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. College World Series: Gators, LSU face off in all-SEC finals


    OMAHA, Neb. — The matchup for the College World Series finals bolsters the case for those who say the best baseball in the land is played in the SEC.

    Florida’s Brady Singer, delivering during a CWS win over Louisville last week, is scheduled to start tonight against LSU.
  2. Jones: Fox Sports Sun shows depth in Rays coverage

    TV and Radio

    tom jones' two cents

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Best coverage

    Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) makes a run home for a score in the in the final game of a three-game series between the Tampa Bay Rays and AL East rival the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, June 25, 2017.
  3. Brian Boyle says returning to Lightning a 'huge option'


    As former Lightning forward Brian Boyle approaches free agency this week, he said he's trying to stay busy.

  4. Rays journal: Blake Snell to rejoin rotation, Erasmo Ramirez heads to bullpen

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — LHP Blake Snell is rejoining the Rays' rotation, but the move has as much to do with helping the bullpen as it does with Snell's improvement during his time at Triple-A Durham.

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Erasmo Ramirez (30) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, June 21, 2017 in St. Petersburg.
  5. Rays' bullpen stars lit up in loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday it was the soft underbelly of the bullpen that let one get away from the Rays, incurring the wrath of the team's faithful followers, who wondered why the high-leverage guys weren't pitching.

    Rays closer Alex Colome, coming in with the score tied in the ninth, allows three runs in his second straight poor outing.