GIBSONTON — He used to coach basketball at East Bay, back in 2006.
He left for Armwood for a few seasons.
Then he returned.
The first question, then, has to be:
Billy Teeden smiles at the question because the answer is all over the school’s hallways, written on banners, urging the Indians to win.
It’s there in the gymnasium, where his collection of spunky yet still developing players are working at deciphering the mighty Bartow press in time for tonight’s Class 7A region semifinal, just the third in school history.
It’s there driving the lane — talented point guard Jonathan Jean looking one way, dishing the ball another.
“I knew we could win here,” Teeden says. “I knew there was talent in the hallways. I knew we could do this. That’s why I wanted to come back.”
The 32-year-old coach took quite the leap of faith, leaving the Hawk girls for a chance to coach a boys team.
He inherited a program that hadn’t won a playoff game since 1968 (beating, ironically enough, Bartow), and had been to the postseason only four times. Victories were rare, and player defections weren’t.
Rudy Jean remembers those days. He graduated in 2006, and knows his teams never won as many as 10 games. But he says the problem wasn’t so much talent, as it was team.
The group out there now, which he went against at Monday’s practice to help get it ready, is completely different.
“I think the biggest difference is Coach,” the 23-year-old University of Tampa graduate said, pointing across the court to Teeden. “This is a whole new system. The kids are learning it. You can see he’s building something.”
The system is simple: play defense.
Play it hard and play it fast because in Gibsonton, well, they don’t grow them as big as you might think.
“We’ll always be undersized,” he said, “but we’ll always play hard.”
Gibsonton is far less country these days than the long-running jokes indicate, but it still remains far from being a basketball factory.
But in Teeden, East Bay found a coach willing to put in the work to keep the program humming year-round. Teeden says he has lots of patience, and has gotten a little bit of luck as well, which often comes in the form of the occasional military kid who transfers in.
It was Dario Duque’s arrival from Kansas, coinciding with Teeden’s hiring, that turned the program from 7-15 to 18-10 in one season, sending the team to the playoffs with a district upset of Newsome.
The Indians followed that up by winning 20 games last year, and have won 21 this year. It has been the greatest three-year stretch in school history, with no end in sight.
Duque has been replaced by North Carolina move-in Anton Crutcher, who leads the team in scoring (14.3 points) and rebounds (9.6), and Jean is one of Tampa Bay’s finest point guards.
The 5-10 sophomore runs the team, and his slick handle and exceptional court vision have led to 14.2 points game and almost five assists.
And a talented if unknown group of young contributors, like Marwan Williams and Michael Washington, have made the Indians a postseason regular of late.
Having been around the program since he was a kid because of Rudy and his other brother, Randall, Jonathan Jean came to East Bay determined to turn things around.
“I feel like we’re about to turn this all the way around,” said the point guard.
You could argue they already have, and now it’s just a matter of how far in this current direction they can go. No one expects them to beat a team like Bartow, but it can be done.
And if not now, soon.
Back-to-back 20-win seasons may have come completely unexpected from such a youthful team, but with a roster that includes six sophomores and five juniors, the Indians don’t plan on stopping regardless of tonight’s outcome.
“We know we still have more work to do,” said Jonathan Jean. “But by the end everyone is going to know about East Bay basketball.”
Region semifinals, 7 Tuesday night
8A: Wharton at Sarasota Riverview
7A: Bartow at East Bay
7A: Chamberlain at St. Petersburg
6A: Sickles at Largo
6A: Winter Haven at Mitchell
5A: Eustis at Nature Coast
5A: Jesuit at Gibbs
4A: Tampa Catholic at Berkeley Prep
3A: Lakeland McKeel at Tampa Prep
3A: St. Petersburg Catholic at Sarasota Cardinal Mooney
2A: Lake Wales Vanguard at Tampa Bay Christian