When Earnest Crumbley took over as St. Petersburg College basketball coach five years ago, his challenge was to make the school a viable destination for some of the state's, and nation's, top high school players.
Sure, he would lose his share of players to four-year schools, but if a top student/athlete wanted to play at a junior college, Crumbley wanted St. Petersburg to be the choice.
After two straight appearances in the state junior college tournament, including the school's first state championship in 2001, Crumbley is noticing his phone ringing more than it used to. Selling St. Petersburg College has become easier.
"You still have to sell the program, but after two years in the state tournament it gives you a little more exposure," Crumbley said. "It has been good for us, but we're still climbing."
Not only do the Titans have players from four states, they have players from three countries. Sophomore power forward Djerabe Mbaipeur is from Bron, France, and freshman forward Ousman Koita is from Banjul, Gambia. Both are expected to make an impact this year.
Crumbley brought in some other freshmen who should be important . The biggest contribution could come from guard Tavaris Nance from Fort Lauderdale. He played for Stanahan High and averaged 14 points and five rebounds.
"He looks very good so far," Crumbley said. "He's an excellent shooter. I think he's played his way into a starting position."
Guard McHugh Mattis of Coconut Creek is expected to step in. But Crumbley won't have to rely on just freshmen.
Kory Crumbley, Earnest's son and a Lakewood graduate, will get considerable time at guard.
Sophomores Damitrius Coleman, Chad Kosmo, John Haynesworth and Mbaipeur return from last season's 21-9 team. Also, forward Benjamin Bridges transferred to SPC after spending last season at Florida Community College in Jacksonville.
That gives the Titans a mix of five returners and nine freshmen. SPC could get a further boost with the return of former Lakewood standout Kevin Dorsey, who missed all of last season with a strained back. He is expected to return in about a month.
With plenty of players to choose from, Crumbley can run the uptempo game that has become the Titans' trademark.
"We like to run, and we tell kids that when we recruit them," Crumbley said. "It's a fun way of playing, but in order to do that you have to have depth. We can play 13 guys, as long as those guys all understand the way we want to play."
The season was to officially start Saturday at Central Florida CC. The first home game isn't until Nov. 12 against Warner Southern College. All games at the St. Petersburg Gibbs campus are free.
"I'm cautiously optimistic," Crumbley said. "We have good athletes. We can be very good."
SPC WOMEN'S HOOPS: How would you like to be Titans coach William Smith?
His team finished 15-15 last season and struggled in conference play. None of the starters return. And none of the players is considered a true center, meaning SPC likely will be outsized in about every game.
"Size-wise, we've got to find a miracle," Smith said.
Ever the optimist, Smith said his squad still has a chance to improve on last season. He is impressed by freshmen Kimberly Daniels and Ariel McDonald, from Tampa's Blake High.
" (McDonald) shoots the three-point shot pretty well and is very, very smart," Smith said.
The Titans begin their season Wednesday at home against Daytona Beach CC.
ECKERD FALL SPORTS: It appears as if the volleyball team is not going to make a move with only a few weeks left.
The Tritons are struggling against Sunshine State Conference opponents with a 2-7 record prior to a match against Saint Leo. After Saint Leo, there are only four league matches remaining, ending against Barry on Nov. 15.
The Eckerd women's cross-country team finished fourth among six squads in the conference meet Oct. 25.
Megan Williams was the Tritons' top performer in the 6K at 25 minutes, 25.41 seconds. Katy Steffan was right behind at 25:32.90.
OFF TO NATIONALS: The Clearwater Christian College men's soccer and volleyball teams earned spots in their respective NCCAA-II national tournaments last weekend.
The soccer squad _ led by Jason Houck, Laurence O'Donnell, Scott Snyder, Nathaniel Soncrant, Andrew Bates, Ryan Parkes and Rich Switzer _ defeated Southeastern College of Lakeland 4-0 in the final to advance. The Cougars will compete in the national event Thursday-Saturday in Kissimmee.
The volleyball team will make what is becoming an annual trip to the national tournament after defeating Southeastern in the championship match 30-21, 30-23, 30-22.
Junior Jenny Goodson was named the regional most valuable player. Amy Madeiros and Laura Marvin were selected for the All-Region first team. Rachel Gardner and Jen Groschel were named to the second squad.
The Cougars will compete in the national Thursday-Saturday in Lincoln, Ill.