Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. HomeTeam

Welcome to Lakewood High, Pinellas County’s own version of Dunk City

No matter how tight a game, the green light is always on for the Spartans boys basketball team, a state title contender again, to rattle the rim.
Teammates watch as Lakewood's Elijah Jackson leaps from near the free-throw line as he goes up for a slam dunk during practice. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Teammates watch as Lakewood's Elijah Jackson leaps from near the free-throw line as he goes up for a slam dunk during practice. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Jan. 15
Updated Jan. 15

ST. PETERSBURG — The opponent was trapped when TJ Tampa took the ball away. Within seconds, the Lakewood High guard was at full speed as he blew past everyone.

Tampa took off near the foul line, climbing toward the apex of his vertical leap. The crowd stood, already anticipating the next move.

As his hands reached above the rim, Tampa threw down a dunk. The fans roared with approval.

By then, the outcome was decided. The Spartans (13-2) dominated — again.

More than winning, Lakewood’s players have gained notoriety for their ability to elevate several inches off the hardwood and propel the basketball downward through the hoop. This often elicits oohs and aahs from the audiences that come to see their assortment of dunks.

Related: High school boys basketball rankings for Tampa Bay

Tight game? Lopsided score? It does not matter. One teammate sets up another with lob passes, backward-over-the-head feeds, backboard-high bounce passes — whatever it takes to produce a rim-rattling jam.

They each oblige, sometimes twisting themselves into a corkscrew before dunking on a defender.

“We’re just so dang athletic,” Spartans coach Anthony Lawrence said. “Our games — they can become dunk fests.”

The green light is always on. In fact, the Spartans keep tabs of these highlight-worthy baskets on their Twitter account. Dubbed the “Slam Pony Express,” Lakewood players have accounted for 77 dunks this season. In last week’s rout of Pinellas Park, the Spartans had 16.

Occasionally, the team will put on a dunk exhibition during halftime of the junior varsity game. They go through their dunkathon then because they will get a technical for performing in warmups before their game.

TJ Tampa and his Lakewood teammates have been known to put on a dunking contest during halftime of games to entertain fans. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]

“Our first look is to dunk,” said Tampa, a multisport athlete who has signed to play football with Iowa State.

There is plenty of preparation that goes into these jam sessions. In the offseason, Lawrence has his players perform drills on a VertiMax machine. The device has a small platform with bungees attached, all designed to help with speed, explosiveness, and, perhaps most important, vertical leaping ability.

“You can feel the difference as soon as you get off the machine,” Lakewood junior guard Oteman Delancy said. “Let me put it to you this way. Last year, I couldn’t dunk. After using the VertiMax, I can do it more often.”

Related: Lakewood boys top a streaking Anclote in St. Petersburg Shootout

But most of the dunks come from a player who doesn’t need much elevation to slam the ball through the hoop.

Jamille Reynolds is a 6-foot-9 power forward who has already signed with UCF. During games, Reynolds stations himself under the basket. Once he stakes out his spot, he pushes and presses until his opponent is out of the paint.

It is hard labor for the defender who drew the short straw and is assigned to guard Reynolds, who averages 17.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.

The area’s most irresistible force, as well as its most immovable object, Reynolds treats overmatched defenders the way a wrecking ball treats a window pane. He bulls his way through opponents for prime post-up position, then turns and drops the ball in the net as casually as if he were placing a book on a shelf.

Lakewood's Jamille Reynolds doesn't need much leaping ability to jump. He's 6-9. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]

Often that comes with force. His dunks usually make rims quiver and send opposing players into duck-and-cover mode.

“The most I’ve ever had in a game is six last year,” Reynolds said. “The most this year, I think, is five. It makes the game fun.”

It also helps to have a coaching staff that has a penchant for putting the ball through the hoop with flair. Lawrence, who starred at Lakewood before going to play at Alabama and Miami, said he had about 50 dunks as a senior with the Spartans in 1988-89.

“My dunks were pretty good, but they were nothing like David White’s,” said Lawrence, referring to his assistant coach. “He’s the man when it comes to dunking. He could put on a show.”

White was a McDonald’s and Parade All-American during his senior season at Boca Ciega in 1987. He went on to play at Florida State.

“I’ll admit, I had some pretty good dunks,” White said.

But the Spartans do not want to be known strictly as a high-jumping, basket-stuffing curiosity who peaks in dunk-offs, then is forgotten once the postseason makes it way to Lakeland for the state final four.

Lakewood reached the state championship game last year and is motivated to get back and win it all.

“We want to dunk, but the biggest thing we want to do is score — and keep on winning,” Tampa said.

Check them out

Want to watch the “Slam Pony Express” in action? Lakewood plays at St. Petersburg High on Friday nigh at 7:45.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

  1. Tampa Catholic's Xavier Floyd, left, and goalkeeper Charlie Gembarowski are in the foreground as Fort Lauderdale University players celebrate their Class 3A championship at Spec Martin Stadium in Deland. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
  2. Shorecrest Prep senior Asher Rovin, who missed most of the regular season after sustaining a concussion, strikes the ball past Tallahassee Maclay's Broedy Poppell (21) in the first half at Spec Martin Stadium in DeLand on Thursday. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
  3. Plant junior Nyla Jean not only averages double digits in scoring, but she has a knack for stealing the ball from opponents. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
  4. Carrollwood Day’s Milahnie Perry scores 14 points to lead the Patriots, who get a balanced effort in the Class 3A state semifinals. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
  5. Shorecrest players hug, cry and console each other after losing to Orange Park St. Johns Country Day in the Class 2A title game at Spec Martin Stadium in DeLand. [WILLIE J. ALLEN JR.  |  Special to the Times]
  6. Points were hard to come by in the first half for forward Jakara Akins, left, and Keswick Christian, which trailed Florida A&M 22-16 at the half of a Class 2A state semifinal Wednesday afternoon. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
  7. Caitlin Blankenship, along with older sister Brooke, moves on from Academy at the Lakes, which won consecutive state titles, to River Ridge. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
  8. St. Petersburg boys basketball coach Chris Blackwell, seen here in a game earlier this season, said his team had to utilize freshmen as Tuesday's game at Fort Myers wore on ... and on ... and on for five overtimes. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
  9. East Lake's Jordan Hillmon, seen here earlier this season, scores a game-high 26 points in Tuesday's region semifinal win. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
  10. Hillsborough junior Jalen Harris, seen here earlier this season, scores 16 points, including two big free throws late, on Tuesday against Lakeland. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
  11. Bayshore Christian guard Deon Brown leads all scorers with 24 points in a 68-58 victory Tuesday night over Cambridge Christian in a Class 2A region semifinal. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
  12. Clearwater coach Kris Foote, seen here in a game earlier this season, is happy to have another home game: “We get good crowds, they’ve been pumped up, and home-court advantage is big to keep things as close as possible to routine." [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement