Distinct absence fuels Pirates' slide

DADE CITY — His team's deficit soaring like the national debt in its preseason game against Lakeland Jenkins, first-year Pasco boys basketball coach Derek Heard gazed down his bench. In the eyes of these interim varsity players, he saw heart, desire, even resilience.

But no prep basketball playing experience. Of any kind. Heard instructed one of them to go in.

Oblivious to scorers' table protocol, the kid did exactly that.

"He ran right onto the court," Heard said. "So I looked at my coaches and said, 'We've just got to tell them everything.' "

Pasco lost that game 75-13. A few nights later, the Heard era formally debuted with the worst loss the 28-year-old ex-Florida Southern star has experienced at any level — an 88-12 annihilation at the hands of Springstead.

Somewhere, the players who will comprise Heard's first team were perched on a football playoff bracket.

Count Heard among the thousands of Pirates fans who hope Tom McHugh's club captures a state title. That said, no one in Dade City has been affected by the football success in a more adverse way than Heard. As long as McHugh's team keeps rolling, Heard's will keep reeling.

Thirteen players Heard ultimately expects to join his program, including the entire varsity starting lineup, are still with the football team, which has reached the Class 3A state semifinals. Filling in is a vastly overmatched unit that includes one player with varsity experience.

In four games, the winless Pirates have lost by an average of 43.3 points and haven't scored more than 25 in a game. For now, Heard's aspirations of employing tight man-to-man defense that creates points in transition has given way to a 2-3 zone, packed-in lanes and hopes the opponent has a poor shooting night.

"Our kids are going through some situations where they're just overmatched," said Heard, an assistant at Orlando Oak Ridge and Miami Monsignor Pace before being hired to replace Poncho Broner at Pasco. "Me being my first year as a head coach, I really wanted it to be special and to come out that first game. It's just out of your hands."

When the football players arrive, Heard estimates they'll need three to four weeks to work into basketball shape and learn his system. Until then, he'll emphasize character, pride and the will to press on.

At this point, it's the only press he's installing.

"I told them it's hard for anybody to bounce back from 75-13 and 88-12 and come back the next day and hold your head up and continue to play," Heard said. "These kids have done that and no matter what people say about them, this team has come out and worked hard at practice, and they're getting better."

Distinct absence fuels Pirates' slide 12/10/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 10:40pm]

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