ST. PETERSBURG - It’s midway through the third quarter of Wednesday night’s girls basketball game between Carrollwood Day and Lakewood, and Patriots coach Karim Nohra has seen enough. He calls a timeout and can barely wait for his team to reach their seats before launching into his players for a lack of effort.
If the execution doesn’t improve, he tells them in no uncertain terms, then Thursday’s practice will be nothing but running from one side of the court to the other. It doesn’t matter that Carrollwood Day is up by 30 points and in no danger of losing. This is a loaded team with four seniors and a junior in the starting lineup, and a lack of concentration is unacceptable.
“He wants us to play how we practice," senior guard Tarriyonna Gary said. “He’s always going to scream about something."
For the record, the Patriots did return to normal and eventually beat the Spartans 76-40. They improved to 17-2 with four regular-season games remaining. Next up is a Saturday game at home against Fort Myers as part of the Play 4 Kay Shootout.
The Patriots have advanced to the state tournament three straight times. All signs point to a fourth straight appearance this season. Their lone losses came during the holiday break. Most of the wins have been lopsided, which means Nohra has had to call many second-half timeouts just to keep his team interested.
“It doesn’t matter to me if we’re up 30 or down 30," Nohra said. “If we’re not executing the way we should execute then I’m going to call timeout and read them the riot act. I want perfection on the court."
While perfection is impossible, Carrollwood Day has been awfully good since the 2016-17 season. That team won 28 games with a group of freshmen who have basically stayed together for four years. They have won an even 100 games in three-plus seasons.
Gary, forward Tiasia McMillan and center Weeyah McGill have played together for four years. Junior forward Aryana Dizon has contributed for three years. Senior guard Maliyah Perry transferred from Brooks DeBartolo last season. Her younger sister, Milahnie, also joined the team last year as a freshman. Both are dead-eye shooters who can handle the ball.
With all the bases covered, it’s easy to see why the Patriots are ranked second in the state in Class 3A behind Daytona Beach Father Lopez and sixth in the state overall by MaxPreps.
“I think we have developed a lot," McMillan said. “We’ve grown as players. And with the new additions that we have I think that does make us a better team."
Of course, the elephant in the gym is that the Patriots haven’t been able to bring home a championship banner. First came a loss in the final to Florida A&M University High. That was followed by two straight losses at the state tournament to Miami Country Day.
While there are talented underclassmen on the roster, the four seniors score a bulk of the points. This feels like the best chance to finally break through.
“That makes us want to win states even more," Gary said. “It’s been three years and now this is our last chance ever. We are hungry."
Wednesday night’s game was a sample of how good the Patriots can be. Lakewood (9-11) is arguably the top team in Pinellas County and Carrollwood Day was able to score 38 points in the first quarter.
“That’s a very good team," Lakewood coach Necole Tunsil said. “At the end of the day, some of our girls want to play on the Division I level. Well, I’ve got to show you what the next level looks like. Carrollwood Day has girls who are going to the next level."
While Lakewood is likely to struggle to advance in the regionals with a young team, anything short of another state tournament appearance for Carrollwood Day will be a disappointment. Brooks DeBartolo and Seffner Christian are two very good teams in the same district. And nemesis Country Day and FSU High are sure to be lurking down the road.
But the experience and talent on display against the Spartans, except in the third quarter of course, was encouraging.
“Having a senior-laden squad is nice," Nohra said. “They see the floor better. They execute better. Everything is better with a senior. They’ve heard me for four years. It’s sinking in."