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A different point of view

The view from Jeremy Gambrel's seat was startlingly revealing.

The Nature Coast Tech senior center could see the whole court rather than pieces of it. He noticed when the Sharks weren't playing defense or boxing out and made mental notes to focus on those areas when he returned to the floor.

From his seat, Gambrel saw myriad ways to improve his game. Trouble was, he had no way of implementing them. He was serving a two-week FHSAA suspension for gross unsportsmanlike conduct toward officials.

"It was real tough to sit out those games, because I know we could have done better if I played," Gambrel said. "When I got back, I wanted to play hard, get our record better."

Nature Coast, which lost all four games, seemingly couldn't wait for Gambrel's return. For much of the season, the Sharks went as far as their leading scorer could take them.

However, part of what Gambrel learned during his time on the bench was that he needed to play less selfishly. Though it meant a reduction in his scoring, sharing the load with his teammates made everyone better.

Instead of losing games in which Gambrel scored 20-25, Nature Coast found itself winning ones in which he was held to 10-15. As a result, the Sharks put together their most successful stretch of the season.

Tuesday's 65-58 victory over Class 3A, District 6 second-place Wildwood was Nature Coast's third in five games.

"Guys are starting to get the idea that we need a team effort," coach Bob Strong said. "Jeremy's just one cog in our team effort."

A key cog. Through 15 games, Gambrel led Nature Coast in scoring (15.3 points per game) and blocks (2.1) and was second in rebounding (7.9). His 55-percent shooting mark from 2-point range was tops among regulars.

"He gives us an inside presence," Strong said. "For a big kid, he's able to move pretty well, so that's kind of made a difference."

Gambrel transferred from Central in the offseason after averaging 10-12 minutes "on a good day" last season. At Nature Coast, Gambrel said he found more playing time and freedom in the offense.

"I just felt I'd have a better opportunity here to play my game more, because I want to play college basketball," Gambrel said. "I didn't feel like at Central I would get that opportunity."

Gambrel scored a combined 29 points in two emotionally charged losses to Central but saved one of his better all-around efforts for Wildwood. He scored 11 to join Juan Soto (20), Jonathan Cagan (15) and Kyle Keene (15) in double figures.

The victory moved Nature Coast (3-3) within two games of first-place Hernando (5-1) with two district games remaining.

"It was a big win, because they were the best team (entering the game)," Gambrel said. "It gave us a lot of confidence going into the tournament, because we know we can beat anybody."

Especially now that Gambrel is back on the floor and playing less selfishly.

"That's all behind him," Strong said.

_ Frank Pastor can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1430. Send e-mail to pastorsptimes.com.

"When I got back, I wanted to play hard," Jeremy Gambrel says of his two-week suspension.

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