CLEARWATER — Largo coach Phil Price understood the first few weeks of the season were going to be a work in progress. After all, the Packers had players transitioning from football and had to make adjustments for others who had transferred.
So Price has paid no attention to the missed free throws, the errant shots, the turnovers and the fouls.
All he cares about is the result.
On Monday, the Packers were able to overcome all of that, using their athleticism to overwhelm Clearwater in an 81-53 victory.
“All I ask for is hustle,” Price said. “Nobody misses shots on purpose. This is usually the way we start. Eventually, we’ll get things going a little more.”
Largo (2-0) returned the core of its lineup from last season’s team that advanced to the Class 6A region final. The two biggest components, guards Donavan Hale and Jonathan Crawford, are two-sport stars who had to wait until the Packers’ football season ended three weeks ago before joining the team. The lineup also was bolstered by the addition of Brandon Jones, who transferred from Pinellas Park in the offseason.
But to become a cohesive unit, Largo stills needs time playing together. Against the Tornadoes, the Packers had trouble breaking away early. Missed free throws were a major factor. Largo started off just 3-of-10 from the line and finished 10-of-22 in the first half.
The Packers, who led 37-26 at the half, started hitting more free throws and converted more second-chance attempts in the second half.
By the fourth quarter, Largo led by more than 20 and was able to use its reserves.
“We missed 17 free throws,” Price said. “That can be tough. But we were still playing hard. The hustle was there, even when the execution wasn’t.”
Hale scored a team-high 15, including 7-of-10 on free throws, to lead the Packers.
“We started off strong but then we kind of lost it,” Hale said. “It took a while, but we were able to get it back. It’s a little bit of struggle right now because a lot of us are still trying to get back into basketball shape. I’m 0-for-8 on 3-pointers so far this season. It’s just going to take a few games to get into a rhythm.”
The Tornadoes made their season debut under Tom Shaneyfelt, the longtime girls coach at the school who took over the boys in June.
Rasim Avmet led Clearwater with 15 points.
“There were a few things we did well that gives us something to build on,” Shaneyfelt said.