SEMINOLE — Josh Walker still is trying to figure out the new playoff system in boys basketball. The Florida High School Athletic Association revamped the format this season and is using rankings compiled by MaxPreps to determine at-large postseason bids for teams that fail to win a district title.
The Seminole High coach often wonders what is the right approach. Do you play a ton of tough opponents to boost your strength of schedule or do you play winnable games to increase your overall record?
About the only controllable factor is claiming a district title, an automatic qualifier for the playoffs. Accomplishing that has been difficult at Seminole. After all, the boys program has just three district title banners hanging in the gymnasium, the last coming during the 2014-15 season, the only one in Walker’s 11 seasons as coach.
But Walker believes he has the team to do it this season.
Things have aligned just right for the Warhawks. Eight of the 12 players on the roster are seniors, most of whom have played together the past two years.
“To have so many guys back was key,” Walker said. “It’s a strong nucleus that has played well and started seeing things come together last season. Plus, they’re all pretty much best friends and have no problem sharing the ball and working with each other.”
Off the court, the seniors go fishing, play the video game Fortnite and eat a lot of food.
That time spent together creates a cohesive unit once they enter a gymnasium. They know each other so well that they can anticipate each other’s moves, which helps to eliminate costly mistakes.
“There might be a little arguing or fighting occasionally, but that’s just teammates being teammates,” Seminole senior guard Parker Conitz said. “Still, we all really like each other and hang out all the time. And having pretty much the same team for the past two years has just brought us closer.”
Conitz, a first-team All-Pinellas County selection as a junior, is the team’s top playmaker. Last year, he averaged 22.4 points and 7.5 rebounds, and helped the Warhawks finish 14-10. It was the third straight season Seminole had a winning record but did not make the playoffs.
Seminole kept coming up short in large part to being in a brutally tough district that included Countryside, East Lake and St. Petersburg, teams that have all made deep runs in the playoffs once they got there.
That changed when the FHSAA realigned the classifications and districts. The Warhawks are now in Class 6A, District 10. The Green Devils, a longtime nemesis, are still in the same district but no longer are loaded with major college prospects that helped them become a state contender.
In fact, Seminole (13-5) beat St. Petersburg on Jan. 7 to remain undefeated in district play.
There are still tough games looming —including tonight’s matchup at Clearwater — but Seminole is in good position to get back to the playoffs after a four-year drought. The Warhawks’ resume includes wins against quality programs and a solid record.
Still, they do not want to leave it up to a first-year rankings system. They want a district title.
And they have the veterans to accomplish it.
“We know what our roles are and are all comfortable with each other and that helps a ton,” Conitz said.