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State youth basketball tourney is here

St. Petersburg is playing host to the annual Florida Youth Basketball State Tournament this weekend with games at five sites.

Competition began Friday for 40 teams in three boys divisions and two girls divisions. Each division has eight teams in the single-elimination event. There is a consolation game in each.

"Every player receives a medal," said tournament director Sue Tegarden of St. Petersburg. "Third-place teams receive a team trophy and both finalists in each division receive a team trophy, individual plaques and jackets. This is provided by the state association, primarily by the team entry fees."

Last month, Pinellas teams entered a district tournament to determine state qualifiers. The Safety Harbor midget boys (11-and-under), and the Jordan Park junior (13-and-under) and senior (15-and-under) boys won by at least 10 points in the final to advance.

Also, as the host organization, St. Petersburg was allowed to enter teams. The Roberts Center has entered two girls teams (junior and senior), and Child's Park, Frank Pierce and Lake Vista are represented in the three boys divisions.

This state tournament is the second for Jordan Park's junior boys team, and coach Vince Latimore said that may give it an edge.

"We have a real team effort with a lot of cohesiveness coupled with an undying need to win," said Latimore. "And we have four starters from last year's midget state champions."

David Pierce, Arthur Church, Kyle Schueller and Ernest Crumbley were key members of last year's midget champions. A run-and-gun offense and an effective defense offset the lack of height on the team, said Latimore.

"We run the fast break a lot," he added, "and I rely on Maurice King to be the cornerstone of the team."

Three cousins play on Jordan Park's senior team, veterans Antone Dunbar and Jaquan Tarver, and Kenny Watkins. They combine with Arthur Reedy for quickness.

"I think we (Jordan Park Center) have one of the better basketball programs in the state," said Latimore. "These games will be interesting _ and I think we have a shot at winning it."

There's teamwork in coaching at Jordan Park as well. Ernest Crumbley Sr. coaches the senior team and assists Latimore with the junior boys; Latimore assists Crumbley with the seniors. Crumbley is an assistant basketball coach at St. Petersburg Junior College.

The Safety Harbor midget team is a combination of players from the city's league and includes six players in their first year.

"Our style of play that works best for us is simply picking and rolling for one another. The open man gets the ball," said coach Gene Bodden. "Our offense is not set; instead, we react to our opponent's defense."

Bodden relies on veteran players Travis Broome and Danny Elyward along with starters Brad Mayer and Lliam Caroll. Coming off the bench and contributing heavily are Chase Bodden and Shawn Williams.

"There are 11 boys on the team," said Bodden, "and in the district tournament all 11 played _ and played well. We are confident about our ability to handle the press. We have good ball-handlers and are strong inside.

"We'll just see what the defense does and capitalize where we can."

Today's games begin at 8:30 a.m., with the last game starting at 2:30 p.m. Today, junior girls are at Lake Vista, senior girls at Frank Pierce Center, midget boys at Child's Park, junior boys at Walter Fuller Center, and senior boys at the St. Petersburg campus of St. Petersburg Junior College.

Finals are Sunday at the following sites: Walter Fuller Center (4 p.m. junior girls; 5:15 p.m. midget boys) and SPJC (4 p.m. senior girls; 5:15 p.m. junior boys; 6:30 p.m. senior boys). Admission is $1 and is good for all games each day.