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Spartans' driving force

Published Aug. 24, 2005

He is Lakewood's inside force, its lane presence, but to look at Mario Telfair, you wouldn't know it.

He is a lean 6 feet 5 inches, the type of player you might expect to see slashing to the hoop or sinking a jumper off the wing instead of doing the dirty work underneath it.

But the truth is, Telfair does that, too. Shooter, rebounder, banger, garbage man _ Telfair has proven that he is a player of many talents.

That was evident at the Kingdom of the Sun tournament in Ocala. Playing against bigger players, Telfair was one of the best players on the court every night, earning all-tournament honors. If the 6-8 and 6-9 stars from out of state thought they would have their way down low against Lakewood, they were mistaken.

"He's a finesse forward, not a power forward, but a lot of people don't respect his strength," said Lakewood coach Dan Wright. "But he's pretty strong. We've seen that the last five to seven games we've played. He's played against some guys committed to Georgia Tech and Florida and all the guys were 6-8 and 6-9 and he was able to finesse them, and at the same time play strong in the lane."

Those players with the scholarship offers from Georgia Tech and Florida are the ones Telfair hopes to become. He said while he has offers from Stetson and East Tennessee State and interest from Ohio University, he is eager to draw the eyes of more potential suitors.

"I'm trying to do my best to get noticed and give it my all," said Telfair, a senior. "There were a lot of scouts in Ocala, so it was a big deal to make the all-tournament team."

Telfair has been a big part of Lakewood's 8-1 start. He emerged as one of the county's best last season and improved over the summer. With Lakewood's stern commitment to defense, Telfair said he wanted to be better than average at guarding opponents and improve on his rebounding.

He has done both.

"I've been waiting for this for a long time," Telfair said. "I really feel it's my time. I wanted to have a good year because it's my last one."

After starring in Ocala, Telfair looks forward to the next big challenge. "Big games are like the first day of school for me. I can't sleep the night before."

With no challenges in the district, Telfair looks forward to meetings with rivals such as Boca Ciega and Gibbs and a possible PCAC championship game. Then, onto the playoffs.

There is unfinished business in the postseason, Telfair said. It has become almost a rite of passage for varsity players at Lakewood to get a shot at the state semis, but the last time the Spartans did that Telfair was a freshman standout with junior varsity. As a sophomore and junior, Telfair and the Spartans came within a game of returning, losing in the region championship by a point to Winter Haven and last year in a shocker to Bradenton Southeast.

Only fellow senior Sean Morrison, a varsity contributor as a freshman, has tasted the sweet success of the final four. Without it, all the all-tournament teams and big shots and thrilling victories won't have the same luster for Telfair.

"I talk all the time (with Sean) and we want to get another ring," he said. "I feel like my goals would be incomplete if we didn't."

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