TAMPA — The chip on their shoulders seemed more profound than the "Chiefs" emblazoned across their jerseys. Chamberlain's players, deemed a 2010-11 darkhorse by local reporters and coaches, stormed into the season Monday night bent on earning some respect.
Thirty-two minutes later, they had earned every ounce of Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli's.
Attacking the basket on both ends with ferocity, the Chiefs (1-0) made a resounding statement Monday with a 63-56 triumph over a Wildcats team (0-1) considered a Class 6A final-four contender.
"I give Chamberlain total credit," said Tonelli, whose team trailed wire to wire. "That coach (Christopher Snyder) did a great job coaching his team. His players played as hard, smart, tough and disciplined as any team we've seen in a long time."
When the Chiefs didn't score on dribble penetration, they cleaned up the offensive end with key putbacks. When Wharton threatened down the stretch, cutting its deficit to four three times in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs answered with clutch baskets.
"I think we felt a lot of disrespect," Snyder said. "We know how tough we are, we've worked hard the last nine months. … I just don't think a lot of people knew what we had to offer."
Chamberlain scored the first six points, then had an 11-0 run midway through the first half to take a 23-11 lead. When Ariel Martinez dashed in for a layup off a 'Cats turnover late in the half, Chamberlain led 29-15.
Wharton, 9-for-25 from the floor in the first half, clawed back, only to have its rally thwarted. When Xavier Owens' dunk off a turnover cut Wharton's deficit to 45-41, sophomore Reggie Hart (20 points) answered with a traditional three-point play.
When 'Cats senior A.J. Astroth drained a 3-pointer to make it 52-48 with six minutes to go, Martinez responded with a basket. After Owens' bank shot made it 52-48, Martinez drove and scored, starting a 6-0 Chiefs run.
The run ended with senior left-hander Eric Storts (eight points) snagging Astroth's missed 3 and heaving a football pass to Bryan Morales for a layup that gave Chamberlain a 58-48 lead. Storts sealed things with a nifty feed to senior Rod Hart for an easy layup in the waning seconds.