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Cotey: Top-tier basketball talent keeps chasing elusive goal

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Mon. February 14, 2011 | John C. Cotey | Email

Tuesday, at basketball courts around Tampa Bay: Sickles’ Amber Henson is one of America’s top recruits and Tampa Bay’s only McDonald’s All-American. Gulf’s Nicole Adams has broken every scoring record in Pasco County. Laurie’ Beaty has scored 1,500 points for Jefferson. And Boca Ciega’s Tamara Taylor passed 2,000 points last week, and already has played in three state semifinal games and one title match.

They are some of the most impressive and prolific individuals the area has ever produced.

Tonight, they will lead their teams into the second round of the playoffs, hopeful that those mighty milestones lead them one step closer to the one thing they don’t have.

A state title.

•••

First off — winning a state girls basketball title is tough.

The best players have fallen short.

The best teams have come up empty.

Based on droughts, it has been tougher for Tampa Bay to do than wrestling and softball and football and baseball.

Just about every sport, in fact.

Last year, when Tampa Catholic won the Class 3A title, it was area’s first girls hoops championship since 1996.

The Crusaders didn’t have a McDonald’s All-American or a 2,000-point scorer, but they had five capable players on the court at all times, an ability to score inside and outside and great coaching.

Not much has changed. The Crusaders are winners of 21 straight and have beaten the teams led by Henson and Adams.

They remind me of Indian Rocks Christian, a team that could win a Class 2A title.

The Golden Eagles have four — count ’em, four 1,000-point scorers in their lineup. Their speed has been questioned, but they do it all — pass, rebound and shoot.

Boy, do they shoot, averaging seven 3-pointers a game.

Seems to be the most common winning combination.

•••

If you’re looking for state championship contenders, we’ve got the two best ones playing tonight.

Take the winner of tonight’s game between Jefferson, Hills­borough County’s best team, and Lakewood, Pinellas County’s best team.

No, really, Lakeland — take one of them. Does anyone think that the winner isn’t headed to the semifinals?

The Spartans seem ready for a run.

The Dragons seen ready for a run.

Well, then, let’s run.

One of these teams might be Tampa Bay’s best hope. Just flip a coin.

•••

Then there’s Boca Ciega, which seems to lose a large portion of talent every year but continues to win, having made the state semifinals the past three seasons.

Can the Pirates beat Clearwater tonight? Then possibly Sickles? Can they make it four in a row?

The Pirates don’t have nearly the talent surrounding Taylor as they’ve had in the past, but they do still have Taylor, who has evolved into an all-around player after being labeled a gunslinger her first two seasons.

Should the Pirates make it back to Lakeland, Taylor may be the first public school player to make it every year of her high school career.

But while she passed local legend Akita Heatly as the school’s all-time leading scorer, she is still two state titles behind the former Pirate point guard, who won her last title and the last one in Pinellas County 15 years ago.

Winning a state girls basketball title is tough.

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