Heading into the winter holiday break, a three-game losing streak was hardly the optimum scenario for the Pasco-Hernando Community College men's basketball team.
A reversal of sorts came in the PHCC Classic, just in time for the onset of the Suncoast Conference schedule.
PHCC (9-8) defeated Milwaukee Tech 85-64 and Dan Wright AAU 91-79 in the tournament Dec. 29-30. PHCC rebounded after going 0-2 mark in the PHCC tournament (Nov. 26-27) and snapped its second three-game losing streak this season.
The Conquistadors have 13 regular-season games left, 12 in the conference beginning with Wednesday's matchup at St. Petersburg College. The first home conference game is Saturday against Manatee CC. Both games tip off at 7:30 p.m.
"I think we're ready," PHCC coach Bobby Bowman said, adding that "this is a league that's probably more wide-open than its been in recent years."
Bowman predicted with as many as four losses in 12 games could claim a conference title.
PHCC, which struggled to a 1-11 conference mark last season, has won three conference titles and reached the state tournament five times.
Otis White, PHCC's scoring leader at 17.8 points a game, scored 27 against Milwaukee Tech and 16 in the Dan Wright AAU game. Rashaad Jackson added 15 points in the first game and David Simpson (Wesley Chapel) contributed 16 in the latter contest.
Bowman, whose roster includes seven freshman, is encouraged by the efforts of his first-year players and an offense that often includes four to five scorers in double figures.
"Our freshmen have improved a lot," Bowman said. "One of the biggest challenges you have is you have to develop your depth. You have to see what guys can do in certain situations and you have to let them make mistakes."
Durell Sykes is the team's second-leading scorer with a 14.7 average and he leads the team in rebounding (6.5 per game) and field-goal percentage (55.2).
Jackson leads in assists at 5.4 a game.
Another plus for the Conquistadors is the emergence of Antwan Wright. The sophomore forward was academically ineligible, but returned during the Classic and pulled down six rebounds in each game.
"He's going to give us a boost," Bowman said.
MOVING ON: Former PHCC standouts Chris Thompson and Zach Ingles are playing well at four-year schools.
Thompson, a two-time all-state player who set PHCC career records for points (1,230) and rebounds (631), averages 12.7 points and 9.2 rebounds at Southern Indiana.
Ingles, the 2003-04 conference player of the year who holds PHCC's single-game scoring record with 44 points, averages 12.5 points for Eastern Kentucky.
"It's the primary job; to help them improve athletically and in the classroom," Bowman said, adding that the PHCC graduates' successes are "kind of rewarding and a nice compliment for our school. I'm proud of those guys."