LAKELAND — Until December, longtime Tampa Prep basketball coach Joe Fenlon didn’t know whether this year’s team was capable of playing for a state championship.
After graduating four starter’s from last year’s 27-3 team, including two Division I players, questions loomed around the team’s new identify.
That moment of belief, in the most unusual instances, came after loss, in overtime, during their annual holiday tournament. Fenlon, who has won over 670 games as a coach, saw something special.
Now, an unpredictable season could end with a state championship.
On Tuesday in a battle of two Tampa Bay area schools, sophomore star Juwan Durham scored 25 points and grabbed 17 rebounds to lead Tampa Prep over St. Petersburg Shorecrest Prep, 64-49, in the Class 3A boys basketball state semifinals at The Lakeland Center.
The Terrapins will play Sagemont today in the state championship at 4:30 p.m. The game will be aired live on Bright House.
The Terrapins won the 3A title in 2012, its first, defeating Sagemont, 58-50. Today will mark the program’s fifth time playing in the state championship game in nine appearances to the final four. Only one member of the 2012 title team, senior point guard Yoni Wasser, remains on this year’s team. Wasser did not see any time on the court in 2012 as a backup to current South Florida guard Josh Heath.
“You can say no one knew where we would be at the beginning of the year, but being a three-year varsity player here, I expected us to get back to the state tournament,” Wasser said. “We missed it last year on a buzzer beater and I knew that with Juwan in the middle and with Mike (Fridella) joining the team, we’d go deep in the tournament.”
Durham, a 6-foot-10 center, played all but one minute of the semifinal, and made his presence known with six slam dunks and five blocks while Fridella, a junior transfer from St. Pete Catholic, added 21 points.
Brady Grimm led Shorecrest Prep with 17 points.
Shorecrest Prep (21-5) did not shoot well in the loss, missing their first eight shots and finishing 5-of-23 in the first half.
“I think we took mostly good shots in the first half,” said Shorecrest Prep coach Daryl Blume. “I only remember a couple of bad shots. Obviously when you have a 6-10 arm sticking at you when you’re going to the hole but we missed a lot of open looks too. That’s what we thought at halftime, that if two or three of those go its a game.”
Durham, guarded by the Chargers’ 6-9 center Jay Joyer, who will play for the Army, showed a mix of offensive moves, stepping out to shoot short range jump shots, something Blume was not expecting.
“He just stepped back so I knew that I could knock down open jumper so I just kept shooting,” said Durham, who shot 3-of-11 in the first half but 8-of-8 in the second.
After trailing 27-20 at halftime, the Chargers made it a three-point game, 31-28, with 4:11 left in the third quarter but Tampa Prep (27-3) rallied with baskets from Durham and Fridella. Tampa Prep scored 42 points in the paint compared to Shorecrest’s 22 and had an 18-7 advantage in second chance points.