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ST. PETERSBURG — Necole Tunsil won a girls basketball state title as a player at Lakewood. Now she is trying to do it as a coach after guiding her alma mater to the state final four for the first time in her coaching career.
The trip comes with added pressure that goes beyond X’s and O’s. Hotel rooms and buses had to be booked, itineraries set — all within a few days.
Tunsil was so consumed by it all that she started looking for advice. And she didn’t have to go far to find it.
Lakewood boys basketball coach Dan Wright knows what it's like to play in the state tournament. Wright, the county’s all-time winningest coach who is retiring after 35 seasons, has guided the Spartans to seven state final fours and won state titles in 2002 and ’05.
Wright talked to Tunsil about what to expect. It took Wright seven seasons before he was able to get a team to the final four.
It has been seven seasons for Tunsil as well.
“That was an interesting fact that Coach Wright brought up,” Tunsil said. “We’ve both kind of gone along the same path and same time frame to get to that point.”
Wright took it even further. He called Eckerd College to set up a practice schedule this week so Tunsil and her players could adjust to the depth perception that comes with playing in a large arena such as the Lakeland Center.
“Coach Wright told me there was no use practicing at Lakewood this week,” Tunsil said. “He told me not to get caught up in the hype and the media attention with playing in the state semifinals. He’s been a big help through all of this.”