LAKELAND — A transfer from Pembroke Pines Charter, junior shooting guard Prince Ali was new this season to a Sagemont basketball program that has recently gotten used to the final four spotlight.
So on Ali's first day in the Lions' gym, guard Joe Kirby welcomed the UConn commit with a challenge.
"He was just like, 'Do what you do, man.' He was like, 'Are you ready to win a state championship?'" Ali recalled. "For him to say that, it was a good feeling."
Those emotions probably paled in comparison to the ones Ali felt following Sagemont's 79-48 trouncing of Tampa Prep in Wednesday's 3A state championship, a contest he and fellow Division I commit GG Goloman, headed to UCLA, helped the Lions seal early.
On the Lions' first possession, Ali proved just how tall a task it would be to stop him, scoring on a putback while drawing a foul from Terrapins' star Juwan Durham. The three-point play gave Sagemont a lead it would only build upon the rest of the afternoon.
Durham, Tampa Prep's 6-foot-10 center, is used to being the biggest man on the floor. But against Sagemont he met his match in Goloman, whose comparable frame altered the sophomore's game. Goloman, who finished with 14 points, was one of four Lions to record double-digit points.
"I couldn't get to the rim as easy as I wanted to," Durham said. "They had pretty good size."
The Lions took a 51-19 lead into the locker room at the half. Ali went into the break with nine rebounds and just two fewer points than the entire Terrapin team.
The mood in the locker room at halftime was light, the Lions said, and it carried over into the second-half warmups, during which an Ali dunk drew a technical foul and two free throws for Tampa Prep to start the half.
Ali, who finished with a team-high 20 points and earned the championship game's MVP award, picked up his fourth foul with just more than six minutes to play. He came out of the game and never returned. But by then, he had already done enough.
Tampa Prep coach Joe Fenlon didn't hide the fact that his Terrapins lost to a better team. And as far as he's concerned, it's a fact that may take some of the sting away.
Having taken the Terrapins to five state championship games in his 30 years at Tampa Prep, Fenlon rattled off a few names of elite players his team has played against at the highest level of competition.
And on Wednesday, he added one more to the list.
"There's no gimmes when you get to Lakeland," Fenlon said. "They'll flip on ESPN and go, 'I played against that kid.’"
Kelly Parsons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @_kellyparsons.