The suspenders are the first thing you notice about Lennard High School boys basketball coach Danny Gaddis.
Specked with little Longhorns, they frame his burnt orange tie.
“I thought it’d be a good touch,” he said.
By the second quarter of games, Gaddis’ suspenders hang around his waist. He fiddles with his tie, adjusts his glasses, yells instructions.
He looks like a basketball coach, which is the point.
Dress the part, his dad used to tell him. No matter what you do, look like you belong doing it.
“He’s right; I did tell him that,” said Anthony Gaddis Sr., a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who served 30 years. “He remembers that, huh?”
Danny Gaddis, 31, remembers a lot. It’s a big part of the reason he’s guided Lennard to the Class 6A state semifinals in what will be the biggest athletic event in the Longhorns’ brief history.
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An Army brat born at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, Gaddis grew up with basketball.
When he wasn’t out shooting baskets, he ritually spent his weekends on the couch watching college basketball with his mother (Veronica), dad and brothers (Tony Jr. and Andre).
Nolan Richardson’s 40 minutes of hell.
Rick Pitino’s high-pressure attack.
John Thompson’s emphasis on intimidating defense.
His father would help explain what was happening and would always throw in a nugget or two about John Wooden and how he might have done it.
At the time, Gaddis planned to play in the NBA, so his father never imagined he would grow up to be a basketball coach.
But watching his team, watching the way they play, watching the way his son coaches, it all looks a little familiar.
“Some of that stuff rubbed off on him,” Anthony Gaddis Sr. said. “He’s kind of a kid that takes things and puts his own twist on it. But I see now that was the beginning of some of his development as a coach.”
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Lennard is a small basketball team. It’s tallest player is 6 feet 3.
No big man in the middle. No glass cleaner, or shot blocker or imposing force in the lane.
And that’s just fine with Gaddis, because when he looks at a roster others might view as too short and not good enough, he sees a whole bunch of Danny Gaddises.
He was a youth standout in the Brandon area. And at King High — where he stood 6-2 and weighed 180 pounds — he was one of the top players on a team that lacked height, that relied on smaller guys playing bigger, that got by on hard-nosed defense.
It’s how he played at the University of Tampa and the Riverfront and Harbour Island pro-am leagues after that.
“At the time I did not shoot well,” he said. “I made my living off first-step driving and defense. I loved playing defense.”
Tough. Relentless. In your face.
“I coach my kids to play like I did,” he said.
His style — and the players buying into it — have produced a 25-4 season, 10 straight wins, and 15 wins in 16 games.
Lennard is the only public high school in Hillsborough County still playing basketball.
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Anthony Gaddis Sr. said he thought his son might be an architect when his basketball playing days were over. But Veronica Gaddis suggested he look into substitute teaching, which led him to Brandon, where former coach Mark Hermann brought him on as an assistant.
Gaddis took over Lennard in 2009. He coached varsity, and junior varsity out of necessity, slowly building both programs and developing a rabid following of fans. He is still one of the few in the state who coaches both.
But that has allowed him to quickly develop players — like current seniors Gary Hector and Caelen Watts.
“When I walked in here four years ago, I said we’re going to win a state title,” said Hector, one of the team leaders. “You could feel it in the gym.”
After a 10-14 season in 2011-12, the Longhorns bounced back with a 17-8 campaign last season that set the table for today’s destination.
The senior-laden Longhorns, ranked No. 12 by the Times in the preseason Tampa Bay poll, avenged regular-season losses to Chamberlain and Jefferson in the district tournament, beat Mitchell in the first round of the playoffs with a miraculous buzzer beater, then stunned favored state contender Largo in the second round.
Last week, they weathered an early Lehigh surge and took control in securing their place at state.
“We just felt after four years, it was our time,” Watts said. “We’re not surprised.”
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The first thing Gaddis will throw on Friday, as he has all season, is a black T-shirt with a pink depiction of Rosie the Riveter.
Underneath, it says Grinstead Strong, for Michelle Grinstead, a co-worker of Gaddis’ who has breast cancer.
Then he will dress in the same things he wore for the region final. He says he’s not superstitious, maybe just kind of.
And he will walk into the Lakeland Center, dapper. His team will walk in with him, confident and determined.
It’s state championship basketball. The best of the best. The last four teams playing in the state.
Lennard, and their coach, will look the part.
John C. Cotey can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JohnnyHomeTeam.
Where: The Lakeland Center
Admission: $10 per session; parking is $8.
6A: Lennard (25-4) vs. Lake Minneola (27-3), 4 p.m. Friday