Bradenton Christian (18-11)
2010-11 series record: Bradenton Christian leads 3-0
Last meeting: Bradenton Christian won 70-59 in Class A, District 12 final Feb. 12
Average margin in three games: 5.7 points
Calvary Christian (18-9) at Tampa Prep (23-3)
2010-11 series record: Tampa Prep leads 3-0
Last meeting: Tampa Prep won 63-38 in Class 2A, District 10 final Feb. 12
Average margin in three games: 21 points