TAMPA - There is a natural flow between Berkeley Prep seniors Justin Gray and Marshall Holmes. It was evident last Friday as the Buccaneers' duo led the way to an 80-64 win in the Class 4A Region 3 boys basketball final against Community School of Naples.
The two have those moments of chemistry like late in the second half when Holmes stole the ball and fed a streaking Gray, who finished the play with a crowd-pleasing dunk, or early in the third quarter when Gray intercepted a pass and crossed the ball to Holmes for an easy layup.
The two seem to know what the other is thinking. And maybe they do as Gray and Holmes have been playing together since the fourth grade on their AAU team - Florida Select.
"Playing with someone so long you know everything they are going to do," Gray said. "He finds me on cuts and it's something that other teams might not have, two guys that have played together for so long they just know what the other is going to do."
"It seems like it's been forever and we know each other's tendencies," Holmes said. "We played AAU together until last season, so if one or the other gets the ball we know the other is going be there to make a play."
The two lead Berkeley Prep (27-3) into the Class 4A state semifinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday at The Lakeland Center against Orlando Lake Highland Prep (26-4) looking for the program's first state title.
"This has been our goal for a long, long time," Gray said. "Unfortunately, we came up short the last time (a loss in the semis in 2012) and that was a bittersweet moment, and we've worked very hard to make sure this time we come out on top."
That disappointment is something Holmes does not share with his teammates. In 2012, Holmes had a different experience, scoring 17 points in the state final to lead Tampa Prep to a championship. Holmes transferred to Berkeley Prep prior to his junior year.
"With a lot of our players making it (to the final four) but not winning it, they'll come up to me and ask about that feeling," Holmes said. "I tell them, 'It's the greatest feeling of your high school career and a feeling you want.'
"In order to do that you can't settle in on the fact that you just made it, you have to push forward and work extremely hard to get a title."
Holmes, who missed significant time in December due to a broken finger, has scored 22 points in each of the team's last two games. Gray also missed time this year with concussion-like symptoms, an injury that occurred early in a game with Lake Highland Prep - the same opponent in Tuesday's semifinal. Without two of their biggest weapons, the Buccaneers fell to the Highlanders 62-54 in early January.
Even with the injuries, the Buccaneers proved their depth is a strength. Senior guard Craig Bowman has posted six 20-plus point games this season, while senior N'Namdi Green and sophomore Jacob Mathis have each stepped up as scoring leaders in games this year.
"The key is our balance," Buccaneers coach Bobby Reinhart said. "... It's a team that's versatile that has bought into the 'one' concept."