Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Sports

Column: Familiar face on new sideline at Clearwater

CLEARWATER — He didn't look any different Monday night.

Black slacks, white shirt, dark tie, hair shaved close to his skull, as always.

The mannerisms, all the same.

He tugged on his tie when he got angry, slapped his hands together after a bad turnover and rubbed his temples after another missed shot.

He squinted at the refs, held his palms to the sky, and looked at times to be in agony.

It was vintage Tom Shaneyfelt.

The only thing that looked out of place were the players he was coaching — boys instead of girls — and the score.

Largo 81, Clearwater 53.

•••

Tom Shaneyfelt, 58, lost his debut as the boys basketball coach at Clearwater High, but no one was really surprised.

Largo is very good, and Clearwater has a ways to go just to get to good.

But the Tornadoes will, right?

Because boys or girls, basketball is still basketball, and if there were always one thing you could count on with Shaneyfelt it's that his teams would be better by season's end.

"We're young and inexperienced," Shaneyfelt said. "It's going to take a little bit of time. But I would love to get the program back to respectability."

This isn't your daddy's Clearwater boys basketball program that Shaneyfelt has inherited.

Three of the best players from a year ago are starting or the first ones off the bench at other schools this season. Heck, one of them, Dakari Allen, scored 13 points against his old team Monday night.

Shaneyfelt, pretty much a legend in girls coaching circles after winning 650 games and taking the Clearwater girls to the state final four eight times, has two seniors, Marcus Budd and Chase Ierna. Everyone else is young and untested, except for its best player, Rasim Avment.

"We're kind of starting over," he said.

•••

Shaneyfelt has had the itch to coach boys forever, but his success on the girls side never gave him the opportunity to scratch it.

When the Clearwater boys job opened after a dismal season and offseason, Shaneyfelt expressed interest and was a slam dunk choice.

"I asked him, are you sure about this," said his wife and longtime assistant Kathy, "and he said, 'Oh Kathy, this is it.' "

His son, Christian, is 12 and playing for Safety Harbor Middle. His middle school debut was also Monday night, and he played but didn't score.

Christian spent his youth running around Jack Wilson Gymnasium while dad and mom coached the Tornadoes.

One day, Shaneyfelt would like to coach him in that same gym.

"I thought I'd probably finish a few more years with the girls and start looking," he said. "But sometimes, that job isn't there when you're looking."

He took it now.

It won't be easy.

•••

Shaneyfelt spent Monday doing what he does best, cajoling and teaching and asking his players to reach just a bit further.

He said he doesn't expect perfection, but will demand his players strive for it.

He asked his team to play harder, to play faster and to play more carefully.

He told them they needed to rebound — rather, had to rebound — and that it was everyone's "person responsibility" to box out.

"There's no excuse not to," he told them in the huddle.

Sitting one row behind him instead of by his side as usual, Kathy leaned over.

"Come on guys," she said, "keep working hard."

After it was over, Shaneyfelt said his players did some things well, and they will build off that. They showed heart and hustle, and they may have gotten a little tougher, too.

This was just the start.

On this night, Shaneyfelt's mission was accomplished.

"There's pressure, sure, but that pressure is to get these guys to play their very best and do their very best every time," Shaneyfelt said. "That's all I can expect. And if you can do just a little better than you think you can, you can really surprise some people."

   
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