NEW PORT RICHEY — Ridgewood senior point guard Alvin Satram still can picture the most painful sequence of his basketball life unfolding last February. Might as well have been last Friday.
The image remains that vivid, the pain that acute. He still sees the inbounds pass intended for him in the last 10 seconds, the steal in midstride by rangy Brandon forward Marcus Morrison and Morrison's two-handed dunk that sealed the Eagles' 61-57 playoff triumph.
He remembers the taste of his tears, the cracks in coach Gary Anders' consoling voice afterward. He also remembers staying in the locker room for at least an hour then staying home all the next day.
"I didn't come to school the next day. I was just down," Satram recalled. "I couldn't. I went home, took a shower and just laid there."
Twelve months later, that memory has forged a mantra. For Satram and his teammates, especially fellow seniors Bryan Jones and Lukas Poderis, the 2009 postseason is about completing unfinished business, vanquishing past shortcomings.
"We're all hungry for it," Jones said.
As for Anders, he says he barely has spoken of that Class 5A region semifinal defeat and isn't sure if he will. But he knows it's there, stoking the Rams' collective psyche as they embark on another February.
"Unfortunately, that can happen in sports," Anders said. "And I hope they do remember that feeling."
But he also hopes they don't become consumed by it, at least not to the point where they're oblivious to what they've accomplished so far.
The Sunshine Athletic Conference champion and top seed for this week's Class 5A, District 7 tournament, Ridgewood (23-2) has been mostly unchallenged locally all season. One of Anders' most balanced groups, the Rams entered Friday's season finale against Gulf averaging 69 points and nearly 21 assists and allowing just more than 46 points.
Poderis, a 6-foot-8 East Tennessee State signee, was averaging a double double (20.7 points, 10.7 rebounds), and Satram almost was (12.9 points, 8.8 assists). Three others, including Jones, were averaging at least 7.3 points.
"That's kind of a coach's dream when you can come at people from different angles (offensively)," Anders said. "But the other thing I like about them is that, for the most part, they've been very unselfish."
Can this be the group to reach the region final after consecutive region semifinal losses? Yes, Anders says. Is the state semifinals conceivable? Sure. Would he love to make it to his first state tournament? Goes without saying.
But at 56, Anders also knows full well the pitfalls of measuring success by how one fares in a one-and-done postseason, where a tough shooting night or tough call can send a team home.
"Personally, I think postseason play is really overrated," Anders said. "I really believe that because I think that's something that's been created by the college scene, March Madness.
"It's not apples and apples to high school. Those conference championships mean as much to me personally as any district championship because that's success over a long period of time. It tells me you showed up ready to play every game. You get in a tournament and something doesn't go right, does that taint a whole season?"
Such is the rhetorical question Anders asks as another season hits another final stretch. He hopes the Rams keep it in the back of their minds.
Right next to the Brandon memory.
"I know us three seniors always talk about it," Satram said. "Everybody on our team always talks about it.
"We always want to make it farther because the past two years we've made it to the Sweet 16 both times and lost both times."