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Mon. March 7, 2011 | John C. Cotey | Email

On one of our live chats at the state basketball tournament, a conversation broke out: Tamara Taylor or Meghan Keough or Amber Henson.

The debate over who should be the Times' All-Suncoast Girls Basketball Player of the Year was lively, informative, and even at times a bit testy. But mostly, it was fun.

Tuesday over lunch, we will settle the argument. So here's your chance to weigh-in.

1. We covers sports in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties. For each sport, we choose a Player of the Year from each county, with one exception -- Pasco and Hernando are combined, and form our North Suncoast. So three counties/area, three players of the year, three all-county teams.

2. For the bigger sports, like football, volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball, we take our entire coverage area and throw it all together in one delicious mixture, and serve up a tasty All-Suncoast team. This team is truly comprised of the creme de la creme of Tampa Bay.

3. I have a vote, but I do not select the teams or the players of the year. I just play devil's advocate and pretty much tick everyone off until we finally vote.

4. I have no idea who the county players of the year are at this point.

GIRLS BASKETBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR

I believe it will come down to Tampa Catholic's Meghan Keough (over Sickles' Amber Henson) and Lakewood's Tianah Alvarado (over Boca Ciega's Tamara Taylor).

Henson didn't play the whole season, because she was hurt, though there is no doubting she is Tampa Bay's more high-profile player.  And while personally I feel Taylor is the best basketball player in Pinellas, I suspect Alvarado's playoff performances against Jefferson and in the state semifinals and finals will get her the nod over Taylor.

Head-to-head, Keough beats Alvarado, only because Keough had a better year with 21 ppg, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 3 assists a game. Without her performance in the Class 3A final, where she was the only Crusader to do anything, Tampa Catholic does not win. I think she carried the Crusaders more than Alvarado had to, and stats-wise she has better numbers.

FUN FACT: Tampa Catholic shot under 40 percent seven times this season, and won six of those games, including the state final.

And while Lakewood unquestionably plays in a tougher classification and beat much tougher playoff competition to get to state, Tampa Catholic didn't shy away from playing one of the toughest schedules in the area. This season, the Crusaders played Clearwater and Jefferson (two teams Lakewood beat), Plant, Sickles, Gulf and Jupiter (25-6), to name a few.

FUN FACT: I'd love to see a Lakewood-Tampa Catholic game, pitting our two state champions. Lakewood would win 56-49, but it would be fun.

Some feel pretty strongly that Taylor should be Pinellas County player of the year. Taylor averaged 26 points a game, and did not rely on the 3-pointer as she has in the past despite being the last remaining holdover from those three state semifinal teams.

Without her, Bogie would have been a .500 team. When the starting point guard was dismissed, Taylor had to take over more of the responsibilities, and defenses used more junk on her this season than you'll find in a vending machine.

Head-to-head, Bogie lost to Lakewood, but Taylor outscored Alvarado by nearly a 2:1 margin. Then again, Bogie lost to Lakewood. It's still tempting to side with Taylor in that argument, considering she had a better statistical season than Alvarado, but ultimately, did she have a better year?

We don't always side with players on state champion teams, so don't throw that argument at us. In fact, there's plenty of precedent for choosing Taylor (see Coley, Jerica).

I think Taylor is a better basketball player than Keough and Alvarado. But I'm not sure she had a better season.

As for the North Suncoast, Land O'Lakes' Shanel Sweet and Gulf's Nicole Adams are both good choices. But head-to-head, Sweet had the better game and the better result. But Adams did average 29 points a game (and had 36 against Tampa Catholic), and is there any question who the best pure scorer is in Tampa Bay?

BOYS BASKETBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Nature Coast's Tyler Bergantino will probably represent the North Suncoast, and Gibbs' Quincy Ford will probably rep Pinellas.

But I'm guessing Hillsborough will come down to Chamberlain's Eric Storts and Blake's Andre Smith.

Personally, I like Smith. He's the point guard, he was the proverbial straw stirring the drink, and he may have ran that team as much as any coach did. But Storts had many of the same characteristics for Chamberlain, so Joey Knight may be flipping a coin on that choice.

And a wild card: Northeast's Andres Sanchez. I don't know if Bob Putnam would pull the trigger on a kid from a 12-17 team, but Sanchez was MVP-like for the Vikings, who pulled major upsets over Gibbs, Boca Ciega (ending their season) and Clearwater (ending their season). And in those three games, Sanchez averaged over 30 points.

With the likely available choices, I would give Smith, who led Blake to its first state semifinal by scoring 25 points a game in the three regional playoff games, a slight edge over Ford. The Gladiators' gifted center had a great season, but Smith had to handle the ball every trip down the court and make that Yellow Jacket offense go.

I would, however, probably pick Ford over Storts, only because I think Gibbs played a significantly tougher schedule and did advance further.

Bergantino is an interesting choice. He averaged 17 points and almost 13 rebounds a game in leading Nature Coast to the region final, where it lost to eventual state champ Leesburg. He was consistent all season, and when he had to, dominant. But I think beating out two guys who carried their teams to Lakeland will be too much.

I await your rebuttals, and I have more rebutting up my sleeve if your rebuts call for my rebuts.

Fire away.

Or hit me up at johncotey@gmail.com, and I'll gladly share your pearls of wisdom by updating this blog post.

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