All along, Randy Shuman and Dave Redding have tried to get as many kids as possible involved in the Suncoast AAU boys basketball program.
That practice paid dividends again this weekend in the 17-under AAU state tournament at Cocoa Beach.
For the second time in its three-year existence, the Suncoast team captured the state title, winning four straight games while averaging 95 points. And for the third year, it will be playing in the national tournament _ this time at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., July 17-28. Last year the Suncoast team finished eighth among 56 teams.
"We just had some great bench play," said Shuman, who coaches at Boca Ciega High. "When you get as many kids involved in the program as we have, you can run people in and out. That takes its toll and wears the opponents down."
After a forfeit by DeLand in its opener Friday night, Suncoast won two games handily on Saturday. It slammed Tampa AAU 93-60 behind pinpoint outside shooting from unheralded players Dave Bukas and Oscar Davenport, and the aggressive inside defensive play of Chris Barlow and Nate Weyand.
A few hours later, Suncoast followed with a 95-67 thumping of the always strong Jacksonville Eagles. Eric Harris came off the bench to score 22 points while Dante Bryant tossed in 18. Again, the perimeter shooting of Bukas and Davenport helped key the win.
"There are just a lot of good basketball players in this county and it showed," said Shuman, who shares coaching duties with Northeast's Redding, Largo's Renny Taylor, and former Pinellas Park coach Phil Price. "These guys just put their egos away and played like a team. They know it takes more than five or six guys to go out and win as many games as we did."
On Sunday in the semifinals, Suncoast downed feisty Team Orlando 89-78 behind the three-point shooting of Dain Brown, who scored 27 coming off the bench. Then in the title game, Davenport poured in 27 as Suncoast trounced the Orlando Braves 101-69.
"We kind of have a reputation for being pretty good and having some talent in this county," Shuman said. "These kids know that and just want to continue to create that image."
Bukas, Pinellas Park's guard, has emerged as one of the best three-point shooters in the county, while Boca Ciega's acrobatic Brown and Largo's Harris are excellent penetrators.
"Dave's three-point shooting seems to ignite the team. It elevates everyone's game," Shuman said. "And Barlow and Weyand are both real aggressive and jump well. Both can get up after the ball around the rim."
However, Largo's Bryant and Osceola's Davenport stole the honors. Bryant was named to the all-tournament team while Davenport was named the most valuable player. Both are strong perimeter shooters with great athletic moves to the basket.
"They can do so much from anywhere on the court," said Shuman, who plans fund-raising events to support the trip to Winston-Salem. "It shows what good players can do when they become involved and work together."