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Playing hoops to learn

(ran PAS edition)

Banging the boards, driving the lane and knocking down treys are aspects of the game high school basketball players from Pasco and Hillsborough counties practiced this summer.

Some, like James Carrero and Brian Graham, are impressing Land O'Lakes High varsity basketball coach Dave Puhalski, who guided a team in the Tampa Summer Basketball League for the seventh consecutive season.

Puhalski has an eye on Carrero and Graham, both incoming sophomores, as eventual starters for the Gators. Carrero, a point guard, and swingman Graham "are the best from the freshman class," Puhalski said.

For Land O'Lakes, the summer season ended Tuesday. Land O'Lakes was awarded a victory by forfeit after Tampa Plant failed to show up for a first-round playoff game. Then the Gators lost to host Tampa Prep, 54-46, in the single-elimination series. Brad Baisley led Land O'Lakes with 10 points, and Peter Sopcik had eight.

"I think waiting on the first game hurt us," Puhalski said. "We came here ready to play and not being ready. . . ."

Land O'Lakes went 4-8 during the regular season. The team's best record in the summer was 6-6 in 1992. The nucleus of that squad backed Land O'Lakes to a district runner-up spot in the 1992-93 high school season.

For the record, Puhalski was not as concerned about his team's record this summer as he was about his players' development.

"It's a good chance for our kids to play against some of the bigger schools in Hillsborough County," he said. "(The competition) is better from what we see year-round. I try to get a look at as many kids as I can."

The 16-team league includes four teams _ Land O'Lakes, Gulf, Hudson and River Ridge _ from Pasco County, the most ever. Gulf just joined the Pasco contingent this summer.

The teams from Hillsborough County are Chamberlain _ the league champion with a 12-0 record _ Jesuit, Hillsborough, Plant City, Tampa Prep, Tampa Catholic, Gaither, Plant, East Bay, Bayshore Christian, King and Berkeley Prep.

Graham, who is working on the basic fundamentals of ball handling, shooting and passing, said playing against varsity-level teams from Hillsborough County will "make me better."

Eric Nelsestuen, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound forward who is expected to be the only senior on the Gators' varsity squad this season, relishes the opportunity to hone his game in the summer league.

"It benefits the whole team, just by being able to play together," Nelsestuen said. "We run our plays."

As for the underclassmen, Nelsestuen said it gives them "a taste of varsity basketball before they have a chance to step in and play."

Nelsestuen's brother, Jeremy, a sophomore who last year played for Land O'Lakes' JV squad, has been working on a specific aspect of his game this summer.

"I want to be able to dunk next year," said the younger Nelsestuen, who stands 5 feet 10 and is not far off from his goal.

The remaining players on the Land O'Lakes roster were Ray Jones, Dan Kelly, Shaun Peppers and Temon Hamid.

Graham, Jones, Carrero, Peppers and Hamid also played for teams in the Land O'Lakes Recreational Basketball League this summer. Puhalski encourages his players to participate in both competitive and recreational leagues.

"That's really helping me with my situation," Puhalski said of the second-year recreational league, which features games at the recreation complex off Collier Parkway. "Instead of me opening the (Land O'Lakes High) gym, they've got another place to go."

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