LARGO — The comparisons have grown tiresome for Donavan Hale.
Yes, his dad, Ron, was a 6-foot-8 star at Largo, like Donavan is now, and averaged 25 points and led his team to a district title.
Yes, Pops went on to star at Florida State.
Yes, the old guy had a cup of coffee with the Miami Heat.
But here’s the deal.
That was then.
This is now.
Friday night in the same gymnasium his father starred in — and let’s not forget his mother, former county all-star Karla Bennett, because she had game, too — Donavan Hale scored 24 and had five steals to lead Largo to its first district title since 2007 with a 70-64 win over Palmetto.
It should be noted, at least to Donavan, that his name is mentioned first in this column. Because sometimes it’s not.
“Every time there’s a newspaper article, they put my dad in there first,” he said. “I mean, come on.”
We’ll take some of the blame, us newspaper folk. We can be preoccupied with lineage. Father-son legacies fascinate us.
You did just watch the SuperBro, right?
I mean the Super Bowl, which was as much about Jack Harbaugh as it was about his sons coaching in the game.
It’s kind of what we do.
And history has something to do with it. After all, in a small, tight-knit community like the one he lives in in Largo, legends don’t ever go away.
They just grow bigger, especially when they still, at the age of 35, average 17 and seven for the Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins in Japan’s professional league.
“I think he’s a little tired of hearing about it,” said Donavan’s coach, Phil Price. “I mean, he’s still ‘Doogie’s boy. That’s what they called Ron. Over in Ridgecrest, he’s still Ron’s boy.
“It’s just a really big shadow.”
But make no mistake, Donavan Hale is playing his way out of it.
When dad was a sophomore, he was on junior varsity; Donavan is in his second year on varsity.
And his game is different, and some say has the potential to be better.
He is not 6-8. Donavan is right around 6-3, but he plays much bigger.
He soared high for some important rebounds Friday night in the district title win. He made a couple of big 3-pointers. He twice hit fadeaway jumpers from the free-throw line with a hand in his face. And he sank 10 of his 12 free throws.
“He could end up being the best I ever coached here,” said Price, who has coach Erroyl Bing, Mike O’Donnell and Billy McDade.
“You could tell right away by the way he moves he was a great athlete. I had heard a lot about him, but that summer (before his freshman year), I saw him for the first time and was like (wow).”
Donavan is blessed with raw athleticism but smart enough to know how to make it work, something that’s evident when he tries to explain that despite his scoring average being down this year, he’s a much better player.
He understands the little things.
He wants to master all of them.
“Taking over, rebound, crashing the boards, playing hard,” he says.
With his team down 47-40 in the third quarter and on the wrong side of 12 straight Palmetto points, Hale ignited a rally.
In 12 seconds, he hit a shot from the free-throw line, followed by a 3-pointer, followed by a steal and a pass to a teammate for two more points.
If Hale ever shakes the lofty expectations he faces on the basketball court, it may be because of his burgeoning potential on the football field.
In the fall, he’s expected to be the starting quarterback on a team that once again will be one of the best around.
“I like them both,” Donavan Hale said. “Hopefully, I can get a scholarship in both.”
He already has offers for football, despite his youth. Price is certain college basketball coaches will follow suit.
As his team filed out of the locker room Friday night to go revel in its district championship, Hale was more interested in talking about making free throws and winning districts and the upcoming playoffs — “I think we can win a state championship” — than his famous father.
And really, who can blame him?
After all, that was then.
This is now.