The foundation of the East Pasco Youth Basketball program became sturdier last week when two of its teams reached the playoff rounds of a national tournament.
The building blocks of the program were put in place by founder Conrad Foss in 1993. But while some East Pasco teams have won local or regional tournaments, none have done as well as the 14-and-under Wildcats, who finished fourth in the Youth Basketball of America tournament in Polk County.
The 12-and-under Wildcats went 3-3 in the tournament to place 16th in a 32-team field.
"We continue to grow our program, and our kids are getting better," said Foss, who last month was hired as the first boys varsity basketball coach at Wesley Chapel High.
Last year, East Pasco's 13-and-under team became the first from the program to qualify for a national tournament, and that club finished ninth. But that team's improvement is not the only thing Foss has to boast about.
"The more significant point is that we put two teams in the nationals this year," said Foss, who coached most of the 14-and-under players during a four-year stint at Weightman Middle School.
In addition, Zack Mills, a guard on the 14-and-under team, became the first Wildcat to be voted by coaches onto the All-America team. Mills' teammates, Brandon Harrison and Jonathan Seber, also received votes.
The 14-and-under Wildcats won six consecutive games before closing out the tournament Saturday with back-to-back losses _ 67-61 to Maryland and 78-74 to McClain of Polk County.
Mills scored 23 points and made 7 of 10 three-pointers against Maryland. Harrison scored a team-high 18 points in the loss to McClain.
Mills, who made seven treys in the tourney's opening game, a 71-36 win over Tennessee, led the Wildcats in scoring in three games. Harrison was East Pasco's scoring leader in four games.
Of the Wildcats' six victories, none pleased Foss more than an 87-57 win over Atlanta. Five East Pasco players scored in double figures: Harrison (19 points), Seber (18), Chris Roberts (13), Chase Polston (11) and Mills (10). Tyrone Tomlin added nine points.
"That was one of the best games we played all season," Foss said. "I think we're capable of that any time."
After going 2-1 in pool play, the 12-and-under Wildcats posted a 1-2 mark in the playoff round. Its sole victory went down to the wire. Chase Bussey took an inbounds pass and ran the length of the court, putting in a floater at the buzzer for a 49-47 overtime win over North Carolina.
For Bussey, it was the second game-winning shot of the tourney. He scored East Pasco's final basket in the opening game, a 41-39 win over Maryland.
Tyler Sterns led the Wildcats with 21 points in the win over North Carolina and tied or led the team in scoring in three games.
The 12-and-under Wildcats also got significant contributions in the tournament from Nigel Bryant, Josh Simpson, O.J. Murdoch, Mike Scanga and Robbie Lewis.