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It has been 16 years since Hillsborough County has won a state boys basketball championship.
It has been so long, in fact, that when Tampa Catholic won that title in 1995, it wasn’t even in Lakeland, home of the current state championships that start Wednesday, but Tallahassee.
One must go back to 1982 (Plant City) and 1984 (Jesuit) to find ultimate hoops success in Polk County for Hillsborough County, and while Pinellas County has had more success, Gibbs — the only Pinellas team at state this week — hasn’t won a title since 1969.
Does that change this week?
A title for Tampa Catholic’s Don Dziagwa would make him only the sixth coach to win two state titles, but the first from Hillsborough County.
He’d join a list that includes some local legends from Pinellas:
• Roy King, who coached Dixie Hollins to the 1961 and ’62 titles.
• Jack Wilson, who coached Zephyrhills to the 1962 title before moving on to Clearwater, where he won in 1981.
• Freddie Dyles, the all-time winningest coach in Pinellas County when he retired, won at Gibbs in 1967 and ’69.
• Dan Wright, who retired from coaching this year, broke Dyles’ wins record and guided Lakewood to titles in 2002 and ’05.
• Gary Zimmerman is the last coach to win consecutive titles, taking Clearwater Central Catholic to the 1986 and ’87 championships.
If it’s state final four time, and Tampa Prep is around, then it must be time for the obligatory reference to the Team That Wears Funny Socks But Shall not be Named.
Okay, fine, we’ll name it.
Port St. Joe.
Coach Joe Fenlon and the Terps are making their seventh appearance, and for the sixth time the Sharks are there, too.
Both would have to win their state semifinals to set up a meeting, and odds don’t favor it. But if it happens, it would be the sixth time they’ve met (they didn’t play each other in 2009), and the Sharks have a 4-1 edge.
The lone Tampa Prep victory came last season in a semifinal.
“I’d rather beat them to win a state championship,” Fenlon said.
Welcome to the party
Blake, which lost to Gibbs during the Gladiators’ 1969 run to the Class 4A title and didn’t return to the playoffs for the next 35 years, is the only local team still alive that has never made the state semifinals.
In fact, prior to this season, the Yellow Jackets hadn’t even advanced to a region final.
But guards Andre Smith and Brandon Channer have carried Blake to its best-ever record (28-2), including wins over Tampa Prep and Tampa Catholic.
Gibbs coach Larry Murphy left in 2008 for a season at Middleton, but returned this year and has Gibbs in the final four for the first time since 1990.
A former star at Dixie Hollins, Murphy also added Ed Jackson, who left as Gibbs girls coach the same year Murphy did, to his staff.
Jackson has some final four experience. From 1989-91, he coached a Pinellas Park girls team that advanced to state three straight times, losing the final his first trip.
Raising the bar
Now that Wright has retired, the only active boys basketball coaches in Tampa Bay with a state title are Boca Ciega’s Randy Shuman (1994) and Dziagwa (1995). But one may not be enough anymore for the Crusaders coach.
Last week, girls coach Nancy Kroll won her second straight title in only her fifth season at Tampa Catholic. Dziagwa jokes that Kroll has reminded him of that fact a few times this week.
“She has really raised the bar,” Dziagwa said. “But I told her she has three trips to the final four, and I have four now. I just didn’t mention that it took me 20 years to get to that fourth one.”
If you count one trip as an assistant coach in 1985, and the fact that his daughters Annie and Gracie were on two of Kroll’s final four teams, Dziagwa can claim his DNA has been far more prolific.
But he wouldn’t reach that far, would he?
“You know, when you put it that way, I may have to mention it to her,” he said.
Only eight schools have won the boys and girls titles in the same season. Pine Castle Christian did it last in 2007.
State all-star team
If we were picking an all-star team among the locals competing this week, it’d go like this:
G Andre Smith, Blake: He might be the best player in all of Tampa Bay, leading his team in points, assists, 3-pointers and steals.
G Josh Heath, Tampa Prep: Really playing well since playoffs. Matched season high with 17 points in first two games of regionals, then topped that with 26 on Saturday.
G Lashawn Harrison, Tampa Catholic: Averaging more than 22 points in playoffs and improved jumper has produced 21-for-42 shooting from 3-point range the past seven games.
G Devontae Morgan, Tampa Prep: Butler-bound junior leads team in scoring and rebounding while shooting 51 percent. Didn’t make a field goal in region final, but produced in every other way.
F Quincy Ford, Gibbs: Shooting more than 60 percent from the floor and averaging 10 rebounds a contest, probably best player in Pinellas County. Has made 19 of 25 shots in past two games.
F Gary Simon, Gibbs: Top football recruit had 20 points last time the Gladiators played Lake Wales.
At the Lakeland Center. Admission is $9 per session; parking is $7 per day. The finals will air on BHSN.
2A: Orlando First Academy vs. Tampa Prep, 4 p.m. Wednesday
3A: Orlando Jones vs. Tampa Catholic, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday
4A: Leesburg vs. Blake, 2:30 p.m. Friday
5A: Lake Wales vs. Gibbs, 8:30 p.m. Friday