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King High's Ron Carrell: coach extraordinaire

It may seem contradictory, but this is not a story about a basketball coach.

It's about Ron Carrell _ a basketball enigma.

To understand, you must return to 1977 when Carrell said he "knew absolutely nothing about basketball," yet was offered the job as King High junior varsity girls coach.

"I hadn't even really played the game," said Carrell, a rather short, soft-spoken, bearded man. "I wasn't overly athletic, nor was I a fan of the game. Nothing.

"But the deal was, I could have a math teaching job if I agreed to coach. I took it because I wanted a job."

Carrell remembers the first day of practice being intimidating because of his lack of knowledge. But it took only a few games for his fears to be lost to obsession.

"I looked at it as a game of chess," Carrell said. "I used to be a pretty good chess player, so it was completely intriguing to me to try and beat the other coach."

The next four seasons he went 66-14, but he quit in 1981 when he didn't get the varsity coaching job. He did not quit competition, however.

"I took over the math team," Carrell said, as if that was the most important and rewarding thing he has done. "And not much in my life really changed."

The obsessiveness and the winning continued, albeit behind closed doors, and often silently.

Then came 1987-88.

If a writer were to approach a movie producer with a script based on that year's girls varsity basketball season at King, he might be thrown out the door. The story would seem too unbelievable.

To start with, there was Carrell, the chess-playing mathematician, taking over a team of six girls, none of whom was exceptionally gifted.

"It was just like the setting to the movie Hoosiers," Carrell said of the story about a small-school team in Indiana winning the state basketball championship. "Just like that."

The miracles began in the district final with a 44-42 victory over Armwood, the state's No. 2-ranked team that had beaten the Lions three times that season.

"Oh man, I'll never forget it," said Durant girls coach Leighann Bennett, who played on that Armwood team. "He played this slow-down game, and it worked for them. You have to give (Carrell) a lot of credit."

From there, King pulled off one upset after another all the way to the state final, which it won 68-65 over No. 1-ranked Pensacola Washington.

Carrell suddenly went from math teacher to local basketball icon. No other Hillsborough County public school before or since has won a girls basketball state title.

In the following years, Carrell had more success, but also an increasing obsession.

"It got to where the basketball was consuming my life," he said. "Maybe it was a compulsion. Anyway, all I knew is that something had to change. You know, the house wasn't getting painted because I was always doing something with basketball. I had to stop."

In 1995, he did.

Carrell left for a teaching position at Tomlin Junior High, and Derrick Gaines coached the Lions two years before leaving for the boys coaching job at Sickles.

Carrell, meantime, was in the stands for almost every King game.

"When I was sitting up there in the stands, I couldn't say I didn't miss it," Carrell said. "I missed it very much. And when Derrick left, I really thought about coming back."

In 1997, he did.

"If it would have been any other school, I wouldn't have done it," Carrell said. "King just feels right to me. It's family. It's good."

But there is one thing he would like you to remember before the season starts: "I am not a coach. I'm a teacher, and girls basketball just happens to be a good outlet for me to teach."

Oh yeah, and there's one more note: In 1987 and 1988, his math squads defeated almost 100 teams to win state titles.