Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Private Schools Looking to Make History in Lakeland; If Both Temple Christian and NFEI Win, It Would Set Up the First-Ever Final with Two First Coast Squads

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Private Schools Looking to Make History in Lakeland; If Both Temple Christian and NFEI Win, It Would Set Up the First-Ever Final with Two First Coast Squads

Article excerpt

Byline: Justin Barney

Two of the newest private school basketball programs in the area are trying to make history together in the boys state basketball tournament this week in Lakeland.

Up first is Temple Christian (24-3), which faces Miami Christian (28-2) at 2 p.m. North Florida Educational Institute (20-8) follows in the 4 p.m. semi against Melbourne Florida Prep (24-5). Wins would set up the first championship game between teams from the First Coast in state history.

It is the definition of a David and Goliath, or a youth against experience, pair of state semifinals, and that's fine for coaches at NFEI and Temple Christian. Programs have to start somewhere and games against state powers are as good a stage as any to show that they've arrived.

"It's big for both us to get there, get more kids coming in to the schools," Temple coach Aaron Daise said of his team and NFEI's state semifinal trips. "My goal was to get there and for us to make a good impression and come out with our first win down there. It's my job to build this program up."

Florida Prep, which changed its name from Florida Air Academy two years ago, is a six-time state champion. Miami Christian has won three championships, its latest in 2015.

"I've been preaching, been talking about Lakeland all year," said NFEI coach Matthew Fields. "If we could get to Lakeland, anything can happen in Lakeland. This is what we've talked about, this isn't a surprise this is what we expected."

Among the two, NFEI is the more seasoned playoff team.

NFEI opened in 2006 and began play as an independent in 2009-10. The Eagles won the district in their first season of district play in 2012, and reached their first state semifinal the following year with what remains the best team in the program's short history. Fields took over as NFEI's coach the following season and the Eagles have never failed to win a district title or reach the postseason.

But they had come up short in trying to get back to the state final four before breaking through this year behind a senior guard-powered lineup led by Tajon Davis, Terrance Parker and Darien Walker, three of the team's seven seniors. Fields said the additions of junior guard/forward Steve McCloud and senior guard Derrick Felton over the last year also boosted the Eagles. …

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