It's funny that Clearwater boys basketball coach Rudy Coffin would bring up Dean Smith in a conversation about his Tornadoes. Smith, the long-time coach at the University of North Carolina, has developed a system that has produced two national champions and annual 20-win seasons.
Coffin has accomplished a similar feat during his tenure at Clearwater. He has guided the Tornadoes to eight consecutive 20-win seasons and five district titles in the last seven years. Last year, in what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, the Tornadoes won their first Pinellas County Athletic Conference crown since the 1983-84 season and their 15th overall.
The one thing Coffin hasn't done in his 11 seasons as head coach is win a state championship, though the Tornadoes made a final four appearance in 1994. He was an assistant coach in 1981, the year Clearwater won its only boys basketball state title.
Coffin enters the season optimistic the success will continue.
Clearwater girls basketball coach Tom Shaneyfelt is the same way. He begins his 16th year of coaching, fourth at Clearwater, and already has established a success pattern that rivals that of the Tornado boys. The girls team went 27-7 last year and lost in the state final four. Its other losses were to playoff teams: Boca Ciega, Academy of the Holy Names and Lakeland.
Despite beginning the season with what he calls "the best team I ever had" _ college prospects such as sophomore star Shinikki Whiting, junior center Molly Worrall and veteran guard Alicia Evans _ Shaneyfelt also is taking heed of the season ahead.
"(Clearwater) may be the best team in the county," Shaneyfelt said. "You don't know. Most years, I would say we will win it all. You can't say that any more because girls basketball has gotten so good."
What you can say is that both programs at Clearwater are prosperous, and they will continue to be winners as long as the Tornadoes stick to their recipe for success. Coffin and Shaneyfelt agree that in order to make progress, a team needs talented athletes.
That hasn't been a problem for either Clearwater squad, and Shaneyfelt cited that as a main reason for joining the Tornadoes.
"Sometimes we sacrifice athletic ability for being a good citizen," Coffin said.
And that doesn't mean just helping an elderly neighbor with her groceries. It means dedication and a will to learn. Clearwater athletes have both.
Part of the reason both Tornado squads have been successful is the players compete for some of the best AAU summer teams in the state. Whiting and Worrall played for Team Florida, which won the 16-and-under AAU state title and advanced to the national tournament after an 80-game schedule, said Shaneyfelt, who was one of the coaches.
The boys team also competes in AAU programs, but Coffin stresses "continuity" as the main reason his teams are consistent Pinellas powerhouses. Clearwater uses the same game plan at the junior varsity level as it does with the varsity. The Tornadoes also like to play the best competition possible, such as a matchup this season with 16-time state champion Miami Senior. Coffin also observes what he calls "glorified programs" in an effort to strengthen his own team.
Shaneyfelt uses the same tactics.
"We like to see other programs to try and copy it as much as we can," Shaneyfelt said. "There may be years where we may not (have the skills to) quite be able to do that. Who knows?"
This might be a year when others want to copy the Tornadoes. The girls are primed to begin the season with a top-10 state ranking in Class 5A and could garner the No.
1 slot. Whiting was a terror as a freshman, scoring 16.8 points per game and averaging 5.9 rebounds. Worrall, who returned from an injury during district play last season, might be the best inside presence in the county, coming off a year where she converted 48 percent of her shots. And Evans is a solid senior who scored 500 points last season.
"Our goal is to be better in the state every year," Shaneyfelt said. "We don't have to go on and win the conference or the district to go on and get to state. It is going to be a fun year."
Ditto for the Clearwater boys, who return two starters from last year's squad. Daryl Williams is moving from forward to guard, and he will have to pick up the slack left by the academic ineligibility of junior Yaphett King. The Tornadoes will employ a fast-paced style of offense and attack with a swarming defense in shooting for their ninth consecutive 20-win season.
"We might not win 20 games this year," Coffin said cautiously, "but we will sacrifice that for the post-season."
At Clearwater, that is what it is all about.
A glance at Clearwater's basketball success:
BOYS: State champions in 1981 (4A). Last losing season was 1986-87 (13-14). Eight consecutive 20-win seasons. 15 PCAC titles. Averaged 21.7 victories over the past 35 years.
GIRLS: State final four appearances in 1996 and 1986. Coach Tom Shaneyfelt has had success with a variety of teams.
BOYS TEAMS TO WATCH
LAKEWOOD: Four starters return for the Spartans, making them the team to beat in the county and in District 10.
BOCA CIEGA: The Pirates, led this year by David Ross, always manage to stay afloat in one of the state's toughest districts.
NORTHEAST: The Vikings lost Robert Langston, but they have Carlos Land, Anthony Mell and Carl Jordan to keep that winning tradition.
DIXIE HOLLINS: With Ed Johnson and Marshall Sanders, the Rebels could win District 10 _ if they avoid the off-the-court mishaps that have plagued them the past two seasons.
CLEARWATER: Junior Daryl Williams has been moved from forward to guard, and the eligibility status of junior Yaphett King is questionable. But the Tornadoes have a favorable schedule.
PINELLAS PARK: Jay Keese and Eddie Williams have the experience to help the Patriots emerge as a county power _ but being moved to the PCAC's South Division will hurt.