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Tampa Prep's style gives it substance

TAMPA — Behind the free throws and jumps shots of a late-afternoon practice were hints of Tampa Prep's athleticism.

There was a lightning-quick cut to the lane by Jordan Heath, and a smoking bounce pass to freshman Devontae Morgan for a quick two points during a five-on-five drill.

Later Morgan made a catlike leap across the lane for a block he pinned to the glass, a move his teammates will talk about for years.

Then there was the impromptu slam-dunk contest. Several Terrapins threw down some dazzling dunks, energizing the final few minutes to the delight of coach Joe Fenlon.

In his fifth trip to the final four it's hard to tell what might set this team apart from its predecessors.

One thought is athleticism.

"This team is one, with the exception of the one I took (to the final four) in 1998-99, this is probably the most athletic team I've had," Fenlon said. "With athleticism you can make up for a lot of mistakes."

Tampa Prep's style of basketball is dizzying and in-your-face, intended to intimidate.

The exhausting pace of practice was draining in the early weeks of the season, but has been rewarding down the stretch. The Terrapins average 68.5 points, and have a 26-4 record.

"It feels good in a game when we go like that," junior Jay Bowie said. "A lot of other teams can't keep up with us."

Bowie is making his first trip to the final four, and leads Tampa Prep averaging 14.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists. The responsibility of postseason mentoring has fallen to Jake Haslam and Jamal Cherry, both members of the 2007 final four team.

"We walked in and the atmosphere was ridiculous," Cherry said of Lakeland. "We had all 400 kids from our school in the stands all in red. It was crazy."

Each starter has a role: Haslam provides stability on the perimeter while Heath is a clutch free-throw shooter with a team-best 87.5 percent. Then there's Morgan, a kid with a soaring reputation.

"When practice started at the beginning of the year I had heard all about Devontae," Fenlon said. "… Yes, he's a great athlete. He can dunk like a wild man. But he was really trying to fit in."

Fenlon says he doesn't want to be one of those coaches running the team like he's holding a Sony PlayStation controller. But for a coach in his 26th year with the Terps and 534 wins to his credit, it's hard not to.

"(Lack of physical play is) something that's kept us from winning a state tournament in the past," Fenlon said. "Through the regionals we have been the more physical team when we step on the floor, and we've had the opportunity to win because of it."

By the numbers

Tampa Prep (26-4)

68.5 Points per game

20.5 Wins per season since Joe Fenlon began coaching in 1983

15 Wins in a row to start the season

14.6 Points per game for Jay Bowie, who also averages 10.8 rebounds

Summit Chr. (27-4)

451 Wins for coach Murray Smith in 20 years with SCS

67.7 Points per game

22.5 Wins per season since Smith began coaching in 1989

19.3 SCS sophomore Jean Prophete's points per game; he also has 13 rebounds per game

7 Longest winning streak of the season

Tampa Prep's style gives it substance 03/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 12:46am]
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