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Chiefs carry county's honor

People have talked for years about how weak Hillsborough County schools have been in boys basketball, but Chamberlain coach Doug Aplin, who has coached in the county more than 20 years, has a different perspective.

"The fluke is that a Hillsborough County public school hasn't won a state basketball title (since Plant City in 1982)," Aplin said. "When you think about it there have been some really good public school teams from this county that have just haven't had the luck it took to win the whole thing. There have been some very, very talented teams, in fact.

"You know it's really tough to win (a state title). A lot of time you need a little luck."

Off the top of his head, Aplin listed several Hillsborough County public school teams that came close (Jesuit in 1984 and Tampa Catholic in '95 are the only county private schools to win state titles since '82):

Plant, 2001: state final four.

Brandon, 2000: state runnerup.

Robinson, 1998: final four.

Hillsborough, 1996: final four.

Plant City, 1991: final four.

Chamberlain, 1989: final four.

Chamberlain, 1990: runnerup.

Brandon, 1984: runnerup.

Brandon, 1985: state final four.

And there were plenty of other teams that Aplin felt were good enough to win a state title but never got to the semis.

Wharton in 1998 and '99, for instance. Or how about the early 1980s Brandon teams led by future NBA player Jeff Turner, or the Robinson teams with Charlie Bradley and Cuda Patterson, who went on to have famous careers at South Florida?

Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli couldn't agree more with Aplin's assessment.

"When you get down into the playoffs you need to play your best every game and you often can use a little luck," Tonelli said. "That Brandon team (with Joey and Stevie Graham, now in the NBA) was an awesome team, but they happen to run into (one of the best teams in the nation that year) Gainesville High.

"Anyway, that said, I think this county is doing okay. It just needs a break or two. It can definitely be done."

This year's Chamberlain Chiefs (27-3) just might be the team. They are eight deep and dynamic. Every contributor does at least two things well.

They also have proven they could beat some good teams. For instance, No. 1 ranked Largo, which fell to the Chiefs 56-55 Saturday night. Or how about Clearwater and Boca Ciega, which fell the previous two games to Chamberlain by lopsided margins?

"They definitely can (win the state title)," said Tonelli, who coached against Lake Howell, a team that beat Wharton 72-43 in the region semifinals and could meet Chamberlain in the final. Chamberlain first must beat Port St. Lucie in a semifinal at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Lakeland Center.

"I'd say we're pretty confident right now," Aplin said. "But I assure you we won't be taking anything for granted.

"I know (nodding in reference to all the Hillsborough County teams that have come short but fallen in the past) that anything can happen at this point."