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Time for SPJC to back up talk

St. Petersburg Junior College men's basketball coach Bill Payne is tired of the talk.

That's what caused the Trojans to slump near the end of the season.

Now, it's time for SPJC to play, in the JUCO state tournament that starts today at Manatee Civic Center. The Trojans (22-6, 11-3 and co-conference champions with Polk Community College) play Indian River Community College in the nightcap, approximately at 9. Indian River is led by former Clearwater star Jeremiah King. The teams split two close games during the regular season, each winning at home.

SPJC has not been to the JUCO state tournament since 1988. Despite sharing the conference title and putting together an unexpected strong season, the Trojans lost their last two regular-season games. A win in either would have given SPJC the title outright.

"We were talking too much about going to state and not taking care of business. We just began thinking about getting to state and we were happy with that," said Payne, in his second season at SPJC. "We just had to make basketball fun for the kids and get them playing like they were capable of playing."

Key for the Trojans will be the play of guards Darnell Jackson and Tyrone Barksdale. Jackson, averaging 18.8 points per game, was named first-team all-state. He is one of the catalysts of the Trojans' explosive running game. Barksdale is an excellent perimeter shooter who balances the penetration of Jackson. Center Shawn Myers, also named to the all-conference first-team, will be a key inside.

The Trojans have a strong starting five, but depth might be a problem. Backup guard Mike Maidenberg broke his leg and fractured his cheekbone in a collision during practice last week.

"We've had some tough games," Payne said. "That's why we're here."

JUCO facts

What: Junior college state tournament

When/where: Today-Saturday, Manatee Civic Center

Who: Florida CC (at Jax), Chippola JC, Tallahassee CC, Central Florida CC, Polk CC, Palm Beach CC, Indian River CC, St. Petersburg JC

Admission: $3