Standing before dozens of peers, players and parents in a banquet hall Tuesday night, Armwood coach Jeff Pafunda recounted how tragedy last spring threatened to fracture a highly promising Hawks season before it even began.
In the end, the only noticeable crack was in Pafunda's voice.
Pafunda (pictured, left) presented the Tampa Bay Basketball Coaches Association's Heart of a Champion Award to Hawks senior Marcus Hill (right), who guided Armwood to its first playoff berth in 12 seasons last winter, only months after Hill's 21-year-old brother, Chris, took his own life.
Hill, who averaged a double-double as a senior (17.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg), was among three Heart of a Champion honorees at the TBBCA's annual awards banquet at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
"After Chris' death, Marcus struggled for weeks to find the motivation to prepare for his senior year of basketball," Pafunda told the audience.
"Marcus said that the more he thought about it, the more he believed Chris would not want him throwing away his future as a basketball player. ... It took him a while to get it going, but switching to No. 21 to honor Chris' age at the time of his death gave him motivation."
Other Heart of a Champion honorees were seniors Dimario Jackson of Hillsborough and Jerome Hodge of Durant.
Jackson, who never had a relationship with his dad and lost his mom at a young age, survived virtual homelessness to flourish at a central Tampa charter school and eventually gain academic eligibility. Similarly, Hodge now owns a 3.0 and is hoping to enter the Navy after several scrapes with authority at a young age.
Other honorees Tuesday included county scoring leader Reggie Hart of Chamberlain, presented the Paul Straub Player of the Year Award.
Jesuit's Neal Goldman, who led the Tigers (31-1) to the Class 5A state title, was given the Doug Walker Coach of the Year Award; the Tigers were presented the Tampa Bay Times Team of the Year Award.
Brandon coach Jamie Turner, whose team (18-9) made the 7A playoffs after a nine-win season the previous year, was presented the William Bethel Award. Jon Decker received the West Coast Official Award and Larry Wagers -- first coach in Leto history -- was handed the Meritorious Service Award for his career contributions.
Twenty-four TBBCA all-stars and 20 academic all-stars also were named (see below).
Alonso--Malachi Christopher; Armwood -- Marcus Hill; Berkeley Prep -- Justin Gray; Brandon -- Roderick Davis; Durant -- Trent Robertson, Kyle White; East Bay -- Jonathan Jean; Jesuit -- Jack Fleming, Joey Galvis, Devin Harris, Travis Johnson; Lennard -- Caelen Watts; Plant--Andrew Sanders; Robinson -- Cody Brown, Justin Madison; Sickles--Dan Harris; Steinbrenner -- Keyshawn Ingram; Strawberry Crest--Devin Diggs; Tampa Catholic -- Chivarsky Corbett, Isiah Thomas; Tampa Prep -- Josh Heath, Adonis Rwabigwi; Wharton -- C.J. McGill, Sir Patrick Reynolds
Armwood -- William "Colin" Jones; Berkeley Prep -- Rob Freedy, Aaron Hannon; Brandon -- Avery Bolton; East Bay -- Jason Mellinger; Jesuit -- Jack Fleming, J.J. Weir, Parker Yount; Newsome -- Adam Kraemer; Plant -- Sam Flagg, Chase Fowler, Huntley Hoffman; Robinson -- Richie Yau; Strawberry Crest -- Ian Carter-Perez, Kevin Garcia, Robert Shaw; Tampa Prep -- Andy Fullerton, Josh Heath, Ephraim Lavey; Wharton -- Tyler Langston
*-Academic all-stars must be seniors, possess a 3.5 unweighted GPA and be substantial contributors to the team