NEW PORT RICHEY
Playing a game of horse with two-time North Suncoast player of the year Nicole Adams, it's quite apparent how Gulf's senior guard will end her high school career as one of the area's top all-time scorers. She starts on the free-throw line, maybe the most comfortable spot on the court for Adams, probably because she spends so much time there. She has a quick first step and an even quicker crossover. She can take it to the hoop whenever she wants, which means she gets fouled. A lot. Adams has shot 158 free throws this season and, at 78 percent, she is the North Suncoast's top free-throw shooter. She, of course, sinks the first one. You, however, aren't so lucky.
Now she's getting warmed up. She steps to the elbow of the lane. Feet set, release point above her shoulder. Swish. You keep up, make a few, show her this won't be easy. Well, not too easy anyway.
She drops back a step or two behind the 3-point line, lets you get a first-hand look at her increased range, which has made her an even more deadly scorer this season (at 29.5 points a game, Adams is having her best season ever). In eighth grade, her father, Thomas, told her she was no longer allowed to continue shooting the way she was, releasing the ball below her shoulder. So, the two worked continuously on holding the ball head high, practicing the new stroke with the aid of a machine that can rebound and fire out a another ball every second. She practiced, over and over, until at least 10,000 shots came out of her hands during the offseason, until it became second nature.
For Adams, the payoff came during her junior year when she made 55 3-pointers and shot 33 percent from the arc. As a senior, she has shot 48 percent from 3-point range.
Adams keeps draining 3s. She can't miss. You can.
Adams hovers around a spot on the baseline, just inside the 3-point line. Gulf coach Mike Quarto has a play designed for Adams where she runs along the baseline and, with the aid of a couple of well-placed picks, gets an open look from 15 feet. Usually she has a defender trying to recover when she knocks down the jumper.
Without anybody guarding her, Adams is automatic.
Adams got most of her basketball ability from her father, who was nicknamed "Adam Bomb" in high school because of his shooting proficiency. Growing up as an only child, Adams never pictured herself as any particular player when she would shoot alone. She wasn't Cheryl Miller or Diana Taurasi in her driveway.
Instead, she would think of her dad. All those drills. All the countless hours repeating the same motion.
"I always wanted to be a better shooter than my father," she says.
For the most part, the game is over, and Adams can sense it. She's toying with you, laughing, telling you how it's going to end.
This is perhaps Adams' best trait on the court, more valuable, perhaps, than her dead-eye shooting stroke. Adams' competitiveness won't let her lose now. She wants to win, no matter whether it's a simple game of horse in the Gulf High School parking lot or a do-or-die matchup in the district tournament, which begins this week for all North Suncoast teams. Gulf has never advanced past the region semifinals since Adams has been a Buccaneer, and she wants to change that.
She dribbles twice between her legs, fades away, releases, and … swish.
Admission: $5 per session
Tuesday: Springstead (4) at Central (1), 7 p.m.; Ocala Forest (3) at West Port (2), 7; Thursday: final, at Central, 7
The scoop: The Bears have never won a district title, but they're an overwhelming favorite to capture their first this season.
4A-8 at Lecanto
Monday: Sunlake (8) vs. Zephyrhills (9), 7; Tuesday: Wiregrass Ranch (4) vs. Nature Coast (5), 6; Land O'Lakes (1) vs. Sunlake/Zephyrhills winner, 7:30; Wednesday: Hernando (3) vs. River Ridge (6), 6; Citrus (2) vs. Lecanto (7), 7:30; Friday: Land O'Lakes/Sunlake-Zephyrhills winner vs. Wiregrass Ranch/Nature Coast winner, 6; Hernando/River Ridge winner vs. Citrus/Lecanto winner, 7:30; Saturday: final, 7
The scoop: This should be the most competitive of all the tournaments. Land O'Lakes didn't lose a regular-season district game, but the Gators were challenged by Wiregrass Ranch, Nature Coast and Citrus. The fourth-seeded Bulls were district runnersup a year ago and have a shot to return to the title game. Hernando defeated Citrus by seven points Thursday and would likely need to beat the Hurricanes again to qualify for region.
4A-7 at Ridgewood
Wednesday: Mitchell (2) vs. Hudson (7), 4:15; Wesley Chapel (4) vs. Pasco (5), 6; Ridgewood (3) vs. Fivay (6), 7:45; Friday: Ridgewood/Fivay winner vs. Mitchell/Hudson winner, 6; Gulf (1) vs. Wesley Chapel/Pasco winner, 7:45; Saturday: final, 7
The scoop: Gulf went 12-0 in district games this season, winning by an average margin of 47 points.
2A-10 at Calvary Christian
Thursday: Tampa Prep (4) vs. Bishop McLaughlin (5), 7; Friday: Brooks-DeBartolo (2) vs. Calvary Christian (3), 6; Indian Rocks Christian (1) vs. Tampa Prep/Bishop McLaughlin winner, 7:30; Saturday: final, 7
The scoop: Bishop McLaughlin went 0-8 in district play but only fell by two to opening-round opponent Tampa Prep 11 days ago. IRC went undefeated in district and is a legitimate state title contender.
A-9 at Tampa Bay Christian
Tuesday: Lakeside Christian (4) vs. Tampa Bay Christian (5), 5:30; Cambridge (3) vs. Canterbury (6), 7; Friday: Academy at the Lakes (2) vs. Cambridge/Canterbury winner, 5:30; Keswick Christian (1) vs. Lakeside Christian/Tampa Bay Christian winner, 7; Saturday: final, 7
The scoop: Academy at the Lakes has never made it to region, but, a year after finishing 0-15, the Wildcats have their best chance ever as this tournament's No. 2 seed.
A-8 at Seffner Christian
Tuesday: Citrus Park Christian (4) vs. Bayshore Christian (5), 6; Thursday: Bradenton Christian (2) vs. Hernando Christian (3), 5; Seffner Christian (1) vs. Citrus Park Christian/Bayshore Christian winner, 7; Saturday: final, 7
The scoop: Hernando Christian lost by 52 to opening-round opponent Bradenton Christian the only time the teams met during the regular season. The Lions will have to come up with their best performance of the year to advance.