Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Freshman gives St. Petersburg another weapon

ST. PETERSBURG — The pieces were already in place for St. Petersburg to make a championship run.

There was Dayon Griffin who can bring the ball up the court, pass to teammates or score himself.

There was Ben Clare, who can slash inside and grab rebounds.

And there was Terrell Burney who can make jumpers from 15, 20, 25 feet away.

The bonus came with the arrival of Darius Banks, a freshman sensation who averaged about 20 points as an eighth-grader at Academy Prep and shined on the AAU circuit.

Because of the number of playmakers, Banks did not have to be an every-night dynamo. But it was hard to ignore his ability, especially when he would receive passes, create a sliver of space and let effortless jump shots fly from beyond the 3-point arc.

His shooting touch has given St. Petersburg (22-3) an added dimension as it heads into Saturday's Class 8A region final against Winter Park (26-3).

"(Darius) has exceeded all expectations that I had for him this season," Green Devils coach Chris Blackwell said.

Banks, a 6-foot-5 guard, already has an offer from Florida International and has received interest from several other schools, including Florida, Louisville and Texas.

Still, Banks had a difficult transition to high school basketball.

He had to adjust to the speed of the game as well as a new role that did not require him to do everything.

In the regular-season opener against rival Seminole, Banks was out of rotation on a defensive assignment, allowing an easy basket in what turned out to be a tight game. During a timeout, Griffin laid into his new teammate for his defensive lapse.

"It was tough at first," Banks said. "I had to let the game come to me. I think I was trying to do too much when I got here because that's what I was used to."

The turning point, Banks said, came in December, when the Green Devils traveled to Tallahassee for a tournament. Playing in front of large, hostile crowds, Banks played a pivotal role as he helped St. Petersburg beat state-ranked Tallahassee Rickards and Tallahassee Leon.

"The gym was packed every night during that tournament," Banks said. "It was standing-room only. I was getting more comfortable and felt like I played well in that kind of atmosphere."

Banks' biggest game came a month later, when he scored 33 points, including a school-record nine 3-pointers, in a win against Palm Harbor University. Banks was hot early, scoring 25 by halftime before he started deferring to teammates.

"It took a little while for Darius to get comfortable, but he has really come on and played some big minutes for us," Blackwell said.

"The great thing about him is that he's humble. You'd never know he was this highly touted player being around him. He's just always looking to get better. In practice, he wants to guard Dayon to help him improve."

Banks is averaging 17 points per game. That kind of production will be needed Saturday to knock off a Winter Park team that is scoring 65 points per game.

"We're ready," Banks said. "We feel if we can win this game, we can go on and win it all."

.Fast facts

Lakewood at Cape Coral Mariner

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Outlook: The Spartans (18-11) are playing their best basketball of the season with nine straight wins, including 63-60 over rival Gibbs on Tuesday to reach the region final for the first time since 2010. Lakewood has a pair of dynamic scorers in Jacobi Boykins and Anthony Lawrence Jr. But the Spartans also have gotten a boost from Michael Clark, who finished with 23 points against the Gladiators. The Tritons (21-8) are in the playoffs for the fifth straight season and the region final for the third time during that span. In January, Gibbs beat Mariner 74-46, the Tritons' worst loss of the season. Mariner's top two scorers are Rodney Hunter (19.1 points per game) and Kaleb Darrett (14.4).

Freshman gives St. Petersburg another weapon 02/21/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 21, 2014 12:25am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Aaron Hernandez had severe CTE; daughter sues NFL, Patriots


    BOSTON — Tests conducted on the brain of former football star Aaron Hernandez showed severe signs of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and his attorney said Thursday that the player's daughter is suing the NFL and the New England Patriots for leading Hernandez to believe the sport …

    Aaron Hernandez's lawyer says the former New England Patriots tight end's brain showed severe signs of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy. [AP photo]
  2. Bucs' Josh Robinson excited for return to Vikings


    For much of Josh Robinson's four seasons with the Vikings, there was excitement leading up to the arrival of the $1.1-billion U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened last season, just as Robinson signed with the …

    Josh Robinson (26) tackles Chicago punt returner Eddie Royal (19) during a game between the Bucs and Bears in 2016. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  3. For starters: Rays at Orioles, meeting up with ex-mate Tim Beckham


    UPDATE, 6:05: Cash gave both CF Kevin Kiermaier and SS Adeiny Hechavarria a day off, noting they have been playing pretty much everyday. ... That also gave them a chance to look more at two of their younger position players, OF Mallex Smith and INF Daniel Robertson. ... Cash said he was happy for Beckham that he …

    Tim Beckham made a smashing debut with the Orioles, hitting .394 with six homers and 19 RBIs in August.
  4. From the archives: Account of famed Riggs-King match heightens Tampa mob intrigue


    With the Sept. 29 opening of "Battle of the Sexes" — the movie starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell about Billie Jean King's landmark 1973 tennis win over Bobby Riggs — we thought there might be renewed interest in this 2013 Peter Jamison story from the Tampa Bay Times.

    Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in "Battle of the Sexes."  [Melinda Sue Gordon, Fox Searchlight Pictures]
  5. It's not a game, but the names are all the same in this football family


    TAMPA — A coach yells across the field into a scrum of blue-and-white clad football bodies at Jefferson High: "Kim Mitchell! Kim Mitchell, come here!"

    These twins are not only identical, but they have almost identical names. Kim Mitchell III, left, and Kim Mitchell IV are  talented football players at Jefferson High with Division I-A college offers. Kim  III wears No. 22 and plays cornerback while Kim IV wears No. 11 and plays safety. (Scott Purks, Special to the Times)