TAMPA — It started with an idea.
In 1983, then University of South Florida men’s basketball coach Lee Rose, former Brandon High boys basketball coach Jan Bennett and a small group of other local high school coaches met at USF’s newly constructed Sun Dome to form an organization for Hillsborough County boys basketball coaches that would help promote the sport.
Thirty years later, the Tampa Bay Basketball Coaches Association, a non-profit organization, thrives, honoring, promoting and building a future for Hillsborough County basketball.
“That was the whole purpose, for them to have some camaraderie in a facility where they could discuss the issues,” said Rose, who coached at USF from 1980-1986 and is now retired in North Carolina. “If they would have regular meetings, I think that meant they would have strength in numbers.”
Though competitors and rivals inside gymnasiums, members of the TBBCA band together to discuss issues and promote the players.
Since its creation, the annual TBBCA Hillsborough County All-Star game has become one of the biggest high school events of the year. Equipped with a slam dunk and 3-point shooting contest, seniors from both public and private schools have one last hurrah on the hardwood.
About 10 years ago, however, through a collaboration with Pinellas County coaches, the Hillsborough vs. Pinellas County Boys and Girls All-Star game was started, building a two-county showcase for bragging rights and exposure. The game is now locally televised and provides an opportunity to unsigned seniors to be scouted by Florida coaches.
Profits from the All-Star games go toward the association’s annual banquet. Since 1985, the annual banquet honors the county’s top 25 boys basketball players, overall player of the year, coach of the year and team of the year. The event also recognizes courage, academic achievement, contributions to the sport and officiating.
Awards are named after former coaches Doug Walker, the Armwood basketball coach who died of cancer, and Paul Straub, who coached at Jesuit, and William Bethel, who coached at Middleton. Non-coaches, like Tampa attorney Fred Lowe and Brown’s Trophies, which gave generously over the years, and members of the West Coast Officials Association, have been honored.
“I can look across that room and say they really do great things for kids,” said Robinson coach Steve Smith, president of the TBBCA the past six years. “That’s what it’s all about.”
For seven years, Bennett, twice president of the TBBCA who coached for 18 years in the county, organized his annual Preseason Hoop-it-Up basketball at Seffner Christian Academy to raise money for the banquet. In total, Bennett’s tournament raised $8,820.
“My intention was if a coach at any school said, ‘I have a young man who is getting an award and I don’t have money, he doesn’t have the money or his family,’ that money we collected would be for that young man to come to the banquet,” Bennett said.
Coaches come and go, but when a new coach is hired in the county, a current coach will reach out and extend an invitation.
“That’s our goal, to keep our association strong,” Smith said. “The only way to do that is keep our membership strong. Most coaches are very receptive.”
The original meetings were held inside the Sun Dome’s Green and Gold room, located under the stadium seats.
“At that time, it was very important to get (the coaches) interested in USF and get to recruit some of their players,” Rose said. “They needed someone in a neutral situation and we had the facility.”
The connection between USF and the TBBCA holds strong. This past October, USF men’s basketball coach Stan Heath opened his doors to the TBBCA for their annual preseason meeting. Heath, USF’s coach since 2007, was also a guest speaker at a TBBCA banquet.
“When we’re in those meetings, we feel like we have some really great basketball coaches,” Smith said. “We’re all competitive guys but we all have respect for what each other does. We’re a fraternity.”