Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

HOTBED for HOOPS

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

HOTBED for HOOPS

Article excerpt

With five teams -- three boys and two girls -- qualifying for the State Final Four, basketball is relevant in the area once again

Suddenly, the area has become a hotbed for high school basketball. Five teams -- three boys and two girls -- reached the Final Four at The Lakeland Center this past season. None of the five got past the state semifinal round, but there was plenty of excitement and hope, some at schools where it was drastically needed.

Working back, North Port High rallied around its boys team, which never had won a regional game, let alone making it to the Final Four. The Bobcats picked up their first district and region title while playing to three packed houses at The Cage.

Second-year coach Travis Slanger took a senior-oriented bunch, led by its big three of center Malek Barber, forward Teddy Deas and point guard Vic Sinopoli to a place Bobcat programs rarely visited.

Cardinal Mooney also rose to heights never achieved in the past, capturing its first region title with a thrilling double-overtime victory at Naples First Baptist. All year, the Cougars rode the shoulders of Ryan McMahon, whose work ethic transformed him into a Division I player, receiving a scholarship from Rick Pitino at Louisville.

Stefan Gates' crew was more than McMahon with gritty point guard Justin Najmy displaying a motor that never stopped and the grit of a 6-foot-5 player, rather than 5-5. Football player Mitch Arimura provided strength under the basket along with a feathery touch in the lane.

Surprisingly, Cardinal Mooney reached the Final Four two years after its best player and one of the top guards in the country, Antonio Blakeney, left for Orlando Oak Ridge. On the other hand, Oak Ridge, with two Division I players in Blakeney (LSU) and Alex Owens (Providence), was bounced in the region final, one step from the state semis.

Despite a late coaching change, Sarasota Christian made a return trip to the Final Four under Kevin Fields. …

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