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ST. PETERSBURG — There were many friends in the sold-out crowd who were rooting for Lakewood’s Dan Wright to become Pinellas County’s all-time winningest boys basketball coach.
Wright, who tied Freddie Dyles with his 674th victory last week, had the chance to get his milestone victory Wednesday.
And he had the perfect setting to achieve it.
Wright returned to Gibbs to play his alma mater, and a victory would have surpassed his high school coach and mentor.
The Gladiators, however, did not play along.
Using height to its advantage, Gibbs cruised to a 55-39 victory in a matchup of two of the county’s biggest rivals.
After the buzzer sounded, Wright stood on the court for a few seconds before clapping hands and walking away. He was not much interested in talking about the past.
“I guess we had a little magnitude coming into this game,” Wright said. “But records are not what concern me. I’ve never been an emotional or sentimental type of guy.”
In Wright’s mind, the spotlight created by the chance to break the record had nothing to do with the task of getting a young team to play at a championship level.
“We’re still trying to grow up,” he said. “We have to try to get better, learn how to play together more and settle down. That’s what I’m focused on. Records are made to be broken. Either I do it or someone else does.”
Wright tried to downplay any personal significance, but there were plenty on hand who had hoped to witness a historical accomplishment.
The game was even through the first quarter.
Then things turned in the second quarter. With the score tied at 11, the Gladiators went on a 12-0 run to take a 23-11 lead at the half.
Lakewood turned to its press to get back into the game and cut the deficit to 34-30. But the Spartans never got any closer.
“We knew about the situation with Dan possibly breaking the record,” Gibbs coach Larry Murphy said. “We just wanted to make sure it didn’t happen here.”
Gary Simon led the Gladiators with 19 points, including 11-of-15 from the line. Rasheed Hall scored a team-high 10 for Lakewood.
Wright will try again to break the record Friday when the Spartans travel to take on Northeast.
“This was just our second game, and I promise we’re going to be a better team by January,” Wright said. “I’ll just worry about the next game and that’s all.”