SPRING HILL — Springstead coach Pat Kelly knew better than to call Pensacola High counterpart Bob Stinnett, his opponent Thursday in the Class 4A state semifinals, to exchange information or game tape. Wasn't gonna happen.
Secondhand scouting reports of the Tigers wouldn't work either; Kelly would deem that the equivalent of prepping for a final exam with CliffsNotes. He wanted to do his homework the hard way, and it would begin with a 14-hour field trip.
"It's one of the aspects of coaching," Kelly said. "You try to go above and beyond."
So after arranging to get some Pensacola game tape, from a colleague in the Panhandle whom Kelly prefers not to name, he and assistant George Bennett climbed into Bennett's spacious Dodge Magnum late Sunday morning and set out for the Central Time Zone to collect it.
"The coach up there thought we were nuts, actually," Bennett said. "But it was our only option."
By the end of the trip, around 1:30 Sunday morning, Bennett's odometer reading had increased by roughly 800 miles. But with that depreciation on his vehicle came some appreciation for the No. 1-ranked Tigers.
"The last game I started looking at at lunch, they were quicker than I thought they were," Kelly said while sweeping the gym floor before Tuesday's practice. "They look good. They're a good team."
The first thing one might notice when sizing up the Tigers is, well, their size. An up-tempo team, Pensacola is led by 6-foot-7 East Carolina signee Erin Straughn (20 ppg, 17 rpg) and 6-6 Florida International signee Terrance Beasley (16 ppg, 10 rpg).
The second: the Tigers' schedule. Whereas Springstead hasn't faced anyone outside Central Florida and topped three region playoff opponents with 23 combined defeats, Pensacola (29-5) has played teams from Alabama, Mississippi, Jacksonville, Orlando and Gainesville.
One of the Tigers' bigger regular-season wins came against Gainesville's The Rock, a Class A state semifinalist. In the region playoffs, they defeated three ranked teams. One of their losses was to a Biloxi, Miss., squad that has reached that state's final four.
"I was hoping that this was the way it was going to work out, but in November and December I had my doubts," Stinnett, who didn't respond to a phone message from the Times, told the Pensacola News Journal. "I thought maybe I overscheduled. But in January, they really started to click."
So on the surface, the Tigers, coached by a man who won a national title at Pensacola Junior College in the 1980s, appear seasoned. Not to mention sleek.
"Beasley's very athletic and Straughn's just a complete player," Kelly said. "Both of them are good. They're skilled kids. … They've got some long, lanky, rangy kids that are very athletic and quick. And then they have some small kids that are kind of like our kids."
Balancing out Pensacola's interior size is 5-foot-4 sophomore guard Quan Johnson, who averages roughly four assists but could be challenged by Springstead's taller, bigger perimeter defenders.
Six-foot-3 senior Tevin Lutley and 6-2 junior Antonio Curry average 10 and eight points, respectively, and could emerge as X factors if the Beasley-Straughn tandem and prolific Eagles duo of Isaiah Mason and Dante Valentine neutralize each other.
"They like to press and come after you," Kelly said. "They want to defend and make the athleticism a factor in the outcome with the way they play. And they're very disciplined and well drilled on offense, so it's going to make for a hard-fought game."