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Springstead takes the long view on success

SPRING HILL — Pat Kelly put all thoughts basketball on paper.

When Springstead's second-year coach realized he had left the list of locker room talking points at home, he called his wife for a lifeline.

Kelly is careful not to overlook any detail in a marathon season he knows will ultimately end with a sprint to the finish. The latest brainstorming session came after Wednesday's 80-63 win over Gulf, which put the Eagles at 14-0.

Kelly noted there still was plenty of room for improvement.

On any given night, the Eagles are the juicy targets of any fast-trapping, zone-pressing, man-to-man defense. Opponents would love nothing more than to put them on a platter and declare themselves the first to stuff the Eagles with a loss.

But this roster chock full of talent isn't too full of itself to forget last year's stunning collapse.

The Eagles had started 15-1, but the season ended swiftly in a jaw-dropping 48-44 loss to Hudson in the Class 4A, District 8 tournament. They finished 22-5 without a playoff berth.

So excuse Kelly for not trumpeting his own horn in mid-January.

"We're not too worried about the record," Kelly said of 14-0. "We're focused on the only thing that matters, the end. People say the journey's important. My wife tells me to keep that in perspective. It encourages me, but so many people judge you by what happens in the end."

To be fair, the Eagles went into last year's district tournament without leading scorer Dante Valentine, who was out with an elbow injury.

The loss of a 20-point scorer at such a crucial time showed the Eagles the importance of depth.

Like many teams, Springstead spent the summer developing inexperienced players in local leagues where they sharpened their skills. Those courts were the place where Isaiah Mason began to mesh with Valentine and Dominique Roberson.

Mason, whose older brother Nehemiah was a top Eagles producer last season, leads Springstead in scoring, averaging 19.2 points to give the Eagles a nice inside presence and a new leading scorer. Valentine, a senior known for being gritty and tough, said being the top dog on the scoring sheet is irrelevant. He is second, averaging 16.5 points.

"We're 14-0," Valentine said. "If we go 28-0 because he's scoring more then I don't mind. I'll sit in the passenger's seat."

Focus has become a mantra this season.

Practices are not as loose because everyone understands the ramifications of a missed free throw, pass or dunk. Roberson said the Eagles had become complacent at this point last season because of the early successes.

"Losing defense like that really hurt us," Roberson said of the Hudson loss. "It gave us a gut check. I didn't want to eat the next morning. It felt terrible. It's not going down like that again."

On paper, the Eagles appear to have had few true challenges though they say otherwise. A seven-point win over Mitchell and an overtime battle over Gainesville Eastridge in the preseason were two of the tougher games.

Springstead has won most other games by double digits.

"We're further along because we've had more time," Kelly said. "It's the second year I've been here. Our program's progressing."

Springstead takes the long view on success 01/08/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 8, 2009 6:56pm]
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