PLANT CITY — One morning a few days before Christmas, Plant City High’s boys basketball team piled into a local eatery for some pre-tournament breakfast.
With coaches and players and so forth, the combined tab involved a few dozen people and maybe a few hundred bucks.
But when coach Billy Teeden walked up to pay the bill, the waitress said, "It’s already been taken care of."
Teeden scrunched his eyebrows.
The waitress said, "Someone who wants to remain anonymous paid your bill."
Teeden said, "You gotta love Plant City."
Teeden does indeed, for many reasons.
"This is a throwback community where you find so much support," said Teeden, in his third year with the Raiders after several years at East Bay. "When some anonymous person does something like pick up the tab for a team breakfast, well, it makes the team want to be that much better for the whole community. It really does."
In Teeden’s three years, that mojo has steadily grown along with the victories, which numbered just two the year before he arrived, to 10 in his first year and up to 18 last year.
To start this week, Plant City stood at 12-2 (and undefeated in Class 8A, District 9) with its only losses coming in close contests against tough opponents Lakewood Ranch and Lakeland.
The keys on the court have been many, starting with a senior, Matt Simpson (23 points a game), and a freshman, Jordyn Manning, who is averaging about seven points and three assists while keeping the offense organized.
"When (Manning) came in this season we made the move right away for him to play point guard, which was a little bit of an adjustment because (Simpson) pretty much handled those (point guard) duties last year," Teeden said. "But both Manning and Simpson fell into the system right away."
So did everybody else, including 6-foot-7 forward Justyn King, who is averaging 14 points and almost nine rebounds. In one recent game, King jumped up with 19 points and a whopping 17 rebounds.
Other key contributors in Teeden’s man-to-man, up-tempo style have included Jadyn Strawder (eight points a game), Chris Butler (seven), Mykel Oyola and Emmanuel Baez (five points each).
And now there is one more interesting addition, senior Triston Evans, son of legendary Raider Russell Evans, who had his Plant City jersey retired last year.
Evans, a 6-4 guard/forward who transferred to Plant City from Mississippi over the summer, became eligible this week after getting his grades in order.
"I think (Evans) is going to also fit in very well," Teeden said. "I think everybody has bought into this team concept."
The immediate goal, Teeden said, is to win the district title, which appears more than doable after racking up a 7-0 district record.
Perhaps most importantly, winning the district title would give Plant City home-court advantage through the playoffs, which means a lot in a place like Plant City.
"I feel the crowds are getting bigger and bigger," Teeden said. "The electricity in this place would be so high if we could host through the playoffs. I know the whole town would get behind us."